Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Entertaining Angels

With the news of my host dad’s much deserved promotion, it was time to pull out the fancy clothes, invite the neighbors, and reserve a table at the highly regarded steak house near Piccadilly Circus.  Touched to be included in such a family affair, I was once again immersed in the hospitality of my host family.  I did my best to wear fashion worthy of the London streets at night and suppressed my natural jaw-drop reaction as we approached the 4 floored, black walled, music-bouncing restaurant named none other than Gaucho.

The evening was filled with plenty of laughter, mouth-watering Argentinian steak, and room made for dessert.  This was the first time I’ve experienced a steak house that didn’t need to serve the meal with a steak knife…the meat was that tender.  We shared side dishes of sweet potato chips, cooked spinach, and empanadas, while ordering our own desserts of cheesecake, chocolate cake, ice cream, and sticky toffee pudding.  Needless to say, plates were wiped clean and everyone around the table was full.  British culture has a tendency to never rush a meal, so it was completely normal to be asking for the check around 10pm.  With stomachs and hearts happy, it was time to head back home. 

Stepping outside into the cool, damp night, we headed down a side street to take a known short cut to our bus stop.  Two steps down, and my lungs depleted as I noticed the man sitting to the side.  With bags of rubbish he had collected from the back of the restaurant piled around him, I can only guess he was looking for a little food and a little warmth.  We immediately made eye contact.  Without my purse, holding my wallet and the extra granola bars I always carry, I had nothing material to offer him.  I put my head down, and I continued to walk with my family.  He continued to look through the trash.

There is this term I’ve learned as a psychology major.  It explains every reason why the more people we are around, the less likely we are as an individual to step forward in a time of need.  That night, I let cognitive dissonance win as I pretended to not notice the hurt and pain that was sitting to the side.  I pretended to let the fact that I didn’t have any money or food equate to the lie that I couldn’t offer any kindness.  I continued to walk with the generosity I was being handed, instead of stopping to offer some generosity to another.

I only pray that I keep being offered these chances of raw, gut-wrenching vulnerability.  And that when I make mistakes, I can recognize God weeping with me and let the London rain storms wash over in a renewal of Baptism. 

So tonight, I rest in the healing of grace.

Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Measure in Love

January 16, 2013 – A time of panic and worry as I attempt to describe myself in less than one page for my YAGM application.  A time of doubt as I wonder if I’m making the right decision applying for service organizations rather than grad school.  A time of excitement as I begin my last semester at Wittenberg University

I have to admit, I was very naive last year as I filled out my application; picturing the experience I would have if I was admitted into the program.  I pictured poverty, diversity, and a community of faith…but only in the simplest of ways.  At this point last year, I had no idea that I would be living in London – it was honestly the last place I could have predicted – and I think it says a lot about my naivety that I expected a year of missionary service to include poverty and diversity.  But I am learning.  And this time in London has been nothing of what I could have expected and everything that I have needed.  Really, every theme I envisioned about my year came true.  Just in a very different way than imagined. 

 Poverty.  It was recently stated that London, England is among the top 10 wealthiest cities of the world.  And here I am, a simple, Lutheran Ohioan, living on roughly 10 pounds a day.  This being said, I’ve never lived in an area with such great contrast.  There is a term I’ve heard whispered around here, combining both the wealth and race divide.  The term?  “Crossing the river”  While I still cringe hearing it casually used in conversation, there is truth behind this statement to the segregation that lies in the geographical distribution of wealth.  On the north of the Thames, one can experience the iconic scenes of London; Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the black suit and tie workers of the finance district.   On the south side, I walk through a different city.  I say hello to the same faces sitting under the overpass on my way to and from work.  I step over the litter thrown about on the streets, look up at the council housing strewn with laundry hanging from the balconies. All the while wondering how families can budget the cost of the city while I can barely manage worrying for the cost of one.  In a city of consumerism, fashion, and the ever demanding need for time, London is not without the crippling disease of poverty  

Diversity.  London has been teaching me about the real difference between race and ethnicity.  In past experience, diversity seemed to be defined by the color of my skin compared to those around me.  Here, there is such a rich diversity of ethnicities.  The children I teach might all have darker skin, but one student speaks Nigerian while another speaks Somalian, Turkish, Spanish or French.  They are all raised in different subcultures of where their roots lie, creating a much colorful array of beauty to learn, grow, and walk hand in hand through.  

Community of faith.  The Evening Standard today read loud and clear:” London is the Most Popular Destination for Tourists in the World.”  With so much business, with so much consumerism, with so much wealth, and so much speed, this city can become quite challenging to make connections and really slow down.  To find a church that is more than a building – but a community of faith – was a trial that, at first, left me wondering if I would be able to make a single companion or friend here in the city.  But with time, comes growth.  And finding the Lutheran church in London, with members visiting or living here originally from numerous different countries, has helped me understand how to slow down and soak in the love of Christ that is all around the urban poverty and diversity.  

So there it is.  A mishmash of thoughts and themes of this year, which is by no means complete or even close to an answer for a purpose of why I have been led here.  As I look back on my innocence from a year ago, I can’t help but wonder what I’ll think looking back a year from now.  The funny thing about time is that no matter what, we cannot help but to move forward.  So already 16 days into the new year, I pray that these themes only continue to keep developing into clarity of direction and intention.   

How do you measure a year?  In late nights, in resumes, in studying, and graduation.  In campfires, in summer nights, in laughter, and tears.  In hellos, in goodbyes, in plane flights, and British accents.   In hardships, in bus fares, in walking in faith.