Mission Interns in Transition
By Julia Kayser
February 28, 2013–The hugs came first.
Immediately afterward, the story swapping began as 15 young men and women began to process the past 18 months of living and serving abroad. All were General Board of Global Ministries’ Mission Interns recently returned from a year and a half of service in countries as near as Haiti and as far flung as the Ukraine and the Philippines.
As they unpacked the past year and a half during their retreat at Stony Point, N.Y., they also prepared for next 18 months during which they will serve in their home countries. Even though the settings will change, they will continue fulfilling their purpose as Mission Interns – to be a daily presence in the lives of local people.
Adam Shaw spent his time in the Philippines with fisher folk, farmers and the urban poor. He joined them in protests against land-grabbing and environmental racism. At 6-foot-2 and with bright red hair, it was impossible for him to blend in. It was also hard for him to use amenities designed for people one or two feet shorter than himself. He told a story about public restrooms where only the “fierce of heart and loose of bowel” dared to go.
Eighteen months of living in Mindanao has left its mark on Adam.
He has always kept a deck of cards and a jug of purified water in his backpack. Now, he also carries an understanding of his privilege, a particular intestinal amoeba and the stories of countless families displaced by multinational mining companies.
Adam and his cohorts took the first few days at Stony Point to explore and process their shared experiences through writing, acting and movement, reflection groups and worship. Some were relieved to be back in the United States, while others expressed loss.
For many of the Mission Interns, there was relief in being among friends who understood the enormity of each person’s transition.
“I really miss my friends, and I really miss speaking Spanish,” said Kara Crawford, who worked in Bogota, Colombia, to empower women and children through art. Alex Devoid, who had been assigned to Acción Médica Christiana in Nicaragua, spoke Spanish as well, but Kara joked that she was not satisfied with his “weird Nicaraguan accent.”
During their retreat, the Mission Interns also studied big ideas that applied to both their international and domestic placement sites: privilege, economics, gender and ethnicity, the role of organizations and religions, and the meaning of mission.
In the wake of the snowstorm referred to as Nemo, they also took time for sledding before traveling to New York City to spend their last days together at the Global Ministries headquarters.
Following an Ash Wednesday Bible study led by General Secretary Thomas Kemper, the Mission Interns gave an inspiring presentation for the Global Ministries staff.
Alex talked about a Nicaraguan man he met whose “stance was crooked and bent like a rhododendron tree, clamoring to rise above the earth.” The man had tuberculosis.
“What does it mean to know him?” Alex asked. “Was it dangerous? A liability? Infectious? Must his presence inspire fear of suffering?”
“His suffering is our burden and his person is our reason to rejoice,” Adam told the staff members. “His presence, his kind gaze, (are) means to inspire assurance in the body of Christ. For God is alive and well even in corrosive disease.
“The man with tuberculosis was Teófilio Perez. His presence is the presence of Christ.”
At the end of the presentations, a staff member asked what seemed strange about the United States after having been abroad?
“New York City is surreal,” Adam admitted.
Kara agreed and described the feeling of spaciousness. “I walked into a CVS and it was HUGE!” she said, laughing.
Even though they know serving domestically may be a shock to their systems, the Mission Interns expressed excitement about their next assignments. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
On their last full day together, they started a flash mob dance party as part of the One Billion Rising campaign.
Watch this video and learn how these young adults are experiencing mission.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcmission.org.