Hand in Hand Blog Digest

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

The gift of love

Posted on October 22, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Mari K Hanchar is spending a year of service in Hungary as part of the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. A recent entry in her blog, “The Hungarian Experience: a year of servanthood,” is about love for one another and the special way she recently experienced it. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to  www.ELCA.org/4missionaries.

The stack of cereal, and the four on the windowsill. My siblings love cereal too, so we've gone through two boxes already and lots of milk!

The stack of cereal, and the four on the windowsill. My siblings love cereal too, so we’ve gone through two boxes already and lots of milk!

It’s been almost one month since I arrived in Nyírgyháza (Sept. 10 was the official move-in date). Many people have shown me, an outsider, kindness. I have numerous stories, but this one is special to me.

When I first arrived at my home, I was at a loss for what to eat. My host family had food, but I had no idea what to do with the contents in the fridge. There were hot dogs, cheese, milk, butter, jam, meats and of course paprika. When it came time for breakfast, I usually settled on bread with jam. By the end of week two, I was craving some comfort food. When I went to the grocery store with my family, I found what I had been looking for:  cereal. I love cereal.

I went to pick out my favorite kind, Cinni Minis (Hungary’s version of Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and then looked at the price. I was shocked at how expensive cereal was. It’s not outrageous but comparatively, it’s expensive, especially on a stipend budget. I decided to purchase a box for the comfort of having familiar food in the house.

My host family didn’t have cereal in the house. I think it’s partially because it’s costly, but I also believe it’s a cultural difference. Breakfast often consists of bread, meat and cheese.

About one week ago, I went downstairs for breakfast before work. My host mom wanted to show me something in the kitchen. I followed her and saw that she was pointing to the four boxes of cereal on the windowsill. In Hungarian, she told me that the cereal was on sale so she bought some. I had a huge smile on my face and my heart was filled with warmth by her kind gesture. I repeated “thank you” many times and gave her a big hug. I happily went to work taking the feelings of love with me.

When I returned from work a while later, I went into the kitchen. I was fumbling around for something and then looked over at the gift of the cereal, smiling. I glanced down from the windowsill and to my surprise, there were NINE more boxes of cereal stacked up on the ground. My heart skipped a beat, and for a second I lost my breath. The warm feeling in my heart returned and quickly spread throughout my body giving me chills. I was taken aback, and I could feel my eyes watering up. I stood in the kitchen a while dumbfounded and amazed.

This gift was and remains meaningful to me. It was more than the gift of cereal; it was the gift of comfort. It was the gift of acceptance into the family. It was the gift of kindness to someone she barely knew. It was the gift of love.

 

 

Gratitude

Posted on March 5, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Kaleb Sutherland is spending a year in South Africa as a volunteer in the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. In a recent entry in the YAGM in Southern Africa blog, Kaleb writes that, far from being a sacrifice, his is very grateful for the privilege of this year of service. There are over 50 young adults around the world serving in the program, which relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Kaleb Sutherland in South Africa.

Kaleb Sutherland in South Africa.

A recent conversation at Umphumulo Hospital:

Doctor: What are you doing here?
Me: I’m a volunteer with the Lutheran church. I stay at the church center up the hill. I’ll be here for about a year total.
Doctor: Oh. And where are you from?
Me: The United States.
Doctor: What a sacrifice!

I left the hospital that day with a pit in my stomach. And I’m not talking about the stomach bug that was the reason for my visit. Sacrifice?! A good intention on the doctor’s part, but that word caught me off guard big time.

Yes, there are naturally sacrifices associated with spending a year living in another country. Like being away from my family and friends in the United States for a really long time.

Or living without Snickers bars for 11 months. Rough life. Ha.

But seriously. As my gut reaction to the doctor’s comment reminded me, I would never choose the word “sacrifice” to define my life in South Africa. So if anyone out there was considering feeling sorry for me or commending me for making such a big sacrifice … I appreciate the kindness, but please channel your emotions into a sentiment that better fits the situation.

Like gratitude. Because at the end of the day — no matter how confusing or frustrating or exhausting it may be — the opportunity to live as a member of this community is an overwhelming privilege. To have the support of so many wonderful people in the United States is an overwhelming privilege. To be molded by an increasingly expansive vision of church and family and faith is an overwhelming privilege. To be invited into spaces of deep heartbreak and deep joy within the lives of my neighbors here is an overwhelming privilege. To become a neighbor, a brother and a son in Umphumulo is an overwhelming privilege. To wake up each day to a God and a community who relentlessly love me even when I feel unlovable is an overwhelming privilege. And to realize that I did absolutely nothing to earn any of these privileges … that’s grace, my friends.

And so no matter how overwhelmed or confused or frustrated I may be at times, I pray that the emotion that rises to the top of the jumble is one of overwhelming gratitude. For this place. For this time. For this family. For this global church. And for the grace that binds our gratitude together.

Love meets love – extreme caroling

Posted on January 1, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Rebecca Wicker is spending a year in Malaysia as part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. Teaching English is among her volunteer activities. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Rebecca Wicker

Rebecca Wicker


Someone was incredibly ambitious and scheduled the youths (I work with) to go caroling at approximately 80 homes over the span of a week. I had no idea that the church bus could handle so much off-roading. I also had no idea that we could squeeze 25 people inside, but hey, everyone just yells “BOLEH!” (“can”) and makes it happen. So as Extreme Caroling Day Five comes to a close, I wanted to share some thoughts.

The youths have brought an incredible amount of love and enthusiasm to every house we’ve gone to. No house is too far out or too isolated for us to reach. At every house, we share a mini-program with the family complete with a greeting, prayer, a couple of songs, a Bible passage, and “Selamat Hari Natal” (aka “We Wish You a Merry Christmas) in Bahasa Malayu, English, Chinese or Murut. Even though we’ve done this routine at least eight times each of the past five nights, the youths come and share as if each house is the very first house. This incredible love has been met each time with an incredible welcome. Some places have electricity while others are lit by lantern. But all the people receive us with joy. People invite us inside and sing along to the music.

Tonight, one instance stuck out to me. At about the fifth house, we climbed up inside the common room of a home where at least nine people lived. The place was lit with just one electric lantern, and we needed our flashlights to see the music. During the first song, I saw one woman sitting with her eyes closed, singing along to the music and swaying to the rhythm. The look on her face showed she was savoring every moment. When we shook hands to leave, she held everyone’s hand just a bit longer. It hit me then that this was far more than just a 10-minute program for her. She was holding each second and fully taking in the time we spent there. I can’t speak for her and say what that moment meant, but there was something in that time where the love of the carolers met the love and welcome of the people we visited. It’s one of those times when you put every ounce of love into what you do and leave the rest up to God. My hope is that as we’ve gone out this week, we’ve been a blessing to everyone we’ve met. I know the people I’ve gone with and the people I’ve met have been a blessing in yet again helping me experience those God moments.

 

The story doesn’t end here

Posted on June 30, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Jordan Muller is an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) volunteer, who will soon complete his time in South Africa. The YAGM program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Jordan Muller

Jordan Muller

Although it’s hard to believe, I have arrived at my last 10 days at the Kwaz and my final two weeks in South Africa. On July 10 I will head to Pietermaritzburg for a few days … and (then) return to the States. I find myself filled with a myriad of emotions as the end draws near: sad, happy, proud, anxious, nervous, excited — to name a few. It feels like I’m coming to the end of a book. However, if this is the end of a book then it would have to be a part of a series because, just as my story didn’t start when I boarded the plane to Chicago over 10 months ago, my story does not end when I go to Pietermaritzburg or when I get off the plane in Lincoln, Neb.

The difficulty now will be to figure out what the point of this book was and how it fits into the series. What has it meant for me, my community in South Africa, my community in Nebraska, my role as a YAGM, as a church member?  I don’t know if I will ever be able to come up with an answer that anyone else will fully understand but I will try to head in that direction.

I didn’t come to South Africa to say that I’ve been to South Africa or to say that I’ve lived in another country for a year. I came to experience.  I came to accompany the people, to experience a new culture and customs, to learn about the struggles that others face, to grow in as many ways as I could and to be challenged by all of it. And to be honest, my time here was more challenging than I ever thought it would be but, at the same time, I know that the struggles I faced helped me to grow and to learn lessons I never could have been taught in a classroom or read from a book.

The reality is that this experience was never about just me. I do not live in a world that is isolated from everyone else. If you haven’t read any of my previous posts, Ubuntu is a Zulu/Xhosa word that basically says that a person is a person through other people. We are all connected to each other as humans and, because of this, we are called into a greater community. There are so many people that have made this experience possible and made it what is has been. For that, I am forever grateful. I was blessed with an amazing opportunity and I hope that I was able to be a blessing to those that I accompanied throughout my time here.

As this book comes to an end, I am eager to see what the plot of the next book will be.  Above all, though, I pray that I am able to continue to experience new things, to learn, to grow, to hope, to be grateful, to need less, to give more, to love much, to laugh often and to have a good time doing it!

 

The power of power

Posted on June 26, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Cindy McPeake is spending a year in Malaysia as part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Lunch at the New Life Center.

Lunch at the New Life Center.

While we were in Thailand recently for our last group retreat, we got to visit the New Life Center, a center for young women who have been exploited or forced into labor. We took a tour of the facilities, ate lunch with some of the residents and spoke with the director. We talked about the causes of forced labor, what the government is doing to eliminate it and how the center is part of restoring the young girls’ hope.

We asked the director, in a seemingly hopeless situation, where does she see hope? Her response was, “sitting with the girls, listening to them cry, crying with them and being angry with them. And then seeing the transformation they go through when their power … their hope … is restored.”

Later that night, we talked about power and what it means. We defined power as “the ability to act.” The New Life Center director had the great power to act on behalf of those young women. She had the power to sit with them and cry. She had the power to show them that they could take back their own power, their own ability to act.

Our discussion moved to what motivates us to act. We all have the great responsibility to take action, to use our power on the behalf of other people to inspire, empower and sustain them. It can be a daunting task, to use our power wisely and positively, with the greater good in mind. But there is also power in using our power.

The power of power comes from building relationships with people, forming bonds of trust and restoring hope to the hopeless.

I know for me, I struggle with letting people have that power over me. Not because I think they will use it negatively but rather because it’s hard for me to admit I need help.

A good example of this is prayer. I truly love praying for other people. To be in conversation with God on the behalf of other people is a great joy for me. But I struggle letting people pray for me. I struggle letting people in on my own struggles. I am ashamed that I struggle and that I can’t handle it on my own. To acknowledge that weakness and be humbled by someone else’s prayer is always something I shy away from.

At the close of our retreat, we had a foot-washing devotion, which was a huge struggle for me. To sit, in front of my fellow YAGMs, as someone prayed for me is way outside of my comfort zone. To be completely vulnerable in the midst of all those people challenged my ability to stay calm.

But I did it. And it was a blessing to be blessed. To be taken care of. To be prayed for and cleansed.

That’s the power of power – the ability to act, but also the ability to stop acting and let someone else act for you. It’s the ability to step back from yourself and allow others to step forward.

How are you powerful? How do you allow others to have power over you?

‘Just jump!’

Posted on June 16, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Here are excerpts from a message recently delivered by Jessie Obrecht, an incoming participant in the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. She will be spending a year in Malaysia under the guidance of the Rev. Peter Harrits, a regional YAGM coordinator. The YAGM program relies on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Jessie Obrecht

Jessie Obrecht

 … At the beginning of my senior year (at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.,) I applied for a program called Young Adults in Global Mission, which is a program for youth to go abroad for 12 months and serve as a missionary in one of nine countries … .

After submitting my application, my response to people asking “Why do you want to do this?” was: “I want to get out of my comfort zone.  I want to experience something completely different … .”

… (But) about a week and a half after (being accepted) I realized that as exciting as all my new adventures and achievements were, that I was deeply rooted in the community of Moorhead and Concordia College ,,, . Here I was having to step outside of my comfort zone, outside of the family and community I had known for four years, and I was fighting it like a stubborn mule!

I won’t tell you that after this revelation of being challenged and stretched that leaving Concordia was all rainbows and bunnies. I won’t tell you it was fun or happy. … I shed more tears within those weeks than ever before.

But I also learned a ton from this experience. …

In a movie I watched a few weeks ago, “We Bought a Zoo,” one of the characters, Benjamin Mee, says, “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Now, in my words, what Benjamin Mee is saying is that every once in a while we just have to take one big ole leap of faith in life. We’ve gotta throw it all up, leave it to God, and just jump! …

For me, my leap of faith is Malaysia, and I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t absolutely terrified to hop on that plane in three months. But sometimes in life, we have to take that leap of faith, to embrace the unknown, and to risk, because in the end, we’ve got the greatest safety net of them all in God. So why not take this crazy, beautiful life, and live it to glorify God’s name in any and every way we can?

Amen

To read Jessie’s complete message, go to her blog.

 

 

 

Coming – and going – in Mexico

Posted on June 5, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Andrea and the Rev. Luke Roske-Metcalfe are ELCA missionaries in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Andrea is a regional coordinator for the Young Adults in Global Mission program and Luke serves in parish ministry. To support Andrea and Luke, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Luke and Andrea Roske-Metcalfe

Luke and Andrea Roske-Metcalfe

Greetings to you from Cuernavaca!

The last few months have been full of travel and big decisions. Andrea was in Chicago for the annual meetings of all the country coordinators of the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program, followed by the YAGM Discernment-Interview-Placement Event in Williams Bay, Wis.  This is the time during which placements for the new YAGM candidates are assigned.  Interest in the YAGM program has never been higher – a record 111 young people applied this year.  Sixty-two (the highest number ever invited) came to the Williams Bay event, and all of them were offered a placement.  Nine volunteers will be coming to Mexico next year.  Your prayers – for their preparation, for patience as they wait to hear news of their host families and volunteer work assignments, and for the communities that currently support them and that await their arrival in August – are much appreciated.

In a similar vein, the current YAGM volunteers have just over two months before their term of service comes to an end.  It’s a difficult time, when they struggle with how to stay present and engaged with their communities here, even as they look forward with both anticipation and trepidation to what awaits them back in the U.S.  Your prayers for us during this time would also be appreciated!

We’ve discerned, as a family, that our season of serving in Mexico through Global Mission is coming to an end.  We will stay through July 2013, which is still more than a year away.  This timetable will allow Luke to accompany his congregation, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, through the process of determining their future, which may include calling a new pastor.  The congregation’s finances continue to be a constant struggle. It will also allow Andrea to accompany the next group of volunteers through their entire year of service. 

We want to communicate, very clearly, that there are no problems in our current work, nor has anything happened to make us want to leave.  We simply feel that God is calling us elsewhere.  We believe (we hope, anyway!) that we have done good work here, and that we will be able to “leave well” from our communities and our respective ministries.

We’re abundantly aware of the support that each and every one of you has provided (and continue to provide) and of the ways that that support has impacted our lives and the lives of those we accompany in this work.  Words truly cannot express the gratitude we have for what you’ve made possible.

With gratitude,

Andrea, Luke and Olivia Roske-Metcalfe

 

Experiencing Madagascar

Posted on June 2, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Austin and Tanya Propst are the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) coordinators for Madagascar. The YAGM  program relies  on the coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

Austin, center, gets a lesson in picking peanuts.

Austin, center, gets a lesson in picking peanuts.

Tanya and I have been here in Madagascar for three months now. As in all aspects of life, it has been a journey.  Eight weeks of Malagasy language training, a month of travels to visit volunteer placement sites, a quick trip to the States to meet the new Young Adults in Global Mission volunteers and, of course, our own adjustment to living in a new place.

There have been countless ways that I have seen God at work, what a blessing it has been to experience. The Malagasy people have such a passion to offer us, and all visitors, with an experience of culture. Malagasy always ask, “Ahoana no fahitanao an’ Madagasikara?” (How do you see Madagascar?) I have discovered Madagascar is not to only see with my eyes, but how to see, feel understand, know and experience with my whole being. And the passion of the Malagasy is to continue to offer us a deeper experience and understanding of their unique culture.

No matter where we find ourselves, or who we meet, we are offered a true Malagasy experience.  Maybe through a meal, showing us how to wash clothes, teaching us words and phrases, teaching us how to plant/grow/harvest rice, or in our most recent experience, how to harvest peanuts — click here to watch the video. The Malagasy want to share themselves unceasingly by offering us a glimpse of what it means to live here in Madagascar.  I have found that the foundation of what it means to be Malagasy is simple: relationship.

We are blessed to be happy and happy to be blessed, sambatra!

– Austin

 

 

Overcoming fear

Posted on May 29, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Liz Frey is spending a year in Malaysia teaching English as a second language as a member of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator,  go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Serving as a YAGM in Malaysia has helped Liz Frey control her fears.

Serving as a YAGM in Malaysia has helped Liz Frey control her fears.

I never thought of myself as brave. I have a very timid disposition, if you ask me. I do not like to face my fears; instead, I allow them to fester while I hide. I would wait for someone else to make a move. I would blame my inaction on others.

Fear or the opposite of bravery can be crippling and life changing. It hinders us in doing things that we want to do, that we should do, that we need to do. I can think of countless examples of times in my life that I allowed my fear to take control. My fear of being alone or unloved. My fear of losing a friend. My fear of being wrong. My fear of leaving home. The list goes on and on. I can pick out so many moments where my fear beat out the call of bravery.

Yet, a big change in me has been the development of bravery. I didn’t go to Oz to collect courage from the Wizard. Instead I came to Malaysia, and here is where I received bravery. I faced one of the biggest fears in my life – going out on my own. I couldn’t run home if things were difficult. I wanted to face this fear head on; I had allowed it to block other dreams and this wouldn’t happen again.

I was really scared from the onset and in some serious denial about leaving. I had morphed the whole summer before coming to Malaysia into playtime. I pretended I wasn’t leaving. I could feel the fear creeping into me, as the time at home got shorter. But I was committed, and I was determined to face my fears in the unknown.

And I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel fear coming every day. Every day brings something new to tackle, big or small. But every time I feel this fear, I remind myself of a great quote from a great book, “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman: “Because when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”

This is what I have learned about myself in the last eight months. I can be brave. In fact, I am brave. Fear is just part of life, but I can’t let it hold me back. As I round out the last few days of the semester at STS, I can’t help, but smile. I am so proud of myself and how far I have come. The next step is packing up this newfound bravery and bringing it home with me.

 

‘A person is a person through people’

Posted on May 12, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Jordan Muller is part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. He is spending a year in Estcourt, South Africa. The YAGM program is reliant on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

At a taxi rank, or terminal, there can be hundreds of minibus taxis waiting for passengers.

At a taxi rank, or terminal, there can be hundreds of minibus taxis waiting for passengers.

There are two things that I really struggle with when riding the mimibus taxis here. The first is that the taxi doesn’t depart until it is full so you never know when you will leave. The other problem I have is that they are always so hot! For some reason no one likes having windows open no matter how hot it gets so I often arrive at my destination feeling sweaty and gross.

Last week, when I was going from Estcourt to Pietermaritzburg, my tolerance for the taxis was maxing out. After 90 minutes of waiting, the taxi was full but for some reason the manager decided we should go in a different taxi so all 15 of us had to get out and move to another taxi. I had been in the back by a window which was great because then I could control how hot it was by me. However, upon moving to the other taxi I ended up being the last one to have to squeeze into the back row. I got to Pietermaritzburg and told Elise, another volunteer, that I don’t know how many more of those I’m going to be able to handle!  Then, right on cue, my return trip to Estcourt was very different.

Because there are so many taxis in one rank (or terminal), it can become confusing and difficult to find the one that is going where you need. On my way back to Estcourt we had just gotten on the interstate when an older woman a few rows ahead of me started asking about where the taxi was going. I couldn’t understand most of the conversation as it was in Zulu but I did hear her saying, “Tugela” several times, which is another hour past Estcourt. She was realizing, too late, that she had gotten on the wrong taxi.

She soon began to cry as she did not have enough money to then make the trip from Estcourt to Tugela. Without pause, a girl sitting next to her began asking everyone to put some money together for her. Through everyone’s donations the woman was given  more than enough to make the next leg of her journey.

I watched the whole thing in awe and humility. God knew that this was just the thing I needed to renew my spirit as frustration and annoyance had begun to take over.  “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” is a Zulu expression meaning, “A person is a person through people.” In other words, we do not get where we are solely by ourselves. There are so many people around us that make us who we are and help us along the way. The spirit of Ubuntu filled that taxi as a group of strangers were willing to help another stranger for no benefit of their own. Such a small but awesome experience to be a part of and one I will not soon forget!