I got back late last night from our orientation in Toronto. It was a great two weeks! We first arrived at the Buffalo airport on June 1st . I had met most of the other YASCers at the discernment/interview weekend in February, but there were a few new people. We picked up right where we left off and it was SO great to see everyone again. We drove into Toronto and were really excited to see the city. We met up with the rest of the group and we were really surprised to find that most of them weren’t our age. There were older couples and a few younger people from Canada. So there we were: 15 young adults from the Episcopal Church USA, and Canadians from the Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, and United churches of Canada. Little did we know how close we would become by the end of this retreat, and how much we would all learn from each other.
Throughout those two weeks, we shared our stories, debated on global issues, and came together to prepare for a year of mission. We experienced different cultures by visiting the 6 nations reservation, an orthodox Ethiopian church, and a Jewish synagogue, among other places. We listened to guest speakers inform us about human trafficking, aboriginal rights, environmentalism, and so much more. Lastly, we talked about security issues, cultural differences, and how to transition into our new lives. Our days were long, but we were able to have fun at night together and watch hockey and basketball at the Foxes Den!
One of the most interesting points that I took away from this experience was how to explain to people what I’m doing next year. Before orientation, I never really had a way to express what I’m doing and would usually say something like, “I’m going abroad to help people”. While that gets the general point across, it’s not really what I’m doing. I am entering another culture to become a part of their daily lives. My job isn’t to go in, see their needs, and leave. Rather, I have to go in and fully expect to learn just as much from the Colombian people. So it turns into a partnership, instead of an ‘us/them’ kind of thing. To bring the religious aspect into all of this, which I’ve had trouble explaining to people outside of the church community, is this: I am going to share my faith through my actions. I will become a part of an already established Episcopal church community and will share in experiences with them. I will work with the bishop to find areas of need and do everything I can to make a difference. The best quote that shares what I will be doing is one from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words”.