Magandang tanghali po, or good afternoon, from Manila! My partner YAV, Lauren, and I left orientation at Stony Point Center in New York on Monday evening to begin our trek to the Philippines. After a twenty hour flight, plus a few hours including transportation to the airport, a stop in Vancouver, and security & customs, we have arrived in country! It is midday here and 12 hours ahead of EST. I am eating some delicious dumplings and waiting to board our final flight to Dumaguete City! There, we will finally meet our site coordinators Dessa and Cobbie to begin orientation to the Philippines. Over the past week, each day has brought me more and more excitement for this year, and especially after orientation I feel as if I’m going in to this year with an army of love and support behind me. I couldn’t be more grateful for every person following my blog and checking up on me in various ways! Here’s a sum up of my past week of orientation. Sending everyone reading this so much love!!
Flashback to ten days ago, my lovely sister Claire was helping me fill my solitary backpack to the brim with a year’s worth of clothes and supplies. A core tenet of the YAV program is living simply, which I tried very hard to live into by packing lightly- a feat that would not definitely not have been possible without Claire’s help! On August 27, the day of the eclipse, my family took me to Baltimore to catch a train to Newark, NJ. Upon arrival in Newark, I promptly realized that an email with instructions on how to get to Stony Point must have gotten mysteriously lost somewhere in my spam folder, so I quite literally walked up to young adults in the train station who sported some stereotypical Presbyterian trends. Lo and behold, the first Chaco sandal-wearing, Nalgene water bottle-drinking 20-some year old I approached was indeed another YAV! We gathered a group to swap eclipse glasses and navigate the train system to Stony Point together, arriving just in time for dinner.
For anyone who has not had the opportunity to visit Stony Point Center, I HIGHLY encourage looking into it, as my week stay left me feeling incredibly restored, grounded, and moved to go out in the world and serve. Not only is this space one of the most racially and ethnically diverse ministries of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but it sustains a Community of Living Traditions made up of roughly 20 Christians, Jews and Muslims who both volunteer and reside at the center. Over the past century, the site has been home to political refugees seeking asylum, international mission workers from over seven protestant dominations, and dialogue around the reformation of missionary work in the PC(USA) church. Co-directors Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase have worked tirelessly to create the intentional community at Stony Point since they arrived August 2008, and its grounds host an acre of farmland that produce over 2,000 pounds of vegetables per year! This makes for some DELICIOUS and fresh meals!
Our YAV orientation, grounded in the respect and love of Stony Point Center, united 70+ YAVs about to embark on a year of service at dozens of national and international sites. The organization CrossRoads led an intensive 24-hour antiracism training, which equipped us with a basic understanding of how we are implicated in unjust social arrangements, which will be necessary to consider before fully loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not only did I feel sent from this training with the goal to engage in dialogue and continued learning to further the process of reconciliation, but I am now motivated to go into my year serving behind, instead of beside, mission partners in the Philippines. As a YAV, I seek to ask critical questions regarding underlying sources of oppression rather than focusing on band-aid issues to the many problems that simmer from the cracks of broken and intertwined systems. I am encouraged to turn my frustration and grief with my own identity into communal hope and action this year and beyond, and I feel that this story shared by Valerie Kaur is an idyllic example of turning pain into beauty.
Daily bible studies led by Stony Point Center Co-Director Rick also exemplified how I hope to put these principles into action. Rick studies scripture based on the understanding that the only way to read it is to come prepared to be challenged, and leave ready to act on it meaningfully. We dissected gospel passages pointing to the social and political constructs that Jesus challenges boldly throughout the gospel. In Matthew 25, Jesus makes a prophecy of a globalized world in which people of higher class loan out money to those of less privilege, setting the lower classes up for failure no matter how hard they work. In Luke 6, Jesus questions systems by making a politically astute, nonviolent and confrontative statement by challenging the Pharisees to go against the law and work for the spirit on the Sabbath. I have never before read scripture in a way so applicable to the systems of oppression in our nation today, and this was one of the most pivotal points of my orientation experience.
Group worship and small group time every day helped us process all we learned, reflect on highs and lows, and build a strong and uplifting community around these heavy topics. On the last day of orientation, the volunteers were split into groups to be commissioned by local churches, and I found just as much support and inspiration from orientation as I did at First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown, New York, who graciously welcomed me and my close friend Elizabeth into their congregation and service. I am continuously in awe of the support of this church community and my greater support network from home, school and camp! Cannot wait to take you all along on this journey to be stretched and challenged together.