Thursday, August 26, 2010

Journalism article-Concordia Courier

The following is an advanced draft of an article I wrote for the Concordia newspaper. The first two paragraphs introduce the trip, and the rest is a summary of how my heart and mind have changed since arriving in Buenos Aires. Feel free to comment with edits, critiques or advice on what should be included/excluded or changed. Thank you!

A team of 30 students and faculty set out on Concordia’s first Around-the-World Semester, an adventure of a lifetime. We will spend four months traveling abroad to ten countries not only learning of culture, but also experiencing it firsthand. We have already begun to experience, treasure and record every intense and awe-inspiring detail. My hope is to discover a deeper sense of self, others, and my role in this giant world.

We will spend 2-3 weeks each in Argentina, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Kenya, India, Indonesia and China. During this 18-week program, in addition to our class work, we will take part in many service projects such as teaching English in China, volunteering for an Indian orphanage, and serving in the slums of Kenya.

Our first stop is Argentina. We arrived in Buenos Aires on a foggy Tuesday afternoon, and fought to stay awake as the day dragged on. Each weekday morning, we have group devotions and class-work. The bonding of our group has been expedited because we spend the whole day together studying, reading, praying, volunteering, attempting to order lunch in Spanish, and exploring this beautiful city. Every day is full of new experiences, such as brushing your teeth with Dr. Norton, discussing literature and culture over a cup of Café con leche, and having our “university home-school” during the week. Class discussions are littered with inside jokes about getting lost on the way to the subway, participating in a street drum-show, and our black-wearing, mate-drinking, cat-loving hostel receptionist.

The second day we arrived, we started volunteering with LIFE Argentina, a non-government organization that helps support youth and kids from the slums of Buenos Aires. I started this service project without realizing the intense poverty that can exist so close to a city like Buenos Aires. Within a ten minute bus ride, we went from high-rise buildings, fancy clothing stores and cafés, to brightly painted shack-like buildings. These villas form an underprivileged community of children, trapped in poor circumstances. Our group has been able to form relationships with the kids, while serving them food, playing jump rope and soccer, coloring, reading and teaching English. Our limited Spanish has not hindered our new friends from trying to communicate with us, and even their smiles say more than enough.

Cultural differences become apparent every single day. Our hearts and minds are being stretched to encompass a larger world. Part of me misses the accessibility of California: the overabundance of a Starbucks Iced coffee, unlimited texting, and English speakers. That part of me is lessening with each day we spend away from home, away from normal life, friends and cable TV. That part of me is experiencing a new concept of freedom I had yet to learn.

The first two weeks of this trip have been the most expedited learning experience I have ever participated in. My mind is open to learn more about life, individuals, language, and God’s heart for His people.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The broken jar filled to the brim

Someone once told me that if you are discontent with life, it is a misplaced desire for God. That your heart and mind are in the wrong place. When our eyes and hearts wander away from the truth, we become dissatisfied, because Christ is the only source of true joy, peace and contentment.

Life is so fast paced here in the city. We are busy taking classes, studying, reading, volunteering with LIFE Argentina, eating, making friends and taking photos. I feel a need to empty myself. To spend a day in silence, in observation. God desires our best, our whole hearts, every part of our self.

When life fills up, I trust God wants to take back what is His. I believe He delights that our lives are full of love, adventure, seeking friendships and trying to advance the Kingdom. But I feel now that all of this stuff is just that- stuff. So I will make time for Jesus. Empty myself so He can fill me back up so I will be even more equipped to do the work He has called me towards.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

City life and Slum living

Buenos Aires:
These past two days have been a blur of city streets, empanadas, Spanish phrases, a few classes and meeting many new faces. Wait, 3 days, 2 full days. Yesterday we volunteered with a non-government organization (LIFE); we helped host a birthday party for the kids living in the slum of Ciudad Oculta, in Southern Buenos Aires. A ten minute car ride took us from socialite downtown to some of the poorest neighborhoods I have ever seen. Our group of 30 was split into 2, and we joined four other volunteers (two from Britain, one from Denmark, and one from Paris).

Earlier that morning I was journaling about how my heart seemed hardened to the service projects we would be doing on this trip. I wanted to be excited, but I had my own selfish traveling agenda in mind. Thankfully God did a work in my heart on the van ride over, and the selfishness I had been wrestling with was calmed. The birthday party was a success! There were dirt floors, our decorations were falling off the walls, candles slipped off the homemade cakes, games of soccer and jump rope were constantly interrupted by cars driving down the narrow, one-lane street..

But kids smiled and laughed. We attempted to speak Spanish as we painted faces, wrapped presents, and sang Happy Birthday twice, in each language. My heart was moved to greater compassion, and the kids were shown Christ's love.

We have had a few classes: Spanish, Cold War, Argentinian history. Tomorrow is World Religions (Islam) and World Literature (The Tango Singer). Today a few of us wandered the city streets and found a few cafes where we read for our classes. We visited Plaza de Mayo, the Congress building, and navigated the subway system (1 peso/25 cents each way).

I am trying to take in every sight and sound, and record it all in my big black journal so I don't forget these incredible moments. Thanks for reading, I'll update with the stories for my Travel Writing class soon,

Please pray for unity among the team and time management to do our service projects, read and study for class, alone time, time with God for devotions and worship, and time with locals in this beautiful city.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

International mishap

3 hours or so of intermittent sleep and even in my groggy mind I can tell this isn't the right destination.

Sure, as we descended, there is most of what you would expect from Argentina. The ocean, the red-roofed houses, the clusters of mopeds on hard-packed dirt roads and the early morning traffic. Just as I expected. But I have already learned this trip is full of missed expectations, with a wavering vein of continuity, at best.

Months of preparation and packing lists haven't helped make sleeping on an airplane any easier. For the second leg from Lima, Peru to Buenos Aires, I am scrunched in between an arm rest and a window.

Wrong city. Wrong country. Right continent, however, and that leaves a glimmer of hope. Welcome to Uruguay everyone. But now we wait. Eyes half-opened against the Southern hemisphere's rising sun. Is the sun closer here? The philosophical wonderings of a sleep-deprived college student. Yes, I conclude, to myself. I am fairly sure it is closer, because sleep is fleeting more and more quickly.

Elevator music, with an uncharacteristically strong beat, pounds as I contemplate the day of traveling. Two long days, divided by an ocean, yet haphazardly stitched together in a jagged line of the airplane's route map.

What else will hold these days together? Nothing can prevent them from being pulled apart, defined by new stories, new faces and eventually, the correct airport.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pre-Departure anxiety

Yesterday was really difficult. My mom called me and I said "I changed my mind. I don't want to go anymore. You can have my ticket; I want to stay in Irvine and work and go to school like a normal 21 year old." That was the first time I held anything but excitement and love for this trip.

Step 1 of my transformation. Anyone can be excited about traveling. But when I packed up my room, paid all my bills, made my last deposits and started saying goodbye, that was a defining moment. Another step in the journey towards growing, changing and shifting my mindset to be more like Jesus. I want to be stretched beyond what I am used to, and nothing says simplicity more than living out of a backpack.

So the journey doesn't start tomorrow. Because it has already begun. The adventure continues: off to Buenos Aires tomorrow with an amazing group of people. May God continue to change our hearts towards his heart, as we receive grace upon grace.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Preschool Christians, a narrative of change

Lucas is almost 3 years old. I have learned a lot from Lucas as his nanny for the past year. Mostly, he has taught me about Jesus. After spending 30 hours per week with a child, you begin to see life from a different perspective.

Lucas started pre-school yesterday. He came home, wide-eyed, slightly oversized backpack, lunch pail and coloring pages in hand. His mom reported she was glad he didn't cry when she left his new classroom.
As I "worked" (read, colored and cooked) with Lucas the rest of the afternoon, I discovered a fear, sadness and confusion behind those eyes.

And yet again, I learned how we react to Jesus' love and grace--with completely the wrong mindset.

We often see change as an opportunity, or maybe as a punishment. Getting fired from a job, not getting into graduate school, a friend or family member dying, a broken relationship. But God's perspective sees much farther than our current circumstances, and beyond what our minds can dream up. I am going on this trip to change the world, but I am starting to see that God wants to have the world change me. Change our group. Change our mindset, our expectations, our desires. He wants to take them, shift them, mold and shape them, to look more and more like Jesus.

Praise God, that he is our Father. His children have scared eyes, ambitious eyes, greedy eyes. But God takes our oversized backpack full of hopes, fears, unspoken dreams, and He leads us on an adventure that is greater than any experience we could contrive on our own.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Preparations: through pictures (9 days!)

Guide books, research

The Art of Long-term World Travel..

Some of my textbooks for the trip

Studying for our quiz. Facts we have to know by 8/16 when we get to LAX. First novel (Argentina), and a delicious medium cappuccino from Kean Coffee

Visa application for India

More research! Fun, interesting, exciting research