Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The End of the World As I Know It

     This week marks a very important time in my life. It is my LAST WEEK of college classes. Yesterday I had my absolute last day of Spanish class at Hope College EVER. Tomorrow I will attend my last religion class and last politics class. In exactly 11 days I will walk across that stage and celebrate the last four years of college by receiving a diploma that I will later use as evidence of what I learned during this chapter of my life. But what does this little diploma actually prove? Yes, I have a degree in Social Work now and have significantly improved my Spanish, but that does not even begin to cover all the things I have learned in four years.

     This community has shaped me into a woman who knows where she stands on many issues like immigration and homosexuality. I have become passionate about fighting injustices like human trafficking, political corruption, and poverty. I have had deep conversations and silly moments with friends. I have pondered what it means to be a Christian. So while the academic life at Hope has improved my knowledge, the opportunities outside the classroom have been much more influential in challenging my ways of thinking. 

     I remember all-too-clearly the last day of orientation at Hope freshman year. As my parents drove away, I stood by my dormitory with tears of sadness and anxiety in my eyes. What was I going to do now? I didn't know a soul here except for my roommate and a few kids from my orientation group, and even those people I had only known for about 2 days. Wait a second, I thought to myself, you wanted to come here to Holland where you didn't know anyone, where you could explore a different place and get a quality education. It's the start of something new. Yes, it was challenging and awkward those first few weeks. But I made it through and I'm so glad I stuck with it. I really believe that coming to Hope College was the best decision I have ever made. 

     So now I'm propelling forward to the next step. I'm leaving this place I've called home and the people who have been like family to me. How do I feel about this? Emotional. In a bunch of different ways: excited, nervous, depressed, confused, and happy. Through this string of emotions, I have realized that all will be well. Yes, I'm nervous once again...because when I go to Costa Rica in two months I'll have to meet new friends and adjust to a new culture. I'll have new and interesting experiences and learn more about myself. And then one day it will be my last day in Costa Rica. I probably won't be ready, just like I'm not ready for my last day here, but that day will come regardless of whether I want it or not. Because God has bigger plans for me. Whenever I leave one place, another exciting adventure awaits. This is the end of the world as I know it. But I'm feeling fine!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

For the Beauty of the Earth

"The hills are alive with the sound of music." 

These words have been in my mind lately as spring has sprung in all its glory in Holland, Michigan. The sun shines brightly through the clouds, the birds wake me up each morning with their song, and the soft breeze tickles my skin as I walk across campus. Spring is a time when new life is evident in the budding flowers and green leaves. This is my favorite time of year. In Michigan spring brings an uncanny bliss to its residents who have just endured the long brutal four-month winter of blizzards and cold. It is not rare to see students running through the Pine Grove shouting with joy and running through the grass barefooted. There is something about warm weather and being outside that makes our souls happy. :)

A few weeks ago I was in West Virginia on an immersion trip through Hope with several other wonderful students. On this trip we had the opportunity to learn about an issue that is raging harm on people and other creatures all over Appalachia: MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL (or, as we non-so-lovingly call it, MTR). While in West Virgina I saw firsthand the harm this type of coal mining does to people, animals, and plants alike in the community. The group of us worked with Restoring Eden, a Christian non-profit dedicated to environmental stewardship. We spent the week talking to people while doing a health survey of the communities to see how they are affected by MTR. The results were shocking: the cancer rates were much higher in the coal-mining communities compared to the areas where there was not mining going on. 

Throughout our week I really appreciated getting to know some of the individuals we met in West Virginia. We talked to people living in run-down trailers whose tap water is brown and dirty. We heard from a famous environmental activist (shout out to Mike Rosell!) about his experience trying to make a difference in his community through civil disobedience. It was amazing to see how the people living in the mountains are fighting to protect their home. Their passion captures the importance of caring for the earth God placed us on. God created humans to take care of one another as well as the rest of creation: the land, plants, and animals that are interconnected to us in life. As Christians, we learned that in order to love humans we must also love the earth.
So often humans focus on material gains for selfish reasons and think little of other creatures around us. In West Virginia I personally witnessed the effects of MTR on individuals. As I set foot on a mountaintop removal site, the stark disparity between the grey despondent landscape and the surrounding green mountains was heartbreaking. On this trip I came to understand God's heart for justice for all the creatures he made. Walking outside this week, I have felt like laughing for joy at the sunshine and green grass. But not everyone has the chance to experience this joy, because much of God's creation is suffering. Africans die from AIDS and malaria, Guatemalans are shot by the military, Japanese become sick from nuclear radiation. 
This world is not perfect. There is so much pain and suffering today - creation is groaning. When you hear the phrase "caring for creation" I challenge you to not just write it off as an environmentalist scheme. Because we are all affected by our surroundings. Whether we realize it or not, our daily choices can affect people around the world. Caring for creation is more than turning off your lights at night or conserving water. It's about caring for people. People who don't have clean water or enough food to eat. Each of us has a responsibility to make ethical choices that are considerate to other human beings. With this mindset we can start to get a bit closer to doing God's will in this world and this life: sharing the love of Christ with creation. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Next Step

For the last six months people have been asking me the QUESTION. Every college senior faces this question with the same dread and uncertainty until that moment when you know the answer: What I am doing after I graduate? 

I finally know for sure what I am doing after college. :) Well, at least for five months. I will be taking a Discipleship Training School through Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in San Jose, Costa Rica. This is a type of cross-cultural missionary training which consists of three months of lecture (classroom-type learning) followed by two months of outreach (service, or putting into action all that we've learned). I am super excited to see what God will teach me through this experience! I am hoping to figure out through these five months what I want to do with the rest of my life, or at least for the next season. 

Right now I am preparing for this journey by reading up on Costa Rican culture, raising support to pay for the training + travel, and talking to people who have done YWAM. I know a couple people who have done other schools through YWAM and had incredible experiences. However, I know that everyone's experience is different. As much as I prepare for this next step, I will just have to face whatever challenges arise with a strong heart and adventurous spirit. I'm sure nothing will be quite like I expect it to be, but nonetheless it will be good. I will be a changed person at the end of it. 

To all of you fellow seniors out there who haven't quite figured out what you're doing with your life, it's okay. So I know where I'll be for 5 months, but after that, who knows? I encourage you to take it one step at a time. I've realized that there is no sense in making a "life plan" when circumstances can change in an instant. Live your life in seasons, and enjoy each season for its unique ups and downs. :)