In Search Of Living Stones

Finding pockets of hope and connection

I’m writing my first actual update sitting in the airport at the end of my first leg.

This is intentional. Because I wanted to focus on being here, and because I always need time to process what I’m seeing and learning. When people travel to this part of the world, I always suggest an ‘unwind period’. It sounds harder than it is because we are armed with an hot passion like holy fire and brand new information, tasked with telling the world what we have seen.

But if we dont process all we have learnt we will be eaten by grief and anger, rendering us ineffective at sharing what we have seen.

This place changes people. There are questions, about the Bible, about history, about accuracy, about people, about walls, about why. It’s my fourth time here and I found myself a qausi-tour guide to many people. I love showing people around the place that set my life in its trajectory. It can also be exhausting. I have a new-found respect for my local friends. The situation is so frustrating, so illogical at times and often heartbreaking.

Like every other time, I have been changed and challenged by my visit here. I have made it no secret that I both struggle and love the church as an institution. I have come to accept that this is the way it is, there is no use fighting it or trying to land somewhere. It is my foundation and somewhere I feel ‘at home’, but in recent years I have struggled to identify with and love the evangelical church. Every time I am tempted to leave it all I find some points of connection and inspiration.

Christ at the Checkpoint is one of these points of inspiration. Attending the conference has been a bit of a dream come true as I have managed to miss it by a few months the last two times I came, so I made a point of coming specifically to the conference. The conference addresses what it means for Palestinian Christians who live under occupation while loving their neighbours, both Muslim and Jewish. This is no simple task.

I loved the conference, and feel like I need to rewatch many of the talks as they were full of so much goodness. The conference and the local Evangelical christians and leaders keeps me hanging on to the Evangelical title. Even if it’s just hanging by it.One of my favourite authors and preachers, Brian Zahnd was a guest speaker and spoke on the ‘Vilified Other’. I learnt of him and read his book A Farewell from Mars in 2014 in Bethlehem as I could hear anti-missiles and rubber bullets around me. The book shaped the way I understand at war and violence.

The week included some field trips to a small village, Hebron and the Tent Of Nations. These were eye-opening visits and a great way to hear of and see the conflict first hand. I have been meaning to visit the tent of nations since my first stint in Bethlehem and it was great to see non-violent resistance first hand. I might do a whole blog on them soon.

After the conference I gave myself a generous amount of time to see friends and enjoy the city. It’s always interesting to see what changes and what stays the same over 6 years. Ever the optimist, I desperately wanted things, even small things, to be better than last time. Last time I left in the middle of the last Gaza war, where the final body count was well over 2000, there were demonstrations every night in Bethlehem, and regular missile warnings in Jerusalem. The airport was full of signs pointing to bomb shelters. This time there are no demonstrations(probably because it’s Ramadan) and the only teargas is the weeks-old canisters scattered near the road(a reminder that frustrations can rise at any moment). There is ongoing problems in Gaza, but the Bethlem has a sense of calm.


At least on the surface. After sitting with my friends and walking through the neighbourhood the tension is clear. It grieves me to say that things are not better. Things are worse. My friends tell me that restrictions are tighter, there are more raids, less resources, more demonstrations. Gaza weighs heavy on everyone’s heart. Almost everyone has spoken of dear Razan.

No one can believe Trump moving the embassy, hopefully when he falls the world will see how how rediculous this move was, and there is some international pressure. One can only hope.

Throughout the conference and when talking to people it was clear that change needs to come from the ground up, and it needs to come when we all see the ‘other’ as our neighbour. Someone like us, as we listen to each other’s narratives and strive for justice together.

I have a renewed passion and fire for this, and to share with my local communities. For all my Australians friends who desire justice and peace. Watch this space.

I have loved my time in the Holy Land, but I am ready to DO something, and am excited for my next stint in Athens.

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Here We Go Again

Jerusalem

It’s 4am the call to prayer has just sounded and the cannon marking the beginning of a Ramadan day just went off. My mixture of jetlag and traveling for 41 hours with random naps means in awake anyway.

We left at 6am Monday, spent the day in Singapore where I made a poor decision and spent the 7hr flight to Qatar with food poisoning. After catching my connecting flight to Jordan and sitting in a taxi for 2 hours I finally made it to the Israeli boarder. Only a 2 hour bus ride down to Jerusalem and I have arrived! It sounds like the long way here but it turned out cheaper and I tend to prefer it as I love looking at the date palms and Bedouins and rolling hills and the random IKEA.

I arrived at my hostel in Jerusalem, right outside the Damascus Gate. It’s the middle of the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting, pretty lights and AMAZING sweets. Traditionally a cannon is fired at the end of the day when it’s time to eat, and evidently, at the beginning of the day when it’s time to stop eating. From what I can remember, the cannon is around the corner from here. For a region bathed in conflict, the added cannon really makes life exciting.

Next

After my few weeks here in the Holy Land, I’m flying over to Athens to support the refugee movement again. Though if I’m honest, I’ve been having some doubts in the last few months. I’m unable to put my finger on what it was exactly, but it culminated last week while watching a documentary about refugees. The opening scene was on Lesbos island in Greece and I was so annoyed. That was the last thing I wanted to see. Of course a 2016 documentary about refugees would have a focus on the largest refugee movement since WWII.

It’s no secret that I struggle with returning to normal life after my volunteer travels. Whether it’s reverse culture-shock, returning from a conflict or settling back after working with traumatized children-coming home is never easy. Last year I even sought counseling because I was having nightmares. To put it simply, I find it hard to ‘go on with life as normal’ when normal life for children escaping war is so vastly different. It occupies my thoughts and my conversation and my dreams and it’s not healthy.

Thankfully, with great support I was able to create healthy ways of thinking and strategies for this time around. But I still found myself actively avoiding the situation, because it makes me so angry. And anger is exhausting. Its right to be angry about this. And I’m angry because I long for justice and rightness. But I cannot let my anger at injustice stop me from learning and acting.

So, here we go again.

Unfinished piece about visiting

I smiled when I first saw her.
I smiled and called her beautiful, giggled with her and watched the planes fly by.
When I came home I cried until I felt like I could cry no more.
I had caught glimpses of her through the gaps in the fence and when she sat on her dad’s shoulders.
She was 5 and I had never been more angry.

Who had the right to put her behind bars?
What crime had she committed?
She is five, she is five, she is five.

The next time I saw her we played with bubbles and I was given a list of numbers so that I could visit
them inside.
Now I no longer see her in stolen glimpses through fences, but in an air conditioned dining hall, drawing and playing with playdough.
More family members joined and soon it became a family affair and a weekly tradition.

My homeschooling experience

Being homeschooled is a large part of my identity and eventually brought me to where I am now. Even so, I feel like I need to put a disclaimer on this post that I was not one of those homeschoolers. Y’know the ones, the ones that wear identical clothes made out of curtains(actually, we did do that once), and whose only friends are their own siblings.

I don’t think there was much doubt in my parents mind when it came to schooling, they were going to homeschool me(or home educate or unschool or whatever).
Everyone around them homeschooled and the church they attended at the time strongly promoted home education. As the first born, homeschooling was just a natural progression after teaching me to walk at 1, talk at 1 1/2 and read at 3.
In the small town I grew up in, the homeschoolers outnumbered public school students, and as such we had sports days and events together.
It was a very enjoyable homeschool environment. My cousins were homeschooled and lived next door, we had ski/snowboard camps, and generally just hung out with each other. I have many great memories of this time.
While ACE was the preferred program for most of my friends, I am thankful that I had the freedom to choose what worked for me and what didn’t. ACE came with the benefit of recognized accreditation, but personally I found it too formal and rigid.  However, watching my (very Kiwi) friends attend the (very American) conventions every year bordered upon comical.

When someone asks me whether or not I enjoyed being homeschooled, I usually reply that I loved it until I was 13.
When I was 13 my dad got a new job and my parents decided to move. We moved from a rural town of 200 people in the South Island to a city of 1.4 million in the North Island. We left our friends, all our family and our support network. I hated not having my friends so close, I hated not having any extended family around and I hated being homeschooled. When we did seek out other homeschoolers, they were kinda weird and I felt excluded.
Moving meant I was forced to make friends and meet people who weren’t like me. The area we moved to has a large Maori/Pacific population, which was a very unusual environment but one I enjoyed being part of.
When I was 16, I lost all desire to do anymore schoolwork and my mum made me get a job. University was never a big priority, but if I had wanted to go, my parents would’ve supported me. At that time I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I worked. My first actual experience of studying outside of home was when I did a certificate in Christian Ministry at 18, which I loved.

A few years later, I was a nanny for two kids who went to school, leaving my days free.  During this time, I volunteered to homeschool my brother. Teaching my brother proved to be quite the challenge. He needed constant, one-on-one supervision and would respond to some techniques one day and wouldn’t the next. He often needed things done in a particular way and liked each subject to be structured and timed. I found educating to be incredibly rewarding and watching him finally ‘get something’  was a great feeling.  I found a welcome challenge in doing things differently to get the point across, and finding what worked and what didn’t. When we discovered that he has mild Asperger’s everything made sense. 

I still had no idea what I wanted to do, so I saved up, quit my job and went travelling.
After my great experience overseas I realized how much much I love alternative education and working with kids, and enrolled in a TESOL course and a Teacher Aide course. I discovered an exciting world full of information about how we learn, different ways of understanding numeracy and the way grammar works.
I started working in a classroom alongside my course. It’s strange going to ‘school’ for the first time when you’re 23. 

In October I landed a temporary job in Special Education, which I loved, because it was all about personal, one-on-one education.
The school has asked me to come back this year and I have decided to do a Diploma of Education Support.
I see the irony in being homeschooled and working in public schools, but because I was homeschooled I see the value in alternative education.

Two-Thousand and Thirteen

Come New Years Eve tomorrow night, I think I will be heaving a huge sigh of relief.
This year, in comparison to last year, feels polar opposite. Simply because it felt static, boring and almost wasted.
Some highlights were:
A family reunion in New Zealand, enjoying each others company and the LOTR scenery.
I love hanging out with my mums side of the family and we always have a lot of fun when we do spend some time together.
I completed Cert IV in TESOL and a Cert III in Education Support. I did learn that I love working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities and in education settings.
Moving to a new city.
Landing my dream(albeit short term) job.

Despite all these wonderful things, this year still felt flat. Part of the reason was that I wasn’t over my reverse culture shock until the middle of the year. Eight months. That’s how long it took for me to be okay with being back home, 2 more months then I was away for. It was frustrating, painful and lonely. I either ostracized, or was ostracized from all my old friends and none of my new friends understood me. I was always talking about Israel/Palestine or Arabic, or some Arab country and usually it was completely out of context. And to top it all off, I had some pretty unpopular opinions.
It was hard.

Those words have been staring there for the last hour, staring at me. ‘It was hard.’ What do I follow that with? ‘But NOW everything is rainbows and kittens, yay!’
I still miss it, I still tell the same stories over and over again, I still talk too much about subjects not everyone cares about. I’m still lonely.
But I am okay with being in Australia. Finally. I’m even okay with living here for a long time.
A lot of it has to do with moving to Darwin and discovering how much I LOVE working in education.

I am excited for 2014. I am excited to continue working in education, studying for my Diploma and travelling some more.

See ya later 2013, I won’t miss you.

Some thoughts on Christmas from someone who doesn’t celebrate it

image

Nativity set made of Olive wood from Bethlehem.

As a result of a few interesting events in the past, my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
Never have, probably never will.
We get together with the family(when possible), look at Christmas lights and sometimes I even bake gingerbread houses.
But I have never actually celebrated Christmas.

Despite this, I am fully immersed in Christian culture so I’m not immune to Christian Christmas culture.
And to be honest, I’m not a big fan.
Something I have noticed is Christian culture loves to talk about The Spirit Of Christmas. I think I’ve figured this out as being generous and kind-hearted and simply Christ-like.
Christian Culture loves talking about Christmas but I hear very little about the incarnation.
I have heard many a message on how not to get caught up in gift giving(but to still give, because, y’know, spirit of Christmas and stuff), on how to different and show the world that Christmas is ours.
As a millennial raised in church I get tired of motivational sermons and fluff talks about ‘how to live a Christian life’ etc. but I love hearing about Jesus. The idea that the divine became human, the Word-flesh, gives me goosebumps.
And it gives me hope.
Hearing (for the hundredth time) about how to get into the spirit of Christmas, does not.

Am I speaking too loud?

As I sit here typing there is rain pounding outside and thunder rolling and lightning flashing and I love it.

Never before have I heard so many members of my family express their affection for a city like they have for Darwin.
Never before have I felt this way about a place. I feel like that I could stay here for a long time.
Big enough to feel like a city with things to offer and small enough to feel like you could make an impact.

Even the heat can’t beat you after a while. If you accept that its going to be hot no matter what, then it frees you up to operate in spite of the heat. And, if you can actually enjoy the heat, then all the better.
In saying that, air conditioning is still the best thing ever.
Its hard to describe the heat, but I’ll try to give you some understanding.
I’m wearing shorts and have been sitting on the tiled floor for the last 30 minutes,  I just shifted my position and realized there was a pool of condensation created by the warmth of my body…

Bedtimes
I’m going to take this time to boast about my wonderful baby sister, Selah(5).
My favorite time of the day has recently become bedtimes with Selah, we read a story together, discuss the world and pray.
Each night I ask her who she would like to pray for tonight, she usually decides upon either refugees(both in Australia and abroad), Syria or something happening around the world(Sydney fires for instance). These tend to be subjects we discuss around the house and the amount of information she inadvertently picks up is amazing, resulting in some incredible conversations.
One night, we were discussing Asylum Seekers who arrive by boat in Australia and their fate of life in a detention center when they reach our waters.
I could see Selah was thinking about this when she asked if we could, instead, pray for the people who put the boat arrivals into the detention centers.
So that night we prayed for the politicians who have decided to detain the asylum seekers.
I kissed her, said goodnight and left realizing my baby sister had taught me something.
I went in wanting to give her a wider view of the world and I left knowing that I had missed something. How often have I prayed for refugees in detention and not for the people who placed them there?
Needless to say I pray a little differently now.

Am I speaking too loud?
This week something peculiar happened to me around this subject.
Because I only have a 4 week contract at the school I am working at, I am often asked by co-workers where I plan to go next.
This gives me  the opportunity to say that I am hoping to work with asylum seekers and how I’m working towards this
I have probably had this conversation about 7 times.
One day at lunch a woman approached me and told me that ‘she had heard me talking about asylum seekers’ with a  hushed voice and covered her mouth with her hand. This caught me off guard I thought it was strange, why did she feel like she had to say those words in secret? Am I speaking too loud? Are these words supposed to be hushed? Why?
I’m sorry that I am passionate about people seeking refuge in Australia, running from war and seeking a home where they can simply sleep in peace. Actually, I’m not sorry, and I will not be hushed.
I believe that this is an important topic and needs to be discussed, not swept under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. And I will talk about it, whether or not it makes you feel uncomfortable. I don’t intend you discomfort, only that you would at least think about it and maybe look at it from a different direction.

Here is a short trailer for an Australian documentary about what I’ve just spoken about.

New

Limbo

Most of my family will tell you that I’m not good at waiting. If we’re going to go somewhere, don’t mess around, just go.
Over the years I have got a little better, mostly by busying myself while waiting.
This year, this whole year has felt a lot like waiting and making myself busy while waiting. It has almost been a year since I came home and if you were to ask me to show you evidence of what I’ve done I wouldn’t have much to show you.
I’d have a certificate for TESOL, a (almost) certificate in Education Support, a bunch of timesheets for  hospitality jobs temp I picked up and two days a week as a volunteer Teacher Aide.
Not a lot.
I’m in limbo, not here, not there. Not fully engaged.

New

For now, I’m enjoying some new things and discovering this new place.
At the beginning of September I moved to the Northern Territory at the top of Australia, and so far have thoroughly enjoyed it up here.
The heat does take a little getting used to(it stays around 30-33C most of the year), but you quickly learn that air conditioning is a gift from God and you DO get used to it quicker than you’d think.

I love the culture up here almost everyone is laid back and easy going, and I know more about my neighbors here in the last month than I discovered in 3 years in Brisbane.
It’s hugely multi-cultural, full of markets and outdoor cinemas(during the dry season anyway). And has the highest number of ESL speakers per-capita in the country, which always makes me excited to hear all sorts of languages on the street.
Put simply, it feels like a sigh of relief living here. A very hot, humid sigh of relief that is hurrying to get into the shade, but a sigh non-the-less.
And Air Conditioning is still the best thing ever.

Last week we all went to  Litchfield National Park, to show my Grandmother around because she is up here visiting, when we checked the gauge it said it was 40 degrees. FORTY.
Litchfield was incredible, full of amazing landscapes, wildlife and termite mounds. Being 40 degrees we decided to walk(hahah) to the waterfalls and go for a (crocodile free)swim in the swimming hole at the bottom. Absolutely wonderful and refreshing.

Because I didn’t finished my Education Support qualification in Brisbane, I am finishing the last three assignments up here  which means I needed to find a job at school up here.  While I was filling out the forms for my course, the teacher offered me a temporary job covering a Teacher Aide for 4 weeks at a primary school.
The job is in the Special Ed department of the school, working (mostly) 1-on-1 with kids doing Occupational Therapy or specialized programs their therapists have recommended. Its exactly the kind of work I wanted to do as a Teacher Aide and quickly accepted.
I started last Monday and I LOVE it, the kids are great and the school is awesome. I have 1/2 hour sessions working with kids from 5yrs all the way to 12yrs, which means I get to do all sorts of different things all day.

Stones
This blog is named Living Stones because, at the time, I was on the other side of the world meeting people I considered to be living stones because of their specific circumstances and place in the world.
When I decided to start writing on here again, I briefly thought about changing the name, but came to the conclusion that I would keep it because I want to continue to meet people who are living stones. Whether other people recognize them or not, I want to continue to meet and work alongside people I consider to be living stones in their day to day lives, no matter of their place in the world.

Something to think about from the Book Of Common Prayer for Everyday Radicals:
 Sure, it’s easier to build a memorial than to build a movement,
and we’re always better at sculpting our saints than following them.

Peace and Grace

Great is Thy Faithfulness

Morning by morning, new mercies I see.

Today is May the 13th, making it one year since I left on the biggest adventure of my life and just over six months since I came back.
This last year has been the most incredible year of my life to date. It had its amazing ups, and it had some downs, I made some mistakes and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve made heaps of new friends, started learning a new language and live independently for the first time ever.
Six months.

I can’t believe how its been. I can’t believe how hard its been. I knew it would be difficult, but I wasn’t expecting it in the way it made its self clear.  It was the little things; everyone speaking English, lack of routine, the way people dress, the way people drive and what people talked about.
It was hard few months, and went for a lot longer than I felt it should, and as a result I ended up alienating myself.

But God is faithful.

I remember once Salim was telling some people about the opportunity and benefits of volunteering with Musalaha, and he mentioned that now I will know what I want to do in the future.
I am discovering that he was right. I know I want to work with the marginalized, both here in Australia and overseas. I’m almost finished my Teaching ESL course, and half way through my Teacher Aide course and I’m loving them. Twice a week I volunteer at a local school in a class of Preps(4-5 yr olds), and sometimes I help out in the ESL room as well. The school is a small school in a low socio-economic area with 80% of the students either born in a different country or 1st generation Australians. It is an incredible environment.
I have even made friends with a little girl from Saudi in my class who speaks no English, its so awesome to see her get involved and play games with the other kids. As a result I have made friends with her sister, father and mother and I’m hopefully teaching them English as well!

I think as a result of my time overseas I have become more and more aware of marginalized people here in Australia. One area I have become passionate about is the refugee community. Unfortunately refugees aren’t given the most hospitable welcome here, especially if they have come by boat.
I’m planning to move up to Darwin in the next few months which will mean a new adventure/change of scenery and I’m hoping to get a job working with refugees.

For now, I’m happy being in Australia if it means I can work in areas I’m passionate about. But I can’t promise that will last long.
I refuse to live my life looking back thinking, ‘remember that really awesome thing I did in 2012?’

PS if you want to know more about Refugees in Australia, check this documentary out.
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2013/04/29/3745276.htm

One Week Out

So here I am, sitting in my room in Brisbane, Australia. Its hot outside and I can hear my two teenage sisters talking about the latest Dr Who episode and what top looks the best on who. I am home.
I’ll talk more about how that feels later.

I’ll start with Thursday night, I got into my nesher, said my goodbyes and farewelled Jerusalem, a city I fell in love with 2 years ago.  And the favour was returned, in a way only Jerusalem could pull off.
People who have been to Jerusalem know that the traffic is enough to make you want to scream.
On this night, when it was so important for me to be on time(and not on Arab time), the traffic was 10 times worse, and roads were closed. So I voiced my concerns and prayed. A lot.
I got to Ben Gurion at 8:40pm, I was supposed to be there at 8, but I had no problems.
I was a bit concerned, as Ben Gurion airport has a reputation for giving people a hard time on their way out. Luckily, they just searched my luggage and let me through. Once I’d checked in, I bumped into my friend Shany, who had stayed with me in Australia earlier this year. It was really nice to see her and we stood talking for a good 20 minutes. She works in security at the airport, so she looked at my boarding pass, saw that my line was full of people and took me to the front of the line, telling her friend to be nice to me. So lovely.
And then I flew for 24 hours.
I landed in Auckland, tired, grumpy and looking like I’d just flown half way across the world. As I walked out with my bags, expecting to simply walk out and catch a shuttle, I spot my sister.
Cassia had flown to New Zealand just to surprise me, so nice.
We got to the hotel where I promptly fell asleep, waking up at 5pm thinking it was 5am.
Finally on Sunday night I get home, see my family, deliver gifts and hug my baby sister.

This week I have just relaxed, unpacked my bags, set up my room and reacquainted myself with the western world. Reverse Culture Shock is a little bit weird considering its your ‘own’ culture. Luckily, I was recommended a great book called ‘Re-Entry’ which is for people coming home from missions trips. It was one of the best things I have done since being back.
To say that being home is amazingly wonderful full of rainbows and butterflies would be lying. Its not.
It has its ups and downs.
I miss the languages.
I miss people, I miss places, sights and sounds. I miss my apartment.
I have to get used to living with 7 other people again.
And as much as I talk about stuff, and try to explain it, people just don’t understand completely. How can they? They haven’t seen it, felt it,  experienced it like I have. How am I supposed to communicate all that?