Over the course of this next year (Aug 2012 to Aug 2013) I will be blogging about my time as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in Tucson, AZ. I am volunteering with the intention of finding a deeper understanding of God's love as it is presented in different settings around the world. Thus far, that hope is coming to fruition.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

a bit about what simple living is looking like to us through the YAV program

Over the past almost two years, Kendra and I have been participants in the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Young Adult Volunteer Program. In short, we are PC(USA) YAVs. The program offers young adults an opportunity to serve in various facets of ministry and nonprofit work while getting a hands-on experience on what it means to live simply. I've talked about the different aspects of the program before but would like to give a little more in-depth look at these characteristics of our service look like.

First, the work. Last year in Belfast I served part-time in a faith-based community center doing peace and reconciliation work in North Belfast, specifically in the New Lodge and the Shankill. I also served part-time at Woodvale Methodist where I was able to participate in and lead a variety of ministries that the church offered. This year, I work at Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona (CHRPA for those of you who would like another acronym in this post). CHRPA is a non profit that provides free home repairs through a number of different grants to low-income and disadvantaged homeowners in Pima County. I am out each day doing these repairs alongside my fellow handymen and handywomen. The two years have been an interesting juxtapostion of two very different types of hands-on ministry.

la Casa Banana (our home)
Now, living simply. Much of the clientele whom CHRPA serves makes more money than I do. I tell you this because that is one aspect of living simply in the YAV program. But it works. In our community, we each pay $150 per month and that covers our shared food and utilities expenses. Economics works in our favor. We eat well, and we live in a nice house. Rent comes out to $170 per person each month. In short, we have learned to cover most of our basic needs on a little more than $300 per month. It is worth noting, however, that health insurance is not lumped into that sum. Fortunately, for those who do not qualify to still be on their parents' health insurance or do not have health insurance, the program does offer us coverage.

backyard chickens
But living simply is much more than finding out that we can survive on a lot less than we thought we could and still maintain a great standard of living. Living simply is about being in solidarity with those whom you serve. It's about having to face problems with the system you didn't even know existed.  It's about understanding that the American Dream is not a sustainable way to live. The world cannot afford the American Dream (and I don't mean that specifically monetarily). And it's about trying to get out of the way so that you can find God in more parts of this world. By that, I mean to share how trying to live more simply has provided me with a way to find God in the dirt in our backyard. I have found God in the manure that fills our garden and in the chicken poop that sticks to my shoes each morning. I have found God in the blossoming squash and cacti. Living simply has allowed me to collect my thoughts each morning as I bike the eight miles to work. We don't drive (often). Our bikes are our main mode of transportation.  Additionally, I have found that I have time to focus on those around me and that there are so many little joys to be found in interactions with housemates and even daily tasks.

Early in this year, I was reading Rob Bell's Jesus Wants to Save Christians. One of my favorite excerpts from the books reads:

"Take away the comforts of the kingdom, deprive a person of the structures and institutions of empire, and they might just find the spine to envision a new tomorrow. Push a person to the limits of suffering, and they just might become a revolutionary."

We are not suffering. We live comfortably but not always in the comforts of any empire. Through these two years of service, we have begun to understand living in the comfort of a different Kingdom. So, I hope this post gives you a little more insight into what motivated us to do the YAV program.  We were trying to get out of ourselves in order to make more room for the world around us. And thank God, I think we have succeeded in that endeavor a little bit and found it to be truly amazing. We have found ourselves envisioning that new tomorrow and it's nearly as exciting as today.

Enid, Austin & Kendra finding the joy in today
I wish to serve.
I want to learn.
I desire to be a part of
a beautiful world
before me
behind me
all around me
within me.
(an excerpt from a September journal entry)

Monday, May 6, 2013

a tale of two cities, two placements, two countries, one people

Belfast, where Kendra and I spent our first YAV year, is remarkably different from Tucson and the rest of Arizona. It's wet and cold/mild versus dry and hotter than hot. It's one-hundred shades of lush green versus one-hundred shades of some brownish-yellowish-greenish color. It's the majority of the people I work with having an accent that took a few months to get used to compared to a small portion of the population I serve preferring to converse in a language I am simply a novice at. In terms of my work, both places are very relational. However, my hands get a lot more beat up in Tucson.  But in Arizona there is one striking resemblance to Belfast. 

the border wall in Nogales

The wall pictured above is the border wall that separates Nogales, AZ and Nogales, Sonora. Walls are built out of fear. Fear of colors. Fear of languages. Fear of some other. And it all links in to a fear of the loss of power. And walls inhibit. In a Christian sense, they inhibit us from interacting with our neighbor. They inhibit us from loving our neighbor. Keeping someone out is never loving and keeping yourself in robs the world and its people of the gifts you have to offer. Are there times to be afraid? Yes. But we should never let fear dictate our actions. We should never let fear dictate our relationships with other people, especially as self-proclaiming followers of Christ.  

So today, I hope we seek out our neighbor, whomever we find that person to be.
I hope we question why we keep others out and ourselves in. 
And I hope we decided that fear will not dictate our actions and that Love will.

Friday, April 12, 2013

hello again - a much delayed update with a story from CHRPA

It's been a bit of a long hiatus. But just because I haven't blogged doesn't mean I haven't been enjoying Tucson. It's great! The past seven months have been full of important learning experiences and the building of wonderful life-enriching relationships. Our housemates are a blast and have become a great support system for the two of us. We have also each found great people in those we work alongside each day.

One aspect of working at CHRPA is writing stories about our experiences with clients and the different jobs that we go out and do. I'm not very good at this, having only written two in my time now. But these stories, from past and current volunteers and employees alike, have been and are being compiled into books. Some stories even accompany grant applications. Scott, the director of CHRPA, frequently asks us to write stories. Yesterday, I finally got my second one to him and would like to now share it with you all.

Her bathroom sink didn’t drain. Her shower didn’t drain. The light above the sink hung to the side clinging with everything it had for life.  It was the only usable bathroom in the house and only Señora Barrera’s toilet functioned. She rarely left her room. In the week I spent there, she came out to the kitchen to fry up some eggs a couple of times. Her cancer left her tired and our jackhammering certainly didn’t help that situation. But Señora Barrera didn’t deserve to spend the rest of her life without a functioning bathroom.  
We jackhammered through the concrete floor and then dug down another foot on our hands and knees to get to the drain. We traced it from the shower back about five feet before finding cast iron pipe that wasn’t cracked and broken. We built a new drain from this point of good pipe back to shower and the sink. Nearly fifteen bags of concrete later, we had the floor back in order. We then laid new tile on the shower floor and the bathroom floor, working our way into the hall and repairing tile there, too.

It was clear that Señora Barrera’s home once housed a large family. She was living alone while we worked there, and yet, despite the lack of a usable bathroom, her house was still the place her granddaughter and great-granddaughter spent each afternoon. It is my hope and belief that we left her home having helped make it a place where her family could continue to happily gather.

jackhammers are really loud in such a small space!
just about to the end of the destruction
floor back in place with new tile

Thursday, September 27, 2012

a dear friend and "mate"

a dear friend
challenges you
shows compassion
and kindness
and cares.
a dear friend taught me
true hospitality
true gentleness
what it means to be "church"
what it means to be family
outside those brick walls.
my dear friend
my "mate"
will be missed.
my dear friend was
a blessing.
will never be the same
without David.
but we can rest assured
he is Home.
I checked my email Tuesday morning and found that a member of the church in Belfast I served in had passed away after a near three year battle with cancer. David and I grew close over my time in Northern Ireland. He and his wife Carol's house became my home away from home and I got to know the Rankins incredibly well. I now realized how blessed I was to have done so.

Kendra, me, David & Carol
David taught me many things through the year.  He taught me the importance of questioning and seeking to learn about your faith.  Depending on your pastor, if David was in your congregation then his inquisitive nature would quickly make him either a favorite member or a complete pest!  He always wanted to know more about God's grace, His loving nature, and faith in general.

David, together with Carol, taught me what it means to truly be hospitable.  If they knew I was coming over, there were always snowballs or Jammy Joeys waiting for me, my two favorite Belfast buns.  But even if they knew I wasn't going to come over, and I just swung by, I knew I would be welcomed into their home not as a friend but as family.  It didn't matter what time it was, I would be welcomed in as family and share in all the joys that come with being part of a family.  That, as I have come to understand it, is a major part of hospitality.

On Friday nights during my year, I met with David and a few other men for a weekly Bible study.  David always picked me up for the Bible study since I didn't have a car.  I'd usually be reading in our kitchen until I heard his horn honk around 7:15 and then I would run downstairs and we'd head off.  One evening, I climbed into the car, we took the first turn and coming down the road were the Mormon missionaries.  I made a comment along the lines of "There's the Mormons," and David quickly put me in my place. "That's how I would've said something like that about Catholics thirty years ago."  From that moment on I couldn't quit thinking about ecumenical/interfaith relationships.  My next one-on-one meeting with Doug, our site coordinator in Belfast, was all about that one little comment David made. He may not have known it, but I am still constantly thinking about that challenge David put in front of me with one little reply and am excited to engage in and explore how we can do positive ecumenical and interfaith work together.

I learned thankfulness from David. I know that I've been incredibly privileged in my life and have had many opportunities that other people have not or could not, but I think, that when faced with death, I would only be able to look at the downside of life ending. David, on the other hand, was thankful for all that he has had. When we would pray, I would see David shaking his head and hear him remark, "All He's given me already and I still ask him to heal me." His outlook was incredible. He knew his blessings and he cherished them. When we so often want more, more, more, David showed me how to be thankful for what you have, especially those around you.

our Friday night group
David also showed me how to fully care for someone. When Kendra and I were having issues with our debit cards, David phoned me daily to ask if we were doing okay in terms of money. We always were but he called anyways. More importantly than that, when I wanted more than anything to have one last men's Bible study my last week in Belfast, David made it happen. Nevermind the fact that every single speed bump hurt for David to drive over. It literally hurt him because of the stage the cancer was at. And there are a lot of speed bumps in Belfast. But it didn't matter. I believe he wanted to care for me spiritually as well and knew that one of the moments I would cherish most, not only from my time in Belfast, but in my life, would be that last time that Finian, Bobby, Alan, David and I gathered around Alan's table to share tea, buns, fellowship and the Word.

For all of these things, I am thankful for the time I was fortunate enough to get to know and serve beside David. While he will be missed, I can rest assured that my "mate" is Home.

David, Carol, me and their grandson Riley

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Here we go! Work at CHRPA, Sleeping Frog farm, YAV camping

Well, we're pretty settled now that we've been in Tucson for three weeks, so I suppose it's time to get everyone updated on what and how we've been doing.

Our first week in Tucson was spent having site orientation. Brandon, our site coordinator, helped us get our place together, start finding our way around the town, and led many discussions on what to expect from our placements, from living together, and from Tucson. We also met numerous times to discuss house rules for the year, cooking schedules, decide how we would buy groceries, etc. Living with eight other people is going to be a challenge but it's shaping up to be quite exciting, too.

We started work at our placements almost two weeks ago now, once orientation had ended, and I'm really liking my work at CHRPA so far. I came into the year having a goal of fixing a swamp cooler all by myself. I've already replaced two and fixed another, albeit with help, but I think that my original goal will happen sooner rather than later. It may even happen later today if I climb up on our roof and see why our cooler has been leaking some. If it's just an easy adjustment to the float, then I can cross that goal off the list!

new bathroom floor and toilet we installed
Aside from working on coolers, the work at CHRPA has been all over the map. I've installed a window, a door, replaced a hot water heater, done a roof repair, and replaced an entire bathroom floor. I've even gotten to do a little bit of plumbing and have quickly come to find out that a SharkBite connector is one of the best weapons in a plumber's arsenal!

But I've quickly come to realize that the work at CHRPA is far more than home repairs. Last week I was in a home where a young, single mother of one needed numerous repairs all over the house. We replaced the cooler on day one and addressed a small electrical issue on the roof so that the cooler could run. When we took our lunch break, the mother invited us inside to eat at their kitchen table while she helped her daughter fingerpaint. On the second day, we replaced the front door. The previous door was in a pretty sorry state. The security door was nothing but a couple of bars at this stage with a baby gate lashed on to the bottom to try and keep animals out. Behind the security door, the front door was essentially missing it's bottom half, with a piece of carpet stapled into place to try and cover the enormous hole. The combination of this set-up didn't really do anything to keep much out.

We started installing the doors and as we went, the mother took pictures of the old doors coming down, pictures of the new ones waiting to be installed and texted many of her friends. I overheard her on the phone excitedly telling someone "I'm getting a new front door!" As debris fell from our work, she came over and swept it up quickly, not wanting us to pause. As we got further along with the installation she started doing work in other parts of the house, cleaning up, getting rid of unneeded items her daughter had grown out of. I quickly realized that we weren't just giving this family a new door. We were giving them a new sense of security and were empowering the mother to make things better for her and her daughter in the ways that she could. It was a great experience to be a part of and an indicator that I am really going to love my placement this year.

Me and Ellison on the farm
This past weekend all of the YAVs went camping in Cascabel, east of Tucson about an sixty miles. On our way to the campsite, we stopped at Sleeping Frog Farms, where Ellison is placed for the year. Sleeping Frog is a terrific farm and do a great job of providing the area with reasonably priced, local, organic fruits, vegetables and eggs. But even more importantly, as we learned Friday night when we had a wood fired pizza party with them and other Cascabelians, they're great people. We had an incredible time during our short visit to the farm and were fortunate enough to leave with some terrific vegetables in hand. Our whole is looking forward to going back and helping with some work out there.

look close and you might see the Gila monster
After the visit to the farm and the Friday night pizza party, we spent the rest of Friday evening around the campfire and then spent Saturday exploring a bit of Hot Springs Canyon seeing some of the sustainable housing projects that are going on there and where our February retreat will be as well as just learning more about our desert surroundings. We were even fortunate enough to see the elusive Gila monster on our Saturday hike.

Once we got back from camping, we got down and dirty prepping all of the goodies we got from the farm. It looks like we're going to have some terrific food for this week! And maybe the next one or two as well.

that's all basil!

sitting around the campfire

our beautiful desert landscape

Monday, August 13, 2012

YAV Take 2 (or Take Tu-cson)

Kendra and I have been home from Northern Ireland for about two weeks now and things have been crazy. In those short thirteen days we've already had two weddings, a family reunion, and gave a presentation at Laramie UPC about our first YAV year. But in the midst of all of the traveling around and seeing friends and family, Kendra and I have had to repack our suitcases for a much warmer climate. In November of last year, while in Belfast, Kendra and I decided to do a second YAV year. As the months carried on, we narrowed our options down to New Orleans and Tucson. Both sites were appealing to us, offering Kendra opportunities to use her engineering skills and offering me a variety of completely new endeavors to choose from, but in the end, Tucson was clearly the right choice for us to make. Therefore, in two weeks we'll be moving to the southwest to experience a climate completely opposite of the one we left behind in Belfast.

In Tucson, Kendra will be working for Habitat for Humanity. I will be working with CHRPA (Community Home Repair Project of Arizona). CHRPA is a non-profit that seeks to assist low income and disadvantaged homeowners in the Tucson area by providing emergency home repairs and safety modifications for people living with disabilities. I'm incredibly excited about strapping on the tool belt each day and living out my faith with my hands. I'm also looking forward to getting to know our clientele, as one of the reasons I chose to work with CHRPA was the promise that they strive not to remember their clients as "the roof repair" or "the broken furnace" but take the time to hear their stories. The work was described to me as a combination of handiwork and social work. It is really shaping up to look like an exceptional year, one that will compliment the year in Belfast perfectly.

One of the challenges we will face in Tucson is living in intentional Christian community. We will be in a house with eight other people, six YAVs and two YAVAs (Young Adult Volunteer Alumni). Contrary to the belief of most people we've told this to, however, we are excited about the prospect of this living arrangement. One focus of the YAV program is living in community and we began to explore this in Belfast with our comrades on the north side of town by having meals and other get togethers frequently, always gathering with purpose. This was a nice, easy introduction to living in intentional community since Kendra and I lived in a different house than Christina and Zoe, but as the year went on, we decided we wanted to explore living in community more. Thus, we definitely brought this on ourselves but are looking forward to it!

Because we're doing a second YAV year, we also have to fund raise a second time. Last year we had to raise $16000 for our year in Belfast, and, due to an incredible support system of family and friends, we were able to meet that goal. This time around we have been asked to raise $10000 for our time in Tucson. If you would like to support us in meeting this goal, you can do so by sending checks made out to Tucson Borderland YAV with Heimbuck in the memo line to:

Linda Marshal
716 S. Lucinda Dr.
Tucson, AZ  85748

In addition to financial support, and more importantly, we also need your prayers! Please support us by keeping us in your prayers over this next year.

Thank you! We look forward to beginning our time in Tucson and keeping you up to date with what we're doing there.

Monday, July 30, 2012

a year in review - part 1 of ?

Today someone asked me what my "Aha!" moments were this past year. I sat and thought. I thought a little more. Eventually, I came up with a couple. The first and most striking revelation about the year was simply that the conflict in Northern Ireland is way more complex than most people think. It's been hard to understand it while living here and seeing it firsthand. Even people who have lived here their whole lives tell me that it's difficult to understand. I can't begin to fathom how I am going to explain the situation to people back home. Yet, in light of that, I've learned the importance of dialogue this past year. I've learned how nonviolent efforts can make a significant impact. And really, how can violence ever lead to peace? The need for nonviolent efforts in the peace and reconciliation process are more importantly than anything else and I was incredibly lucky to be a part of these types of efforts at the 174 Trust and Woodvale Methodist.

My second "Aha!" moment came through my work with the Disabilities Club. This moment didn't occur as a quick flash like so many "Aha!" moments do but was a subtle aha. It crept up on me through the year as I began to understand so many different things through this work. First, the club helped me to understand the importance of letting people know they have value and worth. I felt like we worked hard to help the kids succeed in the different activities we presented to them and I tried to always let the kids know how great of a time I had with them. And truly, I always did. From the night I spent in the bathroom taking care of one of them who was sick to the night one of them began chatting "Baldy!" at me and others joined in, I've always looked back fondly on each night at the club.

The second part of the "Aha!" moment at the club had to do with how we look at ourselves. We went mini-golfing in March and one of the kids pushed another into the water hazard. It was knee deep and as the girl stepped out she looked at me and laughed, "I'm soaking!" It didn't phase her the rest of the night. She couldn't do anything about it really, so she just continued having a good time. It was a great lesson for me as I am someone who seems to constantly worry about what could go wrong or what has gone wrong. As my parents would say, "Lighten up!"

The last part of my lesson with the club was an understanding of the size and inclusivity of God's kingdom. The children at the club had so much to offer me. Each week I learned something new from the kids. I thought I was supposed to be helping them out but it really worked the other way around. I never left the club with a frown on my face. Our first Christmas away from family was eased by the impromptu carols we sang on the bus in December, and in all of the more difficult situations we had, the kids showed me that I had what it would take to make it through. They helped me understand that we all have important places in the kingdom and important work to be done. More importantly, they helped me learn that that same work can be a whole lot of fun.

I've learned much more in Belfast than what I've written above and will reflect more upon what the year has meant and the lessons I have learned as I better understand what those things are in the weeks and months to come. But it's been a terrific year in Belfast. I'll look back on this year with great memories. I'm going to miss climbing Cave Hill, talking with the young adult group at Woodvale, Tayto Cheese and Onion crisps, teaching my guitar kiddos, Guinness from so close to the brewery, our Woodvale Methodist church family, our Whitehouse church family, our 174 Trust family, not having a car, riding in the up top and in the front of the double deckers, and all of the great friends we've made at our placements (just to name a few things). Thank you to everyone who helped to make this year possible by supporting us through prayer, financially, with a nice meal, with a nice conversation or just with a warm hug. It's been an experience of a lifetime for me and Kendra and we are so thankful to have had it.

Cheers for now,