Janus in Singapore: Which God?

March 20, 2017

The Cathedral of the Good Shepherd – Singapore’s oldest church, right across from the SMU Library

Something struck me when I was going through the various photos I’ve collected from my time here in Singapore – there are quite a number of religious buildings in the city. I’ve never thought of Singapore as a particularly holy place, unlike certain parts of China or the Philippines that I’ve been to with comparable numbers of religious buildings, nor did I think that an extremely industrialized and advanced city would have such a strong presence.
There are five religions that have a significant presence in Singapore. According to the 2015 census, 33% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism, 18.8% practice Christianity, 14% practice Islam, 11% practice Taoism, and 5% practice Hinduism. These numbers make sense to me; a majority of Singaporeans are Han Chinese, with Malay and Indian groups representing about 10% of the population, each. It makes sense that Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Hinduism play such a big role in the lives of Singaporeans – these religions are the religions in the various ancestral homes of the people living in this city.

The Masjid Sultan

I didn’t expect such a large Christian presence, though. While I was in China, I didn’t encounter many Chinese Christians, nor do I know of a large enough presence of Christianity in Malay and Indian countries that could explain the 18.8% figure, a percentage that has apparently increased in recent years. According to census figures, 12.7% of the population was Christian in 1990 and 146% in 2000. While one I can understand that there should be a a small presence – Singapore, after all, was a British colony – I’m not quite sure why Christianity has a growing presence. You would expect that the Singaporeans’ ties to religions more closely related to their ancestral homes would increase in popularity, rather than a religion that was introduced by foreigners that no longer have a strong hold on the country.

One of the larger Buddhist temples/museums in Chinatown

Another interesting aspect of religion in Singapore is that the number of highly educated Singaporeans practicing a religion, particularly for Taoism, Hindiusm, and Islam, is increasingly noticeably. This goes counter against a fairly commonly observed phenomenon where religion becomes less and less important the higher the level of education. I’ve seen this myself at SMU – the various religious clubs are very active in the community, and it isn’t uncommon for me to run into classmates at Sunday masses during the weekends, or even the odd weekday mass that I attend. Practicing my Catholic faith has definitely been much more easy to do in Singapore, simply due to the number of parishes that make it almost impossible to not attend Sunday mass. There’s a church a 10-minute walk away from my flat, and on weekdays or Sundays spent at the library, Singapore’s oldest cathedral is simply across the street.
There’s much more to learn about religious life in Singapore, particularly for the non-Christian religions. While I feel like I’ve touched the surface of what can be learned – living in Little India lets me experience many of the Hindu religious holidays, my many visits to Chinatown have allowed me to enjoy the various Buddhist temples, and the largest mosque happens to be on my favorite food street in Singapore – I do plan to eventually attend a service for each of the major religions in Singapore. It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t necessarily have elsewhere, and my fellow exchange students who have done the same say that it’s a truly interesting experience to have.

Decorations outside a Hindu building in Little India, a minute or two’s walk from home.

St. Joseph’s Church – another relatively large Church in Singapore. Unfortunately, the building isn’t very well kept, and almost seems like a relic of a past decade.

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Tori in Spain: Saying Yes to Hard Things

February 2, 2017

“How was abroad?” “Did you love Madrid?” “Your semester looked amazing, tell me about it.”

These are the questions I returned to. I have found it incredibly hard to sum up such an impactful experience, and honestly since being on campus abroad has felt like a distant dream. I lived in a faraway land for 4 months, got to learn a different language, and developed friendships that I wasn’t quite able to pack up in my suitcase and take home.

The one theme that has permeated my thoughts and reflections on abroad is how rich life is when we say yes to hard things. “Say yes to hard things” has become my slogan of the semester, and it is my biggest take away.

Showing up at a Spanish speaking church alone was not the most comfortable thing in the world. The prospect of leading a group of students, into a city I barely knew, to speak with strangers living on the street, in a foreign language, left me feeling unequipped and frustrated. Walking into the little bar next door to Amalie & I’s apartment on our last night in Madrid felt very inconvenient due to the flight I had to catch in the morning. Stopping to chat with Karrol when I was late to class seemed unproductive. Initiating conversation with the woman next to me on the subway felt awkward.

None of my sweetest memories abroad came from choosing to do what was the most convenient, socially acceptable, or comfortable. Life begins when we get out of our comfort zone and push ourselves. This can manifest itself in big ways or little ways, but it always involves leaning into the moment and being present. Even when I said yes to hard things begrudgingly, it lead to really special times. I need to ask, Lord, what do you have for me here? And it will lead me to love and think in a way that is more people-conscious, out of the knowledge that God is enamored with every soul I encounter on the street. Every little human bopping along in Madrid, Richmond, Winston Salem, or wherever I am, is created in the image of God and so in my every interaction I am interacting with one whom is dearly and sacredly loved by God.

 

 

 


Olivia in Scotland: How Far I’ll Go

January 12, 2017

Hello everyone!

I’m back in the United States now. There are times when that’s still not real to me yet; you could say that my head carried some of the fog home from Edinburgh and it hasn’t quite cleared yet. In the midst of the readjustment and the holiday season, however, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned from my past few months abroad. Here are ten things I’ve learned about travel, about myself, and about life, in no particular order!

  1. I love discovering new places more than I ever realized I did. I found out that the walking and navigating aspect of travel is really fun for me; I like learning where things are and feeling like I’ve at least sort of figured out how to get around a city before I leave it. I never traveled to a place I didn’t like while I was abroad. There were things to enjoy everywhere I went.
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    Here’s a picture from one trip that I didn’t get to talk much about in my blog posts— I took a day trip to Stirling, which is about an hour away from Edinburgh. It’s a pretty small city, but it has an amazing castle and is surrounded by beautiful hills. It actually reminded me of a mountain town where some of my family lives back in the States.

    Like other study abroad students, I feel that this time away has given me the travel bug. It will be hard not traveling as much in the spring, but I also think it has expanded my horizons as I think about my future. Seeing new places helped me see new possibilities for my own life and helped me see how much I like traveling.

  2. I would always rather travel with other people than travel alone. My 4-day sojourn in London taught me that. I love being along for shorter periods of time, like my last morning in Paris, for instance, but I do not enjoy being alone for extended trips. It shaped how I traveled for the remainder of my time abroad and I’m glad of that.
  3. I love living near hills. This is a bit of a random one, but it’s true! To me, living near a big hill or a mountain feels like having something to rest your back against. I might feel connected to hilly places this way because my family has roots in the mountains. Ideally, though, I would love to live in a city like Edinburgh that has both hills and sea so close together.

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    It somehow felt comforting that Arthur’s Seat and the Crags were so close to where I lived this semester (those are the hills you can see behind the buildings). I don’t totally know why, but ut made it feel even more like home. 

  4. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but it’s not the end of the world. When I think about the tickets I messed up, the things I forgot, the transatlantic flight I missed, and so many other things, I am surprised that I made it home. More often than not, though, I found that there were things I could do to clean up the mess I made. That doesn’t mean that my mistakes didn’t cause me trouble, but I think that I learned more about being a responsible adult through my mistakes. When you’re on your own, you do have to clean up your mess yourself—but it’s more doable than you might think.
  5. Sometimes bad things happen, maybe even your worst nightmare, but you survive. Nope, I didn’t accidentally make the same point twice. This is about the things that happen that you can’t control. So many things happened that were abroad that were beyond my control, whether that had to do with sickness, relationships, or deaths. Life hit me hard while I was away. But, every day, the sun came up. I saw over and over again that the circumstances of my life do not stop the world from spinning. They make life painful, they make it a struggle, but they don’t have to define everything about you. For me, this meant giving each day to God and asking Him to help me through. Today, by the grace of God, I’m still here.
  6. You can go through the most difficult time you’ve ever gone through and still come out of it with amazing memories. Even as I look back through my various journal entries and blog posts and clearly see how much pain I went through, I also know that I legitimately enjoyed so much about this past semester. I know that it was absolutely worth it for me to go abroad. The people I met and the places I got to explore were truly unforgettable, and I feel so privileged to have gotten to experience all of this.
  7. Travel means encountering the unexpected. Sometimes you’ll be happy with the results, and sometimes you won’t be. For example, I was pleasantly surprised when I hardly ran into any rain during my travels through the stereotypically rainy U.K., but a little disappointed when my trips to Italy and France weren’t much warmer than Edinburgh (and sometimes substantially colder!). You might enjoy some major tourist sites more or less than you expected to. That’s all okay—it’s part of what transforms your travel from a mere trip into an adventure.

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    I didn’t enjoy learning about Loch Ness as much as I expected to and I didn’t like the ultra-touristy atmosphere there. However, I also didn’t expect the loch to be quite so beautiful! I ended up getting one of my favorite pictures from the trip there. 

  8. You can find family all over the world. These might be people with whom you share a common background or interest, or it might just be people who are going through something similar to you with whom you find understanding. Either way, these people are the ones who bring warmth and light to your journey once you find them.

 

 

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Here are two of those people for me! My Friends Gianna and Tyler and I share similar faith backgrounds. As brothers and sisters in Christ, that gave us a strong bond and helped us be there for each other when we needed it. It makes saying goodbye harder, which is what we were doing in this picture, but it’s still a treasure to know that I have these family members praying for me in their own corners of the world.

9. Feel what you’re feeling and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for that. I’ve talked a lot about this, but I’m still learning the importance of this now as I go through culture shock returning to the US. Wherever you might be, don’t tell yourself what you’re supposed to be feeling or not feeling; think, talk, create, whatever helps you to process and understand what you’re feeling, rather than become desensitized or let emotions build up. That will only hurt you and keep you from growing!

10. Travel makes some things less scary than they were before and does the reverse with other things. Before studying abroad, I was much more scared of traveling alone or living in a city where I didn’t know anyone than I am now. So many of the logistical things that intimidated me so much before no longer do so. To explain the scarier things, though, I’ll tell you a story.

On my last morning of my trip to Paris, I realized something. I had decided to go to Notre Dame before flying back to Edinburgh. I had already been inside once, but it was just so beautiful, and it seemed like a good place for sorting through all the things I was feeling on that particular morning. I walked alone through the streets, over the bridges, past the cotton candy clouds, until I got to the imposing cathedral. As I sat inside, it hit me: I’m less scared of staying here, in a country where I don’t even speak their language, than I am of going back home.

It seemed so strange. I could never have seen myself saying something like that just a few short months ago, and why should I be so scared to go home? Well, there were a lot of reasons for that—I was terrified of how I might feel while readjusting to life at home—but so much of that fear was because I’m not the same person I was when I left the United States back in September. I have become someone new. This new person is more independent while simultaneously knowing how much she needs people; she’s not afraid of traveling alone, she’s experienced so many new things, and she’s been through the refining fire of heartbreak. That morning, much of what weighed on my mind was how to be this new person in the old, familiar places, around people I already know. Would I be able to be a new person and still keep the friendships I had before? I knew that this was something many study abroad students face, but in that moment it still felt impossible.

I sat in the cathedral for a few more minutes, soaking in the atmosphere of the sacred space. I pulled out my phone to read a little bit of Psalm 84, which talks about the sanctuary of God’s presence and how blessed those people are who trust in Him even through the difficult times of their journey. What came to me then was a glimmer of peace: a sense that, while it would be difficult, I wouldn’t be alone. I recalled my belief that the same God to whom this awe-inspiring cathedral was built would actually be with me all the way across the ocean. If anyone can handle the impossible, it would be Him. As I walked back out into the rosy morning, I felt the strength I had drawn from what I believed to be God’s presence in that place stay with me, pushing me forward and into the unknown. With Him beside me, I can face the old and the new, and there’s no telling how far I’ll go.

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Beautiful Paris Morning, walking into a hopeful future 🙂

That’s all for my life lessons, folks! We’re coming to the end of this final blog post. If you want to hear a playlist of all the songs from my blog post titles this semester—because all but one of my titles were from songs—you can listen to that here! (Good on you if you caught on to the song titles trope already.)And now, I’ll close this post with a few pictures from my last days in Edinburgh, where I took pictures of some things I would miss about the city. I loved living here so much and will definitely be back someday soon.

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Bustling Princes Street and the majestic Scott Monument, with or without the Christmas Market

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The colorful door to my flat!

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The Georgian architecture and general feel of New Town, where I spent a lot of time with my church.

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Lovely Old Town and the lights on Edinburgh Castle at night!

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Possibly most important: THE TEA!

Thank you for being a part of my journey this semester! I hope you’ve been encouraged to explore, to feel, and to appreciate the people and places around you, whether you’re at home or abroad.

As the Scots would say—cheers!


Olivia in Scotland: Falling On My Knees

December 8, 2016

Hi everyone!

You know how sometimes you think you’re finally starting to get through one heartbreak, but then another comes along? That’s where I am in my life right now. Between an unexpected death in the family and an unexpected breakup of a long relationship, I have experienced more grief while studying abroad than I ever thought I would. It’s been a difficult time in my life. However, I have learned some things about myself and about grieving, and I wanted to take a moment to share some of those things with you. If you are considering studying abroad, I sincerely hope that you do not lose someone during that time—but if it does happen, I hope that these seven things help you through that process a little bit. It’s hard to be abroad when you feel like your life is falling apart, but there are things you can do to help.

1. Make sure that you give yourself some silence and that soul-numbing things don’t make up the majority of your grieving process. We live in a world that is constantly noisy. Noise can be distracting and comforting in the ways that it helps us ignore our problems or feel less alone. Particularly since being abroad, I often fill the silence with Netflix or listening to music. In reasonable amounts, this isn’t a bad thing—sometimes I need to turn my brain off and not think about my problems for a while—but if that’s all I do, then I can’t sort through what I’m actually feeling. Silence is both intimidating and invaluable. It can make you feel even more alone when you’re far away from home, but it also gives you space to think, feel, remember, reflect, and gain insight. It may not seem like it, but silence is a gift—give it to yourself.

2. Don’t be afraid of your tears. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you’re not handling your life the way you should be. They’re actually helpful in processing your grief (see this post for more on where I got that idea from). This is a hard one for me because I often compare myself to other people and feel like I’m doing something wrong when they look fine and my tears tell me that I am not. But if that’s how you’re feeling, you’re not doing anything wrong. Tears help you let out emotions and then figure out how to move forward. They’re healthy; use them.

3. Be around people. In addition to giving yourself time in silence, it’s also important to go out and do things with people. It’s really easy to isolate yourself while being abroad, particularly if you’re living in a single room, but don’t stay that way. Having fun with people will help you remember the good things you still have in your life. It will help you not to feel so isolated and to get the most out of your time abroad.

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Going out and having fun with friends is an important step. You might just get to fulfill some dreams in the process, like I did going to Venice with these friends. 🙂

4. It’s not enough just to be around people—talk about what you’re feeling. I’m not saying that you should talk about your grief all the time. However, if you’re like me, I need to share a little of what I’m truly feeling with the others in order to move on and enjoy being with them. If I don’t, I feel more isolated or I feel like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not. You might feel like talking about your emotional state makes you a nuisance to the people you’re around (especially if it takes longer than you think it should to get better). If they’re really your friends, though, they will listen to you and want to help. You may be surprised just how much and how many people want to be there for you—I certainly have been! Talking about your feelings will help you process and will help you appreciate those people who care about you enough to listen and put you first.

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One of those people who has continually listened and been there for me in Edinburgh has been my friends Gianna. I hope that you are fortunate enough to find such a steadfast friend if you experience loss while studying abroad.

5. Don’t give yourself a timeline for your grief. You may feel like you should be over it in a few weeks, or a month, or a few months. Maybe that will be the case for you, but it’s entirely possible that it won’t be. It hasn’t worked like that for me no matter how much I’ve wished that it would. These tips may help you during your mourning period, but it won’t necessarily speed it up. Don’t compare yourself to other people; do your best to give yourself grace and allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling for whatever amount of time you feel it.

6. Don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Particularly if you’re experiencing the death of a family member, you may feel like you should just be mourning and not having any fun. That’s not true.  The person you’ve lost would want you to enjoy your time abroad, and you need to allow yourself to feel happiness as well as sadness. So travel, dance, laugh, and find the sunshine in your life. It’s still there, even if the clouds are hiding it.

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I was thinking about this idea on the flight to Venice on Friday. After we took off and ascended past the Scottish clouds, I was happy to find that the sun was still up there above them, shining as brightly as it ever has. It’s comforting to know that I can still find joy and warmth and light in life again, even if it takes a while to do.

7. Remember that it’s not the end of you. It may feel like it is; it may feel like nothing good will ever happen to you again. You might just want to be home, or you might dread going home, or both. Those are all totally natural feelings. But, keep the bigger picture in perspective. You are so privileged to have this study abroad experience. You have people who care about you, whether or not they are all with you right now, and you have a whole future ahead of you that’s full of possibilities. As difficult as this time is, it really will pass. Focus on the present and on the blessings around you right now as much as you can.

I want to close with a quote and a note on the title. Matthew 6:34 says,”So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” In the midst of my fixation on details of the past and my myriad of fears about the future, it has been hard for me to just take things one day at a time. However, if you go through grieving while studying abroad, I urge you to focus on where you are and the people around you. Don’t let your apprehensions about whatever awaits you at home rob you of that joy. As you let yourself remember and reflect, also take time every day to appreciate the beauty in the world around you. It’s still there if you look for it.

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I was pulling out my phone to take this picture of the sunset when I received the bad news about my family member. I was in shock, but I till took the picture because I felt like this moment was something to remember. That sunset’s beauty was not diminished by this news. Instead, it reminded me of my Creator and His faithfulness, even when I don;t understand why things happen the way they do. 

The title of this post, “Falling On My Knees,” is the name of a song by Kokua that has become very special to me over these past weeks. It is about a person who has been brought low and is crying out to God for help. In the midst of that, he still sings,  “I lie down and rest in Your peace, / surrounded by life’s uncertainty, / as I learn to surrender all of me.” He is still able to find peace and praise God for His grace even when the circumstances of his life would seem to make that impossible. My prayer has been, and continues to be, that I can do the same. I have definitely felt God draw near to me in my heartbreak, and my faith has played a crucial role in sustaining me through this time. I don’t regret studying abroad one single bit—I feel that God put me in Edinburgh during this difficult time for a reason. I know this is where I was meant to be during the start of my grieving process.

I will tell you all about my trip to Venice in my next blog post. 🙂 Till next time!


Tori in Spain: ¡Feliz Cumpleaños Yolanda!

December 5, 2016

The first time I walked into Iglesia Evangelica de Cristo Vive, I was greeted by a lady who talked a mile a minute and never stopped smiling. Although it was my second week and I was extremely overwhelmed by Spanish, she was patient, and we started to get to know each other. Yolanda and I chatted every week after church, our conversations always beginning with her scolding me for not arriving early enough to chat before church. “¿Por que tú siempre llegas tarde?” She later introduced me to her son Eker, who has become one of my closest friends in Madrid. He taught me how to salsa dance and came to Morocco with me… he is the best!

3 months later, my week would not be complete if I did not have a mínimum of 3 texts from Yolanda reminding me that God is in control and that she is praying that He will guide me. Last weekend, I had the privilege of celebrating Yolanda´s birthday at her brother´s mountain house in la Sierra de Madrid, and it was an incredible day.

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View from Eker’s uncle’s mountain house!

Me, Eker, Kristina, and Amalie arrived at 10am, and Yolanda was in the kitchen, making all sorts of things that smelled wonderful. We met Yolanda´s brother, and he gave us a tour of the house. It was the highest in the village, so it had an amazing view of the mountains and pueblo below. It was breathtaking. Two dogs ran around and a huge garden of veggies and fruits surrounded the house. Yolanda, being a typical Spanish woman, then began insisting we eat everything in the house… They do hospitality well here. We ate some integral cake and a platano pineapple drink that was super yummy, and then went off to explore the beautiful mountains.

Our quick hike turned into a 3 hours affair because we decided to forge our own path instead of following the trail. By decided, I mean we were forced to because none of us had any idea where we were (don´t tell Eker I said that, if he asks I had full confidence in his ability to get us home the whole time). We found a beautiful lake and some even more incredible views. I breathe easier in the mountains, and being surrounded by sunshine and trees was good for my soul.

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I’m in awe of this place!

The house in the mountains was a place of peace, and the tranquil atmosphere made the presence of God almost tangible. They use the house for lots of church retreats and dinners, and I can see why. It is a special place of rest and rejuvenation and recalibration of the heart. A rock lies outside the house that says “Jesus es el camino” in honor of Tio´s wife who died 6 years ago. It served as a beautiful reminder of the creator of the beauty and peace we experienced that day.

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When we returned from our hike, the feast began. Most of Eker´s family is Peruvian, and the relatives started rolling in to celebrate. We collected firewood for the wood burning stove outside, and Tio began cooking every type of meat imaginable. Even though it was her birthday, I am pretty sure she only left the kitchen to make sure everyone else was comfortable and having a good time. Her joy and energy are contagious, and her constant thankfulness to God a beautiful reminder of what is important, and what isn´t.

There were about 18 of us there to celebrate Yolanda, from age 12 to age 90. It was a really fun mix. Eker´s sisters absolutely blew me away, they were kind and beautiful and wise beyond their years. I am constantly in awe of their whole family. We feasted on lamb, AMAZING chorizo, pork ribs, yummy cilantro salad, and a delicious rice and chicken soup, while sipping pineapple wáter. It was one of the greatest meals of my life, and was followed by roasted SWEET POTATOS, platanos, platano bread, and an amazing dessert called leche asado (cooked milk). Every minute of the day I was in awe… it didn´t feel like real life.

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The whole fam!

The day ended with 3 content, sleepy girls trying to play UNO in a group of what felt like a gagillion Spanish speakers and understand their jokes. Most of the time, we just laughed along and played our cards, content to be with this amazing family, and so thankful to have gotten to spend such a special day with them. Yolanda and Eker, thank you! Being a part of your family this semester has been incredibly sweet. I will never forget you.


Tori in Spain: The Boy Who Bowed

October 13, 2016

Since coming to Spain, I have had the privilege of joining BocaTalk, a group who walks through Madrid every week to sit with people experiencing homelessness and listen to their stories. Before we leave, we make sandwiches together to give to the people we meet that evening. However, our motto is, “It’s so much more than a sandwich,” because the focus is on listening, not material goods given.

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I have been both broken and blessed through this experience. I am thankful it has broken me, because I believe people must be broken before they can receive blessings humbly and give themselves to others wholeheartedly.

Last Wednesday started off with a blessing named Maria. I sat with her for a long time despite my inability to understand and to express what I wished to say to her well in Spanish. The language barrier is still really hard for me, but she didn’t seem to care. I think she told me her life story, but am honestly not sure. Whenever we didn’t have words, we just looked at each other. That was powerful to me.

Her gaze held no bitterness or resentment. I often resent myself for the privilege I have been given, and I felt that she was skeptical of my intentions, but appreciated me despite my brokenness. As a knelt on the ground beside her place of residence (a box she sat on) and all of her belongings (a small cart), she was worried for me. “Why are you on the ground? Don’t get your pants dirty! You don’t need to sit on the road.” Here she was, an old woman whom had experienced oppression and exclusion from society, worried about me, a privileged White American on a semester of vacation. 

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I told her I was so grateful for her words and thankful to have met her, she pointed at the sky and said “No, todas gracias a Dios.” All thanks to God. After that, I began to understand more of what she was trying to communicate to me. She told me of her Christian roots, how good the Lord was, and how He always heard our prayers. I wanted to pray for her, but she told me that prayer was for quiet, private places… not on the streets. There’s a verse in Matthew which says just that, and I was humbled by her wisdom and knowledge of scripture. Here she was, an old woman whom had been victim of abandonment and countless difficult circumstances, blessing me, loving me, and pointing me to Jesus with her steadfast faith and joy. 

I left her later that evening, and continued on with our group throughout the center of Madrid. I struggled with my ability to walk away from Maria. She could not walk away from her circumstances, so why was I able to walk away from hers without a scratch? Privilege is a terrifying and convicting thing.

Little did I know what was in store for me the rest of the evening. Less than a half an hour later, I met the boy who bowed, and our encounter broke me.

We were wandering the side streets of Puerta del Sol, when we came upon a man whom was lying facedown on the street, holding a cup in his hand. We tapped his shoulder to ask him his name and offer him a bocadillo, expecting nothing out of the ordinary. I was shocked when a young, beautiful pair of brown eyes met mine. This child could not have been older than my little brother, and here he was, alone in the streets. We tried to talk with him, but realized that he could not speak English or Spanish.

We left him a sandwich and walked away, feeling like we had nothing else to offer him since we didn’t share a language. This young boy was alone in a foreign country where he could not be understood nor could he express himself to others.

I felt paralyzed. 

I realized that we didn’t offer him a juice, so I grabbed one and ran back to him. I placed it in his hand, placed my hand on his shoulder, and merely looked into his eyes, hoping to communicate all I wanted to express to him through a look. Even if we had shared a language, words would not have been sufficient for this moment.

I left deeply disturbed and couldn’t hold back my tears.

WHY WAS I ABLE TO WALK AWAY? Why didn’t I sit with him longer? I should have stayed. Should have done something more. Should have bought him groceries for the week. Should have done anything to show him that he was loved and valued and worth it and not alone.

This experience has lead me to question the hip-evangelical-Christian subculture I immerse myself in at home. My love of bible verses in calligraphy, fancy dinner parties, hospitality, quiet times on perfect front porches, freshly picked wildflowers, acoustic music, hipster cafes, and organic food feels silly and superfluous when juxtaposed with Maria’s simple life. She loves the Lord with all she has, which is just herself. I have much to learn from Maria.

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Do we hide behind the trappings of our Christian subculture? What does it mean to live courageously and walk through life with open hands? Faith requires surrendering all we are and have to the Lord in the knowledge that everything we have we have been freely given.

Luckily, the Lord does not need us. He has already won. It can be easy to feel guilty and helpless and be paralyzed by the brokenness and inequity in this world, but we serve a God whose light cannot be subdued by darkness. My prayer is for the Lord to take my guilt and helplessness and change it into a fire within me that pushes me to give of myself, my money, my time, and my privilege in radical, courageous ways. I know it is impossible on my own, but trust that the Lord is inviting me into His beautiful story of redemption and healing in every moment, I just need to learn to say yes to those invitations.

A good friend and I sat down for coffee yesterday, and I began to process this experience with him and my frustration with privilege and guilt for the joy I derive from traveling, good food, and other material comforts. He wisely reminded me that in order to give to others, we ourselves have to be filled up. The list of things I love that felt wrong and superfluous after talking to Maria are all things that remind me of deeper truths and allow me to savor life with others. Without those reminders and relationships, I would not be wholehearted enough to give away anything at all.

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I hope to see the boy who bowed again, and hope to give more courageously to him next time. Not because it is required of me, but because the Lord is inviting me into the extravagant adventure of loving and caring for His children.

 

 

 


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