2016 has been a notoriously bad year for the amount of celebrity deaths and questionable occurrences for the world as a whole. I’ve personally written about how my year in Korea in 2016 was – the deaths that my housemates sustained in their families, trucks hitting our house, kittens dying – but also going to the Philippines, deeply learning about the history and pain in Korea, and living our lives side by side with the Korean people. That was just while I was still in Korea. You can read about most of those things through the past blog posts I’ve written over the past year, but there are some lesson I’ve learned from this year that have shaped what my future will look like.
This year, through roommates, friends, and kittens I’ve struggled through what it means to love. It’s easy to be frustrated with each other, especially when we don’t see eye to eye. It is the initial culture shock where we think what other people do is illogical and inconsiderate blinds us from loving each other. Love is not just a feeling or a romantic relationship, but rather difficult and necessary work.
My strongest and closest relationship with my roommate, Linda started off with differing views and values. We started with different culture backgrounds and understandings of what was acceptable, appropriate, or loving. We argued throughout the year about various topics that struck close to home for each of us, but it is because of that labor that we love each other so much more. We found through our conversations more things we could relate on that we initially didn’t see. It was very much for us a willingness to grapple with these topics with vulnerability out of love and a hope that could reconcile our differences even if it was uncomfortable and challenged how we viewed the world. Each relationship in our house had strains of similar struggles and triumphs – some of the most difficult parts of our year, but perhaps also one of the most fruitful. This is the gift and the curse of intentional community.
Throughout the year people have shown me what love looks like in conversations and going out of their way to make sure that I am safe and doing well without expectation of return. Never in my life have I seen so well illustrated the kind of unconditional love that I feel Jesus has had for humanity as I have seen people in my life attempt to execute towards me. And like Jesus that love is sacrificial, relational, and holds us to higher standards. It is hard dirty work that no one is above.
As a natural next step to love, reconciliation sits as one of the labors of love that the world needs in order to heal. Reconciliation is needed on large and small scales – from the divisions of countries (like North and South Korea) torn apart by war, to finding common ground with your roommates. It is hard, humbling work and only works if both sides can acknowledge the other in a meaningful way. It is work that only happens if for even a moment you can treat the other as an equal, deserving of your consideration. It means being able to say “I did something wrong,” but also “I forgive you,” which is as or more difficult to say. It means overcoming anger, shame, and pride. It is not a given that it will eventually work itself out, and much of the work is in making people acknowledge that there is a problem.
With many of the issues we learned about in Korea, several of them had champions who used their life to broadcast that an injustice had occurred at all. Without them, human rights violations like the comfort women or the incident at NoGunRi may have been lost to history. Even still there are many things that have no doubt been lost – marginalized people left to deal with the consequences of others’ actions. It is reconciliation work to protest and boycott. It is reconciliation work to use civil disobedience to bring a voice to atrocities that otherwise may be left broken in a broken world. It is love to advocate for those who may never see justice, even if you yourself also never see that justice come to fruition.
Coming home it seems that the engine of division has been refueled and let loose. It is easy to see the cracks wedging spaces between us and sowing fear into our hearts. It seems the need for reconciliation is growing, and our world is breaking at an alarming rate. Our own political climate has engendered feelings of fear in anyone that doesn’t feel like the “in” crowd – immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, disabled people, women, Native Americans, and the list goes on and on. The news of the Syrian war and the final messages from people in Aleppo has been heart breaking. It looks like there is the potential that we are heading towards a world war with dangerous politicians at the helm of most of it. And news of our climate future and the uncertainty of a unified front towards working against climate change does not breed feelings of hope. The needs for effort towards reconciliation and love for the marginalized is great.
Perhaps it is tumultuous times that lend voice to what you value in your life. It puts perspective on what really matter and what you think you should devote your time to – what you devote your life to. I already knew that my heart was in international service, but this year gave me the opportunity to devote my time and energy towards caring for people and learning about their struggles full time for the first time. It also showed me what it could look like to do aid with the framework of my faith. It challenged me to ask difficult questions and struggle with them. God has closed and opened doors for me to lead me along this path.
Because of this, I am applying for dual masters programs in divinity and social work so that I can start graduate school in the Fall. My goal is to begin learning Arabic and focus on Abrahamic religions and conflict in the Middle East so that I will be equipped to be do international service in conflict areas like Aleppo or Israel/Palestine, and/or serve refugees wherever they end up in the world. There is a sense of urgency that this cannot wait. The events that are unfolding now (and have been unfolding) have impact that will be ripple through the end of all our own lifetimes, and I hope to follow God’s will for my life and serve in the ways that I know best – through informed work in love and reconciliation. There is no predicting what the future holds for me or the world, but I will faithfully attempt to interpret the path set out for me.
This first morning of 2017 was bright and fresh. The world is still chaotic. It hasn’t restarted because of the new year, but my message for 2017 is even in fear of what is to come have courage to do the right thing. Things will not be easy, but I am hopeful.