31 August 2012

Finishing up site tours

Today we visited the last of our placement sites for our time here in Belfast. First was David's congregation, Abbey Presbyterian in Monkstown. This is their first year with a YAV, and they plan to use this opportunity to work on outreach with local youth. Next was the site where Anna and I will split our time, The Vine Centre. Anna will work mostly with the advice centre and computer lab, and it seems I will be doing the toddler's group, lunch club and afterschools tutoring. I look forward to learning more about the vast array of programs they offer. Our last site was Whitehouse Presbyterian, which had quite a friendly group on hand to greet us. Their building was burned by a sectarian arson attack several years ago, and they have used the experience to build ecumenical bridges within the community.

Much to the chagrin of people from Belfast, most of the publicity about Northern Ireland involves the Troubles... even today. What isn't seen by the casual observer is the people throughout this city who do amazing things every day to make their communities better and stronger. I don't see how I can go through this year and see what I've seen and not be changed by it. I'm so glad to have the opportunity to work with these people for a year!

Fun fact of the day:
My computer has reverted to blogspot.co.uk. When I want things to be in the middle of the page, I have to "centre" it. 

30 August 2012

Today, I saw Scotland.

After quite a heavy day yesterday, today was much more fun. We began at Kathryn's placement, East Belfast Mission - which is a large social outreach congregation. The energy there is amazing as they complete the finishing touches on a gorgeous new building. And we got to wear hard hats.

Doug and Kathryn prepare to tour the new Skainos site at EBM
After EBM, we toured Courtney's site at Garnerville Presbyterian, Beth's placement at Dundonald Methodist, and Grace's church at Regent Street Presbyterian. We rounded out the site visits with Grace's community site, the LINK Centre. All with some very, very cool programming.

I know that I'm just glossing past my fellow YAVs and their placements at this point for the sake of brevity. Once we've settled into our sites, we plan to do guest blogs with a little more detail. Hopefully this will give you a better sense of my Belfast family and the incredible work they will be doing this year.

After LINK, Doug took us up to the Scrabo tower to have a look over the city. The weather was clear enough that we could even see Scotland! We had a fantastic time scrambling over the rocks and frolicking in the grass (it is SO soft here)!


Fun fact of the day:
The people here seem to serve chocolate with everything - with tea / coffee or the end of each meal. I could really get used to this!

29 August 2012

Getting real

Sorry you're getting these posts a little late, 
but I have a lot to process before I feel I can post these and really do them justice.

Today we started the days-long process of visiting everyone's sites. We started with my church, Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian. The staff seems nice, and the building is gorgeous. I think I'll enjoy it there. We visit my community site, the Vine, on Friday.

After Fortwilliam and Macrory, we visited T.J.'s community site, the 174 Trust. It was very cool, and they treated us to a nice lunch. David's site, the WAVE Trauma Centre, was next. They were formed to work with those traumatized or bereaved by the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but have expanded their services somewhat since that time. It was our first real glimpse into the impact the Troubles have had on people's lives here.

We drove around the area to see some of the peace lines, famous in Belfast for their murals. The walls themselves separate unionist from nationalist neighborhoods, ensuring safety for those on the other side. The murals are used to show political loyalty, to express hope for the future, and memorialize events of the past or highlight perceived wrongs to members of the community.

This was followed by a trip to T.J.'s church, Woodvale Methodist, which is just off the Shankill Road, an area highly impacted by sectarian violence. His supervisor was very upfront with us about the troubles in the neighborhood, which began to make what we'd heard at WAVE feel much more 'real'.

We ended the day at the Bakers' house for dinner and a video taped from the BBC a few months ago about the Bloody Friday bombings in 1972. I've hesitated to post this video, but will include a link below for those interested in learning more. I will warn you that it can be quite emotional. Seeing the personal stories of these people really hit home the work that many of us would be doing in this area.

I know this may be new to many people back home. For those of you who might be worried for our safety, please don't. Doug has assured us that the most danger we're in here is to look the wrong way when we cross the street!

Fun fact of the day:
To add money to your pay-as-you-go phone is called "topping up".

28 August 2012

You Guys, We're in Belfast!

This is the thought that I keep having (and often marveling out loud): "You guys, we live in Belfast!" ... to which Anna replied: "Put that in your blog and quote it." (So I did.)

You guys, we're in Belfast!
Everything they told us about the honeymooning phase and initial dopamine rush has proven to be true. Everything is charming ("look at those kids - they have accents!"), and when we went out for our inaugural Guinness this evening, T.J. made fast friends with an old man and his dog in a neighborhood bar.

Our flight was relatively uneventful, and we made it through customs, etc. without any problems. No one so much as lost a bag. The sun was even out to greet us! After a lovely lunch with Doug's family, we spent the rest of the afternoon trying not to fall asleep. Our flat is cute, and perfect for Anna and me. I'll post photos when I'm a bit more organized - as we were trying to unpack this evening, our neighbor-YAVs dragged us out to explore the neighborhood and enjoy the aforementioned Guinness.

Fun fact of the day:
All the plugs have on/off switches. Down is on.

2:02 / 7:02

written half-asleep on the plane, but had to wait for an internet connection to post:

It is late.

Or early, rather. We are somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the sun is beginning to glow red over the horizon in front of me. The sky is still dark, other than the glowing band at the horizon, and stars are visible. Tiny little pinpricks in the sky.

Everyone on the plane is asleep, it seems, giving me a moment of peace amid the chaos of last week's orientation, which I fully expect to be continued into this week.

Anna just woke up, and I'm glad to share this moment with my flatmate before she turns her attention back to the glowing screen on the back of the seat in front of her.

There is so much to process. I don't think I'll be able to do it justice for some time to come. The fact that I will be arriving in Belfast in 2 hours is at once entirely frightening and so, so exciting. They've prepared us for culture shock. For the initial honeymoon phase followed by an inexplicable crash. Please be patient with me.

My placement coordinator, Lesley, has been in touch - excited to begin our year, but cautioning of wet weather and a heavy workload. On a side note: I love that my coordinators are named Lesley and Doug. Just 2 letters separate these from my parents' names. Somehow there is comfort there.

Such anticipation before we land. As my friends post pictures of their children's first days at school, I feel much like this is my new beginning. An excuse for new office supplies in a way (isn't that the best part of the first day at school?) I'm nervous. Will my new teachers like me? Will I succeed? But also excited for the failure I know I will experience, for it is there that I will find God.

I posted on facebook that this year, I will try my best to do good. When I can't do that, I will "be" good. While non-YAV's all took this as a half-hearted promise to stay out of pubs (ha!), my true meaning in this was that I will try my best and work hard in my placement. But when I can't "achieve" anything, or when times get tough, I will do my best to be. To be present for the kids I will serve. To be a good friend and flatmate. The YAV program is a ministry of presence, first and foremost, and this year I will do my best to be. Good.

Now David is awake. I'm happy to share this moment with my new friends.

25 August 2012

Prayers of the people

Words and music by Ben Johnston-Krase
Photos taken (by me) at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, KY

22 August 2012

A little treat from Stony Point

We've been learning some new songs this week, and I thought you might enjoy a taste. This is the Lord's Prayer. Fun fact, my grandpa actually took the photos I've set this to, over 60 years ago.

'night y'all.


Ah, where to begin...

My last week in Louisville was full of happy goodbyes, family and frantic packing. My brother came in for the weekend, and I was so glad to have the opportunity to celebrate his birthday with him on Saturday. Sunday was my commissioning at Second Pres (with the gift of a lovely prayer shawl from the Busy Needles knitting group) and a goodbye party hosted by my dad and step mom in their home.

Annual "August Birthdays" dinner
Kind words from friends

While my intention was that I would be packed and ready to go in time to get a good night's rest on my last night in my own bed... of course that didn't happen. My second carefully-packed bag ended up being overweight, so I spent hours unpacking, repacking and weeding out unnecessary items to reach my goal of 50 lbs. per bag. As a result of that and other random last-minute preparations, I got about 1.25 hours of sleep before we had to leave for the airport soon after 5 a.m.!

My travel buddy Will was a lifesaver...
And incredibly tolerant of sleepy Tricia, hyper Tricia
and bomb-scare-in-Newark -airport-causing Tricia
(I'll save that story for another time)
The aforementioned "Sleepy Tricia",
in my Busy Needles prayer shawl
(post-nap in the Chicago airport)
We arrived at the conference center in Stony Point, NY that afternoon, and have been "orienting" ourselves ever since. It's been so nice to be in the company of the friends I made back in March, as well as meeting MY FUTURE FLATMATE and those matched with National sites (and therefore not involved in the International placement event).

I know some of you are confused as to why I'm in New York right now instead of Belfast. This week is meant to be a transition from our homes and familiar cultures into our lives in new cities and countries. We will spend time in fellowship, learning about the challenges we will face in these new communities, and preparing ourselves for the journey. 

Everyone I've spoken to in the past few weeks has had some version of the same questions for me: "Are you excited?" / "how are you feeling?" My honest answer was usually some version of "yes I'm excited, but mostly exhausted" / "I'll tell you in a few weeks once I've been able to process everything." It doesn't matter how much you try to prepare yourself, there are always unexpected challenges when you move - especially when that move is split between a storage unit and a foreign country you've never visited. The past few weeks have been exhausting emotionally as well as physically, and I still don't think I've fully recovered! Of course, all-day seminars on serious topics like sexual harassment and cultural sensitivity, combined with the desire to stay up late socializing don't help much, either! 

I'm sure I'll be able to express my experience more eloquently at some point in the future, but I know a lot of you have been texting, calling or facebooking to check in with my time here ...and I've been relatively unresponsive. It's nothing personal, but I'm just trying to take things moment by moment in an attempt to be present in the emotions and with people that are going through this journey with me.

Love you, mean it!

10 August 2012

Mission Yearbook

Stained glass at the Presbyterian Center
For those of you unfamiliar with the Presbyterian Church, we have this handy little book called a Mission Yearbook. Each day features a different ministry or program of the PC(USA), with a list of employees of synods, presbyteries and the six Presbyterian agencies to include in that day's prayer requests. It is common for those reading along with the yearbook to email those PC(USA) staff members with well-wishes on their featured day.

Yesterday was my featured day.

First off, I was surprised to be featured. Somehow my hire date managed to exclude me from last year's book, and for some reason I thought that I missed this year's book as well (obviously I never flipped ahead to check...). On top of that, I was majorly stressed out about everything that still has to get done before I go, and feeling a little sad that today is my last day in the office.

So imagine my surprise when the emails started flooding in - from Texas, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and right here in Louisville. It was such a blessing that I was featured in my last week at the Center, when I'm preoccupied and stressed and probably more than a little grumpy.

Thanks in particular to Richard, whose note was simple, short, and (according to his signature), sent via his DROID. It read simply, "Blessings today on your life and ministry: Psalm 20:1-8." While attempting to achieve "inbox zero", I re-read the message and decided to look up that verse this afternoon: 
May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. "Selah" May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
Psalm 20:1-8 
Wow, while I may not exactly be offering burnt sacrifices any time soon, I certainly feel distressed by the massive amount of stuff that still has to be done before I go. What a nice reminder to step back and be grateful for the experience, to go forward with the blessings of those around me, and to rise up, stand firm, and do good in the name of the LORD.

08 August 2012

What I'm listening to:

Phillip Phillips

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm going to make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm going to make this place your home

07 August 2012

Office party!

I'll miss these folks.

01 August 2012


Anyone who has ever met me can testify to the fact that I am not exactly graceful.

Yes, I'm the girl who got a concussion playing ultimate frisbee, broke her nose playing sharks and minnows, sprained her ankle on a first date. The girl who was actually referred to physical therapy for being accident-prone.

But for once, it's not that type of "clumsy" that I'm talking about. The type of clumsy I mean is referred to in Exodus, chapter 4:
But Moses pleaded with the LORD, "O Lord, I'm just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I'm not now, even after you have spoken to me. I'm clumsy with words."
Exodus 4:10
This passage comes soon after Moses' call in the wilderness (pop over to my flat-mate Anna's blog for the particularly insightful discussion of Exodus 3 which inspired this post). While I don't have Moses' stutter, it is difficult for me to share my faith with a crowd (remember that post about avoiding seminary?). I always feel that things come out wrong or I'll say something stupid - so I avoid it. My cousin's wife kindly asked me to read a blessing at their wedding last month, and I was touched. But when I realized she meant pray, spontaneously, in front of hundreds of guests... I panicked.

So, I get what you must be thinking: "this girl has essentially signed up to be a missionary for a year, and praying in front of people gives her palpitations. She must be cuckoo for cocoa puffs." (Your inner monologue is so sassy, Reader!)

I know that for the most part, I've kept the tone of this blog light and focused on my preparations and excitement for the adventure I'm embarking upon. But while I've always felt this year as a Young Adult Volunteer has been the response to an unmistakable calling, it's easier to get caught up in the details of the trip itself than to face my very real fears about what will happen when I get to Belfast.

In my previous work with youth, my greatest concerns have been relatively trivial: Will we have enough food at youth group? Would the kids rather play laser tag or go rollerskating? The youth I've had the pleasure of spending time with for the past 7 years have been for the most part happy, privileged and well-adjusted. I don't know how I will be able to reach kids with such a vastly different upbringing.

Together, the Northern Ireland team will be learning to understand and interpret another culture.  It's intimidating to know that I still have so much to learn about the community I'll be living in, but we are tasked with bringing an outside perspective to the communities in which we serve. I know that my mission is a ministry of presence - to be there for these kids and make them feel loved and special. But even though I consider it a special gift to love people, that doesn't mean that I know what I'm doing - I have constant fears of inadequacy and failure. I wonder if I can really do anything to make their lives better.

For those wondering, I eventually flustered my way through the prayer at my cousin's wedding with only two or three "ums" (yes, someone counted for me). I let it go to God, and while I still have no idea what I actually said, I survived the experience. People actually came up and complimented me later... I will pretend it was because I said something meaningful, and not that they saw me break into tears as soon as it was over. I figure that with this coming adventure, that's all I can do: put it in God's hands and hope I don't make a fool of myself!