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.