A New Way of Seeing

By Clare Meland, FC 19 Syracuse

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It’s almost April now, which means that I am well past half-way through my year of service and nearing the home stretch. I have learned a lot this year, but what strikes me most is the way this year has changed my vision of the world around me. Serving in a hospice setting has opened my eyes to see more deeply the realities present around me; some that I have looked past many times before. For example, when I visited NYC with my community, we stopped by St. Patrick’s cathedral and I wondered around looking at the beautiful statues and stained glass. When I came to the Pieta, I was stopped short. I have seen this particular statue so many times, and have always thought it was beautiful, but for the first time in that cathedral, I felt like I really saw it. Tears sprung into my eyes as I remembered having seen echoes of this scenes at work. My time at Francis House had allowed me to see more deeply into the reality of the mystery of Christ. Both the condesescion of His divinity, to die a human death, but also the heart-rending humanity of his Passion. It is an incredibly human scene – Mary gently holding her beloved Son, just taken down from the cross.

Though often not as emotional or striking, community living is also a real eye-opener. Your own faults and quirks are on full display, as well as those of your community members. You may be able to fake it in front of your co-workers, but the people who you eat with, pray with, and live with day in and day out cannot be fooled. Seeing the faults in yourself or your community is easy though. Community life, the joys and the struggles, opens your eyes to the wonderful gift of each person. Admittedly, this is harder to see when you discover the one hundred mini-duck your community has been hiding around the house at one am, or when your community member accidentally gets green paint on the ceiling (that was me, sorry guys), but the gift is always there. We just learn to see it, and in seeing it, we learn to live it out – cherishing the people in our lives and thanking God for the gift of them.

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A Change In Perspective

By Matthew Grothaus, FC 19 Costa Rica

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So here’s a cool thing, I am a Costa Rican resident. Last week the other volunteers and I made the trek into Costa Rica’s capital city and finished up the process of legal immigration voiding our tourist visa. As dumb as it is, being handed my new ID card (goofy photo and all) and officially no longer being a tourist in this nation had a significant mental impact. Really we have never just been tourists here but I still didn’t think of myself as a more permanent resident either. But, with the shock of receiving that ID card, I took a moment to look back and realize how much this country and those that I interact with really have become my home and family.

During one of the first sit down meetings we had as a volunteer community, we asked each other what were some of the things we really wanted to get out of living together for a year. We all had varied answers and usually said more than just one thing but what I remember genuinely answering was that in addition to experiencing personal and spiritual growth, by the end of the year, I really wanted to be able to call the other volunteers my “family” without that feeling forced or awkward. Since that meeting we’ve been through a lot. We’ve cooked with each other, laughed, argued, cried, and fought. We’ve explored Costa Rica and traveled to Nicaragua.  We’ve gone to rodeos, birthday parties of coworkers, and we’ve lived every moment of these past 7 months together. That is A LOT. But really, it’d be tough to pick a better group of individuals to do it with. Each of these people I live with chose to give a year of their life to move away from their support system in the US and serve God’s people directly. As biased as it is, I think it’s safe to say that means it’s a group of young people who have the right priorities in their life and part of the beauty is that being part of this group only ends up attracting more people of similar focus to become our friends.

The more I think about it the more I realize how ingrained in the local community we have all become. It’s become especially apparent to me as two of the community members have just had guests come visit. At the start of this year we were all searching for ways to get to know “real Ticos” and now as we plan out activities for guests, we not only know great places to eat and things to do but also tend to have friends at those places. “You’d like to go to the beach? Let me call up one of my friends and see if she wants to come! You want some good coffee? I know the best place!” We all now are regulars at one place or frequent participants of particular activities like dance classes or zumba. I guess I say all of this just to express the same realization that went through my mind upon being handed that resident card. FrancisCorps has absolutely given me an opportunity to not just spend time living in a different culture but rather to really become a part of it. I am a resident of Costa Rica and truly feel it. That’s a memory and emotion that I know will stick with me for the rest of my life.

The Glory of God Shines Brightly in our Dim Day to Day Tasks

By Rachel Jones, FC 19 Costa Rica

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Every day the glory of God is on display if I just take the time to stop, rest, and open my eyes. I have been learning this more and more each day during my time in Costa Rica. Oftentimes, it is so easy for me to run through my day feeling like I am always one step behind in working with all the patients in the therapy department at Santiago Crespo, getting home with sufficient time to help cook and clean, having purposeful prayer time, and maintaining both present and past relationships, and then I remember that God is inviting me in to these moments to truly be present in them and not just rush through them feeling exhausted and trying to do it all. Why put this extra pressure on myself? God is surely not asking me to do it all perfectly. Instead of looking at all the patients and calculating how much time I have in order to get it all done, He is inviting me to truly be present and fall in love with the steps of the process, not just have my eye on the end goal of completing everything at the end of the day.  In slowing down, I can understand more of who He is, how much love He has to give, and the mystery of suffering in each of the señores I work with.

Each individual is full of so much love and at the same time so much suffering- in their own way, whether it is past abuse and neglect, familial problems, psychological disorders, dementia, or overall feelings of loneliness and depression. However, the smile they have to give, a kiss on the cheek, holding their hand, a tight hug, and their constant reminders of “Dios primero, si Dios quiere, and Gracias a Dios,” which all mean, “God first, if God wants it, and thanks be to God,” are beautiful reminders that amidst the suffering, there is so much beauty and so much for me to learn from them in the day to day gritty work of life. The key- I need to take time to slow down, take a deep breath, and really see each person for who they are in that moment and see each moment as the gift that it truly is. There is something so tragically beautiful about older adults in this nursing home type of setting- most of their day consists of waiting- waiting to be woken up, changed, eat breakfast, get snack, be wheeled out to the sun, wheeled back in to eat lunch, taken to their doctors appointments, escorted to therapy sessions, waiting for dinner, and then waiting to go to bed, that they have lost a sense in choosing what to do all day and filling their days up with so many tasks. Yet, the grace in which many accept this way of life, the slow pace of not hurrying onto the next task of the day, and the beauty in taking as much time as needed or wanted to really sit and enjoy the sun on one’s skin, the companionship of a friend at your side, the closeness and love of family coming to visit, and entrusting every day to God because you never know when it might be your last day, holds a sense of incredible beauty in it. When God nudges me to really take a look around, I think, “Wow, God, you have got me in exactly the right place.” I am being forced to learn to slow down, live in the present moment, and see God through the beautiful, small, quiet, and evaporating moments that are often overlooked in my fast-paced way of “doing” life. In these small moments, the steps of the process, the day-to-day work, God is revealing that He is truly there. His presence, his love, his grace, and his mercy are right there in front of me. I just need to constantly remind myself to take time to focus on the small moments of the day and not just the end result. God’s glory is shining brightly, and it often is not just at the end when the goal is completed, but it’s along the entire way if I only learn to take my eyes of the finish line and truly look around at the current beauty.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the DMV

By Malia Hamilton, FC 19 Syracuse

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When I first heard what my main responsibility at my work site would be, I was dreadfully underwhelmed. My job is to help refugees obtain New York State IDs. This brought to mind long hours at America’s dreaded bureaucratic hub, the DMV, and an intellectually catatonic state, as I would basically be running a taxi service.

That is not how my job is at all.

It turns out my job is surprisingly complicated. Most people need birth certificates, social security cards, and whatever assortment of bills they can find to prove that they are who they claim to be. People dig up wedding certificates and union IDs and W-2s to convince the DMV to give them a document that is essential to getting a job or boarding an airplane.

Refugees don’t have most of these things, so they need a letter from a resettlement agency explaining that the DMV should give them an ID anyway. It is my job to write that letter, and bring it to my boss to have her verify and sign it. It is also my job to know the correct assortment of documents that they will need, which changes depending on how long they have been in the U.S., and then make sure the process at the DMV goes smoothly, and that the information on their ID is correct.

I have made so many mistakes. If I type in a date of birth incorrectly, we will be turned away and asked to get a new letter. If their address on file hasn’t been updated with our system, their ID won’t ever get to their house. I have to be meticulous to ensure that we don’t have to do the process all over again, and so that I don’t waste everyone’s time.

I can be very hard on myself, but I have learned to forgive myself when I make mistakes, and trust that the people I serve will understand. I have also learned that I will sometimes go to great lengths to help people; including driving to several government buildings to help a woman who only spoke Swahili obtain enough documentation. It took us over a month, but she finally received her ID. I gain a strong sense of accomplishment and joy from knowing I have done everything I could to help someone, and having opportunities to go above and beyond have taught me to strive for excellence in my service.

In FrancisCorps, we talk a lot about community. Usually, we are referring to the people we live with, but my community in Syracuse has grown to include many other groups. I have my housemates, my co-workers, my fellow parishioners at Assumption Church, the refugees I serve, and finally, the people at the North Syracuse DMV. I don’t know most of their names, and they don’t know mine, but I look forward to seeing them. They are patient and thorough and understanding, despite having to respect the rules of their department. I have seen them go out of their way to make things fair when people have been waiting a long time, and they always make an effort to talk directly to the people I am with, even when they do not understand English. Even strangers waiting to register their new cars or change the names on their licenses have been friendly and welcoming. These people help make the DMV a place I look forward to spending time at, and when I return after an absence of several weeks, I feel the warmth of returning to a familiar place.

I know this must sound like my brain has melted from all of the time I’ve spent there. Who actually enjoys the DMV? Yes, I do often spend two or three hours waiting there, but when I’m sitting on those hard benches shifting back and forth to try and find a comfortable position, I always feel like I’m accomplishing something.

There have been so few refugees arriving that when I’m at the office I often find myself without something to do, and so it is rewarding to know I am helping someone, even if it is by sitting beside them as we wait for their ID, or as they take the permit test, knowing that they might not pass, and I’ll have to take them again. I use that time as an opportunity to get to know people.

Once, a Congolese boy spent hours speaking French into Google translate to talk to me about school and different types of music he enjoyed. Another time, an Ethiopian woman showed me her Bible app, which converts the Bible from English to Amharic at the touch of a button. I hugged a teary-eyed Somali woman when she passed her permit test on the third try, explained to a Sudanese man that a boyfriend was like a pre-pre-husband, and showed a Pakistani family pictures of an Indian wedding I had recently been a bridesmaid for, all at the DMV.

The joy and satisfaction I feel at the DMV will likely fade in the future, when I am only waiting there for myself, but I know I will keep the sense of patience, forgiveness, and perseverance that I have cultivated through this experience. I am often found at one of the most ordinary places with some of the most extraordinary people, and I am so grateful for all of the time I spend doing it.