Monday, November 26, 2012

Day to day life...

I have always been weary of the "day to day". I don't ever want to fall into a routine where the days blend together and I can't quite pinpoint moments that have impacted me. Let me assure you, that while I am falling into a routine of comfort and confidence in what I do, the days are no where close to ordinary.

The whole point of this year was so that I could give my time and efforts in a physical act of sacrifice and dedication to the refugee community. Not only am I gaining practical experience, I am also learning humility in spades. The stories that I hear and the people I interact with remind how blessed I am, but also how much I have to learn from those around me. 

Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Center is the only refugee resettlement agency in South Dakota. Hundreds of refugees a year pour into the state, which obviously has a huge impact on the community. In the past year, in Sioux Falls, over 400 refugees were resettled, and in a town of 160,000, that actually makes a huge difference!

I work mainly with those refugees who have been in the country for a year or longer, and are eligible for their green cards. This is an amazing opportunity to finally get a piece of plastic that symbolizes stability in their lives. No more fleeing from corrupt governments or individuals because of their ethnicity or beliefs. While living in America may not be smooth sailing, quite the contrary actually, at least they are safe. While I may be cynical sometimes of our government and Americans in general, I have found a new appreciation for the freedom we have, while people are fleeing for their lives across the world, dreaming for a freedom like ours. 

While a lot of my job is scheduling, filing, making phone calls, copying, and mailing notices to clients, I also get a lot of time to meet with the clients one on one. They come with random questions about their applications, or whether or not we would be able to help them. It's my favorite part. I love interacting with these people, and it's really shown me that being an immigration lawyer is where my heart is. 

When talking to the lawyers, I love hearing their success stories. A client they never thought would pass the written part of the citizenship was sworn in as a US citizen today. A family that has been waiting for their father to come to the United States for a decade has finally been reunited. Our Immigration law does not have much room for sympathy, so it takes a lawyer to be the sympathetic one to the client, and then turn around and present it in a functional, reasonable way so an immigration office would approve the case . It's a taxing job, but one of the most rewarding. 

I also get to travel once a month to a small town, about 2 hours from here, that has suddenly seen an increase in Karen refugees, the same ethnic minority I stayed with during my village stay in Thailand. Huron, a small town of about 12,000, has received hundreds of Karen refugees a year, most of them working in Dakota Provisions, a turkey processing plant that distributes gourmet sliced turkey (eaten a turkey sandwich at Panera Bread? thats where their turkey is from!). I got a tour of the kill floor, and man, am I glad that our clients willingly, and happily, do the jobs that most Americans shy away from. A job is another symbol of stability in their lives.

Me getting a tour of Dakota Provisions

The impact that the refugees have had on this small town is amazing. So much so that 60% of their kindergarten class is made up of ESL students. It's amazing that this town is suddenly coming in contact with such diversity, but also poses a challenge, especially when it comes to the resources needed. One of the lawyers and I get to go once a month to help the refugees with their green card and citizenship applications, which has been one of my favorite parts of working at LSS so far. 

I am going to leave you with this prayer that I found especially meaningful, and have taped it on my mirror to remind me why I do what I do. 

"You have made me known to friends who I knew not. You have given me seats in homes not my own. You have brought the distant near and made a brother and sister of the stranger.
I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; I forget that there abides the old in the new and there also You abide.
Through birth and death, in this world or in others, where You lead me, it is You, the same, the one Companion of my endless life, who links my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar
When one knows You, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. O grant me my prayer that I may never lose the bliss of the touch of the one in the play of the many" 
                                 - Friends who I know not                  The Heart of God: Prayers of Rabindranath Tagore

And on a less serious note....
This is another reason why I love my job :)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Living my life in constant 4 part harmony...

Things have been going pretty dandy out here in the Midwest. It's definitely a change of pace from home (literally I leave the house to go to work, come back, cook dinner, and go to bed....what have I become..), but I really like it. I didn't realize how much I would over extend myself at school and at home, and it's definitely good for me to learn that I don't always have to be doing and seeing things in order to live a fulfilled life.

There are times when I really miss when I went to Pittsburgh to be in one of my best friend's wedding and not being exactly sure when I was going to see everyone again. Or when I'm craving Thai food or falafel....or Chipotle or Chick Fil A.  Or when I wish I could just throw a frozen dinner from Trader Joe's in the oven instead of cooking, because I know it would have tasted better than anything I could throw together myself.

And then I remind myself that I have committed to a year of simple living. I don't need all those things in my life right this second. I can contact my friends via Skype, Facebook, gmail chat, or Facetime (thank God for the Internet!). I have really enjoyed cooking new recipes, instead of going out to eat all the time. I'm pretty much exhausted when I come back from work anyways, so there really isn't much time for other things. I also share a car with my house mate, so sometimes I'm literally stuck in my house unless I want to bike in the frigid weather (I usually decide to stay home.....haha)
Some of the food I've attempted to cook, and have taken a picture of:
Spinach Quiche
Zucchini Potato pancakes ( tasted one failure)

Tomato Basil Soup

My boss and I attempted to create a Thai meal

Speaking of, it's COLD here. I mean I knew it was going to be cold eventually, but fall lasted for 2.5 seconds. I was all like "oh look at all the pretty leaves!" and the cold and wind were like "muahahaha"....and the next day all of the leaves were on the ground, and there was frost and a wind chill of 25.  I think I wore my fall coat once. Fortunately, my mom expressed shipped out my winter coat that I was just going to wait and get over Christmas.

Most of my "out of work" activities have been centered around either one of my two churches.

Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church is the church that sponsors my house. There are 30 members, on a good day, and they are all people that I swear you would find in a sitcom, which I absolutely love. They are some of the most amazing, quirky, warm hearted people I have ever met. They always take me out to dinner after church, or give me all their leftovers, or invite us over from random game nights. I was even invited to the Central Plains Mennonite Women's Fall Retreat. I was literally the only person under 55, but it was awesome. All of these women were so devoted to peace and reconciliation in the world around them, and I couldn't soak in their knowledge and wisdom enough.
Beautiful lake where the retreat was held

My retreat mates :)

Mennonites have their own traditions, foods, songs, and ways of worshipping. I did not realize how much of the culture behind being Mennonite I didn't know. Every single song is sung in 4 part harmony in church. There is no worship leader, just a piano that everyone follows along with. Its like being in a choir all the time. Mennonites have their own hymns that they use, mostly old hymns from when they were in Germany or Russia, but some newer ones as well. They hymns are mostly focused on peace, loving your neighbor, and reconciliation, which is most of the theology of Mennonites! Fancy that. The service is super informal, with the pastor giving a meditation, and leaving a response time at the end for people to comment on the sermon. This is where many of the members go on their tangents... for instance the sermon could have been about resolving conflict in the church, and then at the end the whole church is discussing the proper way to prepare pork. 

I have also learned a lot about the history of Mennonites as well.. about how they fled to Germany and Russia to escape persecution in various parts of Europe, and everything was fine and dandy there until they started getting persecuted again, so in the early 1900s they fled to the United States...most ending up in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. Because they do not believe in any sort of violence and focus on pacifism  many Mennonites fled to Canada during the Vietnam war to escape the draft.  There is still so much history I need to learn, but I find it fascinating. 

My other church I attend is a non-denominational-esque church called The Ransom, with modern worship and services. It fills the spiritual holes that the Mennonite church leaves, and vice versa, so I'm really getting the best of both worlds. I'm involved in college aged (a bit of a stretch for me but I don't care.. haha) bible study, where I've met a bunch of lovely people and really enjoy going to it every Tuesday night. 

So that is me, and how I've been trying to dip my feet into my world around me. I always have trouble jumping head first into things, I'm more of an observer than a leaper... so I'm really glad that I've been slowly creeping my way into people's lives. Things are good, my friends. I'm so blessed. And thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. 

The other day it was actually nice outside, so I took a photo tour of Sioux Falls to post here! I'm still working on editing it, and it should be up by the end of the week. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Great faces, Great places

OH GOOD GOLLY. Have I been the worst at keeping a blog or what? I'm sorry I've kept all my devoted fans waiting for so long.. all 2 of you (Hi Mom and Dad!)

All kidding aside, I know many of my friends, family, and members from my church from back home have been wondering how I'm doing up here in South Dakota, and so I decided I should ease your anxious waiting and give everyone an update.

For those who haven't been following my every move (how dare you not know everything about my life....sorry now I'll put all kidding aside...), I have moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to volunteer for a year with Mennonite Voluntary Service!

I'm sure you may have many questions after reading that statement. What in the WORLD is in South Dakota, you may ask? What are Mennonites? And definitely the most important- do I have to wear long skirts and a bonnet?

Good questions, my friend. I have struggled with variations of these questions, in all shapes and sizes before coming 3 weeks ago. In the following posts, I am going to attempt to give an overview of what I'm doing, why I am doing it, and what it entails for my future.

A little over a year ago, I had just come back from Thailand feeling all this pent up emotion about what I had experienced and the different people I had met. Along the way, I was able to learn from many about the conflicts in Burma and the many refugees living on the border in Thailand. I can't pinpoint exactly why or when, but I knew I was meant to work with refugees resettling in America. I just knew. I feel this burning passion to help those who have been forced to flee their homes, come to this overwhelming country with nothing but their clothes on their backs, often separated from their family, and many of them victims of severe violence and torture. They feel lost, scared, yet hopeful. It's this dichotomy of pain in the past, struggle in the present, and hope for the future  these people experience that draws me to them. Their insight on life, their cultural backgrounds, their beliefs, traditions, and history bring something different that I could never get enough of.  Every time I learn something new, educate myself on the issues, or meet a refugee, hear their story, I know this is exactly where I belong.

After I graduated, I knew that I wanted to volunteer for an extended amount of time with refugees, not only to gain practical experience, but also to give up my time and my talents in order to help the most vulnerable population in the world in a physical act of sacrifice, an outward statement of my dedication.

Mennonite Voluntary Service fit that description. Mennonites have a long standing tradition of valuing peace, standing up for social justice, and working towards reconciliation, in the world and within the church. I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of, at least for a year. We also are paid a very small monthly stipend, a way to live in solidarity with the people we are trying to serve. There is also this Mennonite subculture that is FASCINATING, coming from a sociological viewpoint, but I'll save that for a later post :)

MVS placed me in Sioux Falls, SD. You, me and the rest of the world goes "whhhhhhhhat.... are there even refugees in Sioux Falls?" The answer is:YES! Or else I wouldn't be here. Duh. I'm working in the one office in Sioux Falls that resettles refugees...but they resettle over 2,000 refugees in this area a year! Seriously, if you think about the ratio of refugees to the overall population of Sioux Falls, its absolutely insane, especially since they ALL come through the Lutheran Social Services Refugee and Immigration Center here.

Sioux Falls, despite being cold and in the middle of no where, is actually an ideal place for refugees to resettle. First of all, there are jobs. Low skill jobs, and there are many of them. Second of all, housing is cheap. Third of all, its a small city. Most of these refugees are coming from literal makeshift camps, and they have lived there for over a decade. Can you imagine going from living in a canvas tent to New York City? I don't think so. At least Sioux Falls is more of a friendlier transition. And cheaper. And since there are already large populations of Bhutanese, Somali, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Liberian, and Burmese people here, more refugees are drawn to where their families and friends are. They just keep coming! Which, as a side note, also means there are lots of great places to eat.  :)

SO. That is my brief overview of WHY I'm up..what I've been doing! Stay tuned! :)
Love and miss you all,

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

music: Sins are Stones by John Mark McMillan

When I can find  Christian music that speaks to the realities of life, that reminds me of how much my Savior has done for me, I embrace it. A lot of Christian music does not do that for seems to me they try to sugar coat everything- but every so often I'm introduced to a song that just speaks straight to my heart. This past weekend, I found such a song....Sins are Stone by John Mark McMillan. I absolutely love the message and the imagery.

Also..this video is pretty swell. It's not the original album version, because they are performing it live...while sitting on someone's front porch. Simple and wonderful.

Monday, July 30, 2012

life:: old towns and engagements

This week has been chock full of activities (what is a chock anyways? questions that never get answered).
Recently, I've been relying on my iPhone to take a lot of pictures for me, because my camera is so chunky and heavy. But this week, I decided it was time to be a little more adventurous and use my camera. I didn't realize how much I missed it! Definitely will be carrying around that fat thing more often.

Old Town Alexandria
Old Town Alexandria is such an OASIS in D.C. I love that it's small, colonial, cute, and they have period themed actors...always a plus. SUCH good food, chic shops, and you can sit along the Potomac.  Perfect place to explore with friends.
I mean...this place is called "Bread and Chocolate" What's not to love. Unfortunately it was closed... I need to go back.

We ate at Fountaine, an amazing cute little cafe that sold sweet and savory crepes. I got the Moroccan crepe- spinach and feta with a mint yogurt drizzle. OH MY GOSH. so good. I tried all of my friend's dishes too and spied on other tables... I really don't think you can go wrong with anything there. It has a really cute atmosphere too.

 We walked around in the rain, kind of got lost, and pretended like we owned different houses. How we didn't' get arrested....I don't know. Ran into an old time ice cream shop to wait for the rain to end. The best kind of day.

Saturday...drove with my best friends to what seemed to be a cookout with my friends from high school...but in actuality was a set up for a proposal :) My best friend got engaged in the pouring rain with all of us watching on, and it made me SO very happy. We are full steam ahead into wedding planning, and I can't wait.
Check out that ROCK

 Other pictures from this past week:
Ebenezers Coffeehouse- really cool coffee house on Capitol Hill owned by a church!

Friends eating at Nando's Peri Peri

China town exploring
That's all folks! This week has ALREADY got enough for a blog post, so it will be really interesting! Hope you are all enjoying this as much as I am.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

book: The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

Lord knows I needed a light, fluffy, book after the last two I read that left me sad and mopey. The Peach Keeper was EXACTLY what I needed.

I'm a huge fan of Sarah Addison Allen's books. They are always so fun, with a bit of magic and a ton of Southern charm. Super girly and fun, with themes of friendship, romance, and self discovery. If that doesn't shout summer read, I don't know what does.

This story follows Willa Jackson- a previously prankster and wild girl that returns to her hometown of Walls-of-Water reformed, after her father's death. She has to come to terms with the new, calm, reasonable person she believes she is now, and how the town used to perceive her. The Jackson family also used to be town royalty, the richest family living in the largest house that could be seen from all angles on the hill. Their fortune was lost, in a tornado of scandal, forcing her grandmother to build a new life on her own. Now, the grandmother lives in a nursing home, unable to communicate or respond when Willa frequently visits and takes care of her. Willa strives to live outside of the shadow of her and her family's past, focusing instead on her sporting goods store and cafe, determined to create a normal life for herself.

Paxton Osgood is part of the richest family in Walls-of-Water in the present, and seems to have it all together. She is in charge of the Lady's Society club, which has placed its focus on renovating the old Jackson home, the Blue Ridge Madam, into an inn that can be used for their upcoming gala. She was popular, pretty, and put together in high school, some of the many reasons why Willa stays away from her. However, Paxton's grandmother is in the same nursing home as Willa's, so their paths frequently cross.

Suddenly, long buried secrets have been uncovered during the Blue Ridge Madam's renovation, that throws both Willa and Paxton into a whirl wind to find answers, a road that leads them to their grandmothers. Along the way, they find love and friendship in two places they never thought possible.

The characters grab you in this book. I love how Sarah Addison Allen makes you feel like you know each individual personally, and I think its because everybody can find a little bit of themselves in every character portrayed. She also is gifted with the art of description- I really felt like I could picture Walls-of-Water in my head, with it's many waterfalls,birds, and strange magical occurrences that somehow fit seemlessy into reality..

I would have to say this is my 2nd favorite Sarah Addison Allen book. Nothing can beat The Girl Who Chased The Moon in my eyes. If you haven't read that yet, do so. You won't be disappointed.

I'm going to close with one of my favorite quotes from The Peach Keeper:

"Happiness is a risk. If you’re not a little scared, then you’re not doing it right."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

music: Chains of Love by Ryan Adams

I really like this song. Super chill and super easy going. I love Ryan Adams voice- its like a mix between Bono and Bob Dylan, which is awesome in my opinion.

Also, he's married to Mandy Moore! I like to think that he's singing this song to her....while she's like dancing around like in Princess Diaries, or maybe running away like in Chasing Liberty. They don't seem to match, but I love couples that don't match. And apparently they are locked up in the chains of love and nothing can separate them....good for them! :)

The music video is a little dizzying...but fireworks do come out of the guitars towards the end! So that's always worth seeing.

I hope you enjoy this song as much as I do!