Month: June 2019

Finding Your Voice

“10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ 11 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’

-Exodus 4:10-12

If you’ve ever hung around me or my family, you would realize we have no problem talking. The conversation at our dinner table runs at a pace fast enough to scare a stenographer away and my friends often ask me to “repeat that” or “sloooow down”. For me, it’s not the act of speaking that is hard, but the work of using just the right words so that my message isn’t hidden in a pile of useless fluff.

In the verse above you see Moses questioning his own ability to speak, afraid of saying the wrong thing, and in other verses around this he asks for his brother Aaron to speak. Aaron was a great speaker, a strong leader, but not the one that was needed at the time. Many times, we find ourselves in the place of Moses, with a nagging sense of unpreparedness (no matter how much is planned out) or a sense of “not being the right fit”. Sometimes it’s just doing something for the first time, without any form of training wheels to lean on. We feel the need to lean on our own Aaron, those who we see as more skilled and readier than us. But the Lord, who assures Moses here, also assures us. For in each person lies the spark of connection, the ability to have the Lord speak through us.

This advice has spoken strongly to me at one of our partner agencies, St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. Every Wednesday morning, we take a group there, first to worship with the whole community of the area, with bankers and those experiencing homelessness, all together in one row. After worship we assist in serving a breakfast for all, and then proceed to eat alongside all of our neighbors there. For many youth, I’ve noticed the most transformative and challenging part of working at St. Marys isn’t the serving or the worship. It’s when the service turns from labor-based service (serving food) to connectional and relational service that many youth start to feel a sense of struggle and growth. As soon as they finish serving many come up to me asking for the next task. With most of the serving done at that point I tell them to “make a new friend” or “talk to someone and learn their story”. There is an instant “deer in the headlights” expression on their faces and questions like, “well how do I just go and talk to someone” and “what do you mean ‘learn their story’” pop up. But I remind them of the passage above, as we normally use it as a devotional earlier in the week. They are reminded that simple questions can lead to complex answers, that their voice can be strong, that a smile and conversation can mean just as much as a plate of food.

Many youth “strike out” on their first attempt in talking to someone, sometimes due to nerves, others to the fact that they picked to talk to someone who was still eating. But by the second or third person they talk to you can see the power of relational ministry occurring. You can see stories being told, of future dreams, of children now grown up, of spouses moved on, of both great beauty and great loss. The youth always come back to me, full of information about their new friend they have made and with a newfound confidence carrying them. They have leaned into what Moses was told to do and require no more help from their own Aaron. They are no longer the timid Moses who was startled by a burning bush, but now the Moses who demanded the release of captive Israel, being an advocate.

We end the week with each participant writing down one person or issue they will carry home with them on a shared piece of art. This does two things. First, it lets the participants begin to process what they have experienced. Second, it gives them something to advocate for when they return home, now emboldened to speak out about who they met and establish even better connections to those around them, becoming that advocate.

No one goes into a time of service feeling fully prepared, ready to do everything. But I think we can all be Moses in those situations, ready to speak to what the Lord needs us to do. And if all else fails, a quote from FDR can easily guide, “Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated.”

 

Vance Stiles is a summer intern with Memphis Youth Mission.  He attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Welcoming The Stranger

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” -Deuteronomy 10:18-19

 

For my first week at RYM, I was very nervous. I was in a completely new state, with completely new people. I did not know anyone and was anxious about the group I would soon be meeting. The first mission immersion site that I went to, with my group, was the Welcome House. This is a Christian led organization that provides home for refugees and supports them throughout their transition of moving from the country they were born in and lived their whole life, to a place where they knew no one and are alone. They feed and care for the refugees until they are able to get on their feet and support themselves. What surprised me about this place was that, although run by Christians, the refugees do not have to be Christian to reside there. They do not try to push Christianity on them but, instead just showed them love and acceptance.

 

While we were there, we did yard work, weeding and laying pine needles on top of the gardens, and cleaned the inside of the house, mopping and sweeping throughout. We could see the gratitude on the residents’ faces for our help which was heartwarming for the entire youth group and myself. We were able to interact and show our faith through our actions. We were able to interact with some of the residents there and found that one of them converted to Christianity during his time there. He said that he wanted to understand why strangers would be so inviting and caring to him without any payment back and so he explored their faith. I thought that this was such an amazing thing that the people at Welcome House were able to express, through their actions, the church’s beliefs in such a way that someone born into another religion would convert into ours.

 

I could not help but compare my situation to the refugees. I left my own home in Florida to move to a new place without knowing anyone and I was scared. I just kept thinking about how open my host family was when I first got here and how I felt at home and more at peace because of it. These refugees left their entire life behind in order to seek safety and moved to a new country, leaving everything that was familiar to them. They were welcomed with open arms by this organization which they said is helping them feel more accepted into our country and into a new life for them. We were able to chat with each other for a while and even got a picture together in the end in order to help us remember this encounter forever.

 

The Welcome House had me thinking about all of the misconceptions that are currently being discussed about refugees. These people are here legally in order to seek a safe place to continue living out their lives in the best way they can. They are working for a better life than what they were able to receive in their original country which I think is inspiring. As Christians, we should be inviting to those who are seeking safety and should defend those who are defenseless. This is a lesson that I, and the youth group, have discussed and will remember for the rest of our lives.

Chloe Neusaenger is an intern at Raleigh Youth Mission.  She attends Florida State University

Lessons From The Garden

“Everyone is hungry for something, and everyone has something to give.”

This is one of the core values of one of our worksites called The Lord’s Acre*. At Asheville Youth Mission, we have the pleasure of visiting their extensive and productive garden almost every week. In their mission to fight hunger in western North Carolina, they grow fresh, organic, healthy food that they then distribute to a handful of local agencies in Fairview, Black Mountain, and Asheville, completely free of charge. Our students get to spend the time we have there helping with weeding, harvesting, washing vegetables, and other garden upkeep tasks, in addition to participating in activities and discussion to learn more about hunger.

At the Lord’s Acre, they have a very postcolonial take on the charity part of their mission. Many agencies, even with the best intentions, are set up for people to either be a “giver” or a “receiver” of benefits. For example, either you’re the one serving or being served in a soup kitchen. Either you’re the one with the privilege to volunteer your time or you’re the one those volunteers are there to help. It creates an unnecessary, unspoken divide between people. This system maintains that either you’re a “have,” or a “have not.”

The reality is that it’s not that simple. There isn’t a line you can draw between people separating those with needs and those without, because no one fits neatly into either of those boxes. We’ve been taught that we should administer our good works if we’re able, feel good about it, and go home without receiving anything, because we’re not the “needy” ones.  At the Lord’s Acre, the first half of their mantra is that “everyone is hungry for something.” That may manifest itself in a physical sense for a person who needs a meal, or it might manifest itself in an emotional sense for a person who needs a community. Some are hungry for beauty, and can be satisfied by the diversity of flowers amongst the garden beds. Some are hungry for education, and will find joy in learning about new growing techniques. For some, the biggest blessing is that the garden is growing food that can feed families. For others, the biggest blessing is that the garden is a place of stillness and peace in a world where those are becoming harder to find.

“Everyone has something to give” is the simple yet radical second half of their slogan. It’s saying that no matter who you are, you have talents and qualities that are worthy of sharing. If you are on the receiving end of the food they grow, that doesn’t mean that should be your only role in the exchange. Maybe you have gardening experience and can come teach the staff something new. Maybe you have a strong body and can give your talent of strength to lift or move heavy equipment around the garden. Maybe you bring the gift of friendship and conversation to the garden, which adds to the community.

It’s easy to appreciate the gifts and talents of our friends, family, and people close to our hearts. What’s harder for many people is to look at someone who is less resourced than they are and see a person of worth, who brings gifts and talents of their own to the table. Based on the “have/have not” model, we’ve been taught that people with the ability to be charitable should do so, and that the beneficiaries of that charity should be grateful, and everyone goes home unchanged. Instead, we should meet people where they are (housed/unhoused, educated/vocational worker/unemployed, master gardener/beginner) value whatever it is that they bring to the community (wisdom, humor, financial support, diversity, storytelling, love of the outdoors) and partake in learning from and working alongside each other.

For too long I thought I wasn’t hungry because I never went to bed on an empty stomach. Turns out, as I make my way around Asheville this summer, I am starving, and I meet people every day in the community who share their gifts and stories with me, and allow me to share mine with them. This is give and take. This is community.

 

*The Lord’s Acre is undergoing a renaming this summer, so depending on when this article is being accessed, they might be under their new name, Root Cause Farm.

Naomi Rabago is an intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  She attends James Madison University.