Words are powerful. Words have meaning. Words have worth. And there is a balance between reflection and action. We are here to learn to see what’s real and and to begin exploring how to allow what we see transform us.
Last week the Young Adult Volunteer program attended orientation in Stony Point, New York. Aside from the amazing organic, garden fresh food, new friends and beautiful landscape, we were provided with a few great seminars that really shifted our minds into the right gear for this upcoming year.
There is a common misconception about the word ‘missionary.’ Missionaries are stereotypically viewed as individuals who go to a foreign land and plan to evangelize to or help those that they are in contact with. The term has started to hold these negative connotations in the eyes of the communities that we, as “missionaries” are entering. When some of us are situated in our current social/class positions, it’s unfortunately easy to slip into the belief that our mission is to “bring Jesus” into the cities we’re joining (and for others who don’t understand what we’re doing to make the same assumptions). And that’s the key word: joining. God is already in these cities, they don’t need us 20-somethings to be their savior. He needs us to be present in His word and glorify Him in our actions.
We as volunteers, straddle the line between the center and the borderlands, the overpowering voices and the unspoken voices. We aren’t becoming poster post-grad college students who are going to help solve all of the issues in our world and create world peace; it’s ludicrous to think that we’d ever be able to do so. Rather, we are going to understand communities and how the brokenness in our world has affected them. To hear their voices and share the words of those who are constantly told they don’t have worth. To make invisible communities visible to the rest of the world. To stop making assumptions and stereotypes and start making relationships and finding common ground. To allow what we see transform us and act on those transformations.
One thing that stuck with me during orientation was during my groups’ visit to the Sikh Gurdwara in NJ; We experienced a shortened version of their worship ceremony followed by a delicious traditional Indian meal and time to discuss their religion’s past, present and future. They welcomed us, strangers, into their holy temple of worship, to share their stories. . .to be honest and open about their faith and the way in which they view other religions and seek to act in interfaith communities.
During our Q&A, the 20-year old Sikh woman said to us, “We just want you to know who we are.” It was the simplest of sentences, but one of the most powerful ones I’ve been carrying with me these past 9 days.
For her words, I’m thankful. For their hospitality, I’m thankful. They remind me why I’m doing the Young Adult Volunteer program and I look forward to how they’ll impact the rest of this journey.
“With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony,
and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.”
-Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
by William Wordsworth