This semester LCM has decided to focus on hunger as an issue that faces the world and is in our heart as a community. As student leaders, we want to raise awareness within our community and put action into the conversations we have around hunger. When we first decided as leaders to focus on hunger as a justice issue in our community it lead me to reflect on my own experience witnessing hunger and poverty.
Describing my semester abroad in Argentina using a few words is close to impossible, but for the sake of this blog post, here’s what comes to mind: surprisingly spiritual, intense, growth, and community.
First of all, I saw some of the most breath-taking, absolutely stunning parts of the natural world that I never thought existed. Granted, I haven’t ventured much away from Midwestern US, but let me tell you… Argentina offers a lot in the department of natural beauty. Needless to say, I was spiritually moved at the mere sight of a lot of this beauty and was definitely able to feel God’s presence thoughout my travels
I was fortunate enough to volunteer in La Boca, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires known for its soccer team, poverty, and drug use among young people. In LCM, we talk a lot about where we see brokenness in our communities, and, at first, my volunteer organization was a clear example of brokenness. After getting to know the community members and the children, I decided to add ‘beautiful’ in front of the word ‘brokenness.’ God was clearly at work in this community, and although I said goodbye with a heavy heart, they left me feeling hopeful that poverty doesn’t have to be destiny.
I was absolutely blessed with a wonderful host family that was full of life and as much love as a cheesy sitcom. My host dad, Carlos, got sick at the end of October and was in the hospital for the remainder of my stay until he passed away the day before I got on my flight back to Minnesota… this is where the word intense comes in. Being present for such an emotionally intense experience in a family that wasn’t biologically mine took a little bit of patience and a lot of extra love.
The culture and lifestyle in Buenos Aires is something that I still find myself missing each day, but I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to spend an entire semester in such a surprising and alive city. SO THANKFUL. Because of these experiences, I had quite a bit of anxiety returning back to the US. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to bring my experiences back to my life here in Minnesota.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Returning to Minneapolis and to ‘real life,’ the LCM community has been my trampoline… bear with me here. Picture a crazy girl falling in slow motion down a waterfall, asking questions about God and life, yelling stories, and being frazzled (that’s me). The girl gets to the bottom of the waterfall and gracefully bounces off of the trampoline (LCM) back in to the questions, stories, and state of frazzleness. The girl feels encouraged to ask the questions, tell the stories, and be okay with feeling frazzled. She’ll keep bouncing up and down, trusting that the trampoline will let her rest for a moment before sending her back up… supporting her and being present the whole time.
Before going back to school for spring semester, a handful of us went on a retreat to Urban Immersion which is an organization based out of Minneapolis that provides volunteer opportunities along with learning about poverty all around us. This was a great experience for all of us because it not only brought our group closer together but also showed us how much work there still is to do in helping others acquire basic needs. It was really cool meeting people who were involved with volunteering and doing their part to help others, it was clear that they had a real passion.
One of the big things that struck me was how difficult it was to support a family with a low income. We did an exercise that simulated what it was like in different scenarios that many people that live in poverty face and it was not easy. It’s amazing how much money goes toward just the essentials, and then with unexpected factors such as illness, job loss, medical care, it seems like the problems never end. People who are poor often get the negative stigma that they are lazy, but I do not think that this is the case at all!
When many people think about hunger they think about third world countries but the reality is that it is in our own backyard. While we are worried about all the stuff we need to get done and homework that needs to be completed, there are people around us who are less fortunate and are suffering from hunger. It felt great to help out these organizations that do great things for people in need, but it is clear that there is much more that needs to be done.
Recently I have been thinking about vocation and what this world has to teach me after leaving the comfort of school. I’m hard pressed to think of a day in which the thought “what am I going to do with my life?” hasn’t crossed my mind. The realist in me refuses to fall into the romantic state of naivety in which I can leave college, find a job that will make a big difference in the world, and live happily ever after. I want to believe that it will be this easy, yet deep down I know that there is much more to be done. That change takes time and effort and can be incredibly draining. Yet all I want to do is follow this path. To change the brokenness I see around me.
This is part of the reason I participated in an Urban Immersion put on by the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches over winter break. During our few days there we were confronted with staggering statistics of poverty, hunger, and homelessness and taught about the current systems that cause such symptoms. When confronted with so many barriers it is hard not to be intimidated. After all, the easier path would be to ignore such things and go on with our lives. I came away from the experience with a lot to process which was immediately followed by a LCM leader retreat. It was at this retreat I was blessed with the prayer for discomfort (which you can read here). I was struck by one line in particular:
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world
There is so much power in this line, in this idea that foolishness is a valuable attribute. Often we are taught that foolishness has no place in the road to success, that it is in fact a distraction to be avoided. Foolishness more often than not connotes idiocy, rather than being seen as a catalyst for change. This prayer reminded me that in a world where brokenness is commonplace, a cure can be found in foolishness. The foolishness to overcome great struggles though the reward be small. The foolishness to fight systems deeply ingrained in our culture, to make them change despite great resistance. I like this idea that in the setting of academia and intellect that surrounds us at school, that perhaps the most useful attribute to help us find our vocation and direct our future is some simple foolishness. It is comforting to know that wrapping myself in naivety, when paired with hard work can yield a direction and hopefully change that if not meaningful on the large scale, will be meaningful to someone.
(a few of our student leaders at leadership training in August of 2013)
Lutheran Campus Ministry-Twin Cities has long been committed to cultivating faithful leaders for both church and world. We are excited to announce that we have been awarded a 5 year, $100,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment to deepen and strengthen our leadership development and vocational discernment work with undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
This initiative, the Theological Exploration of Vocation for Campus Ministries Initiative 2013, invited 30 campus ministries from various denominations across the country to apply for funding to “build up their capacities to play a more prominent role in identifying and nurturing a new generation of highly talented and religiously committed leaders for church and society.” We are very excited to be a part of this cohort, to learn and discern together how we might nurture young adults to lead faithfully in the 21st Century.
Our particular project, The Discipleship Project will deepen and expand leadership opportunities for a core team of students, equip them as teachers of LCM-TC’s central faith practices, and will give them opportunities to share this learning with students and throughout the church.
This grant is significant because of the way it encourages and supports our work with student leaders (and through them the campus). It does not replace any of our current funding needs, rather enhances our ability to train leaders in a more robust way. In that, it highlights the importance of leadership in fundraising, governance, and strategic decision making as we stretch and grow on campus, and in the communities these students will impact.
The Board of Directors of Lutheran Campus Ministry-Twin Cities is honored to have its ministry recognized by the Lilly Endowment and welcomes Lilly as a partner in the great work God is already doing on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. As we continue learning, it is our hope that we can also share the work that we are doing with the broader church, and invite others into sharing God’s boundless love with the world.
For more information, or to see the executive summary, please contact Campus Pastor Kate Reuer Welton by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Please see Lilly’s Website for a full press release: http://www.lillyendowment.org/pdf/LillyEndowment11-25-2013PressRelease.pdf
Advent is full of anticipation and excitement, and the end of fall semester is filled with much the same feeling; although sometimes it can be hard to see through the stress of finals to the light and excitement of the oncoming Christmas.
I was having trouble seeing through the stress of oncoming testing and haze of sleep deprivation this week when God came to me in the most unexpected of places, in the baking of Christmas cookies. I had committed to making two dozen cookies to decorate for the Christmas party and to be honest was slightly dreading the time that cookie making was going to take away from my studying time. But I had scheduled it out and I was ready to make the cookies, get it over with and move on to what was really important. But things got complicated when I realized that I did not have a rolling pin or cookie cutters. But I was not going to let this stop me, I am a senior in college, I have battled finals 6 times over and an absence of cookie making tools was not going to stop me, so armed with a plastic cup and a butter knife I got to work.
As I battled with cookie dough and creating the semblance of shapes with some Christmas spirit and occasionally muttering under my breath “LCM I’m not complaining but you better not ever doubt my commitment to you”, I had a lot of time to think and most importantly breathe. And once I allowed myself to clear my head and allowed myself to think about things other than electrical engineering courses; I learned some things, like it is okay to not be perfect.
Because if my cookies are one thing they are not perfect, and since it is finals season and everyone could do with a little chuckle I have decided to share with you my Christmas cookies:
These are supposed to be Christmas trees, but they kind of look like arrows. Perhaps they are trying to point me in the direction of a better Christmas cookie.
These are meant to be Minnesota…I think they just look like they are trying to eat each other whilst wearing tiny hats.
These are stars. I think some of them look like they are dancing, I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Here we have in order a stocking, a candle, a house, another stocking and a heart. I don’t have anything witty to say about these cookies other than I’m sorry about the stockings.
By the end I was kind of getting tired and the haze of sleep deprivation was encroaching on the clarity of cookie making adventures so I made some very oversized “ornaments” and another Christmas tree.
Not all of the cookies made it, some of them broke and they were delicious.
So in this time of finals take a deep breath, make cookies even if you don’t have time to, and remember that it is okay not to be perfect.
Looking back I see how important seasons have been to my life. Not only seasons of the natural world, or the coming and goings of each semester, but those evident in the liturgical calendar. Reflecting on the years it’s perfectly clear. I came to the University of Minnesota in the season of Epiphany. A season of growth and change and discovery where a wide eyed freshman me was exposed to everything new. It was exciting and scary and filled with growth. As I got a little older I moved into Lent, perhaps staying there too long, yet learning all the while. Testing myself and wallowing in the questions of life. Trying to figure out what this whole living thing was all about. Thankfully Lent too past, leading me through Easter and into Pentecost, when, thanks to a LCM spring break trip to Mexico I found my passion and fire for social justice. A passion that has tugged at my conscious ever since. It has driven my study and direction within the design field, forcing me to question, but also learn. And now, nearing the last semester of my college career, I arrive at advent.
Advent “is the season for mystics, for those who search the stars and the sky for signs of hope and promise in the deep blue winter… Nestled into the cold dark night, under the drape of the deep blue sky, in what ways have you been lulled to sleep? What shooting stars and signs in the heavens might you wake up to see? Or are you tired with watching and waiting for the coming of God? Are you frightened or discouraged by the silence of the cold winter darkness? As we put on the deep blue robe of Advent and light the candles to watch in the night, what might God be waking you to see? What might you miss if you do not watch and wait?” *
This time of advent is a season for hope, for anticipation, culminating in the birth of Christ and a new beginning for us all. It is a time of light that gathers within the darkness of winter to bring about new life. Hope, peace, joy, and love abound in this beloved time of year. So here I am, a senior, trying to find my way in the darkness of planning for a post graduation future, gathering little pieces of light in this time of advent. Light that comes in the form of friends, family, and mentors, to guide me on my path to living out my vocation. Once again it is a time in life for a new start, whether it is a new place, new faces, a new job, or a new sense of self, it is a time to start afresh. And let me tell you, it’s scary.
In the hope for the coming of Christ we often forget about the doubt that can plague the season. The doubt reflected in the darkness of December that surrounds us. Doubt seeps in when trying to answer the nagging questions about the future. “What will you do when you graduate?” “Where will you be?” “Who will you be?” Yet amongst this doubt there is hope, a hope for the birth of Christ and answers to life’s questions. Right now this doubt is a more than a little overwhelming. Quite frankly it’s terrifying. Yet I know, wherever I end up, whatever I am doing, whomever I meet, I will be blessed with a fresh start, a gift in this time of advent. I will wait and watch the heavens for the shooting stars of the deep blue winter sky. I will be blessed with a new beginning and a path with another new direction to guide me onto life’s next great season.
*Excerpt from Holden Village Devotional
Please take a moment to watch this joyful video.
Now, take a step outside, breath in the snow (and the cold) and rejoice in its sheer beauty as that penguin does oh so well.
Snow and winter bring frustrated drivers, dangerous biking, and cold. Instead of biking, I’m now trudging miles to and from classes and interviews, tripling my commute times in my busiest weeks. It’s easy at this time to get wrapped up in stress and annoyance, particularly with finals closing in. But the snow invites us to slow down and savor the beauty of God’s creation as it snuggles in for winter.
To borrow the words from a friend’s status: “Snow storms. Gods way of saying hey, slow down, breathe, look around. It is advent.” -Mark
Advent is a time of expectant waiting, of preparation. It can be difficult as students to live into this season since it is one of our busiest, but I invite you to embrace those moments when you are forced to move slowly. While waiting for a bus or walking carefully across ice to class, take a second to look up at the sky and take a few deep breaths, stepping into the wonder of Advent.