Friday, August 3, 2012

From Urban Experience to Rural Experience

As I blogged the other week, I had a plethora of different emotions as I went into leading Urban Experience.  In coming out of it, I have a totally different set of emotions.

First, I want to thank everyone who was praying for us that week and those that took time out of their week to help make the trip what it was.  In my mind, it was a great success.  I couldn’t have asked for a better group of incoming freshmen; I am so proud of the work they did with the attitudes they had.  And it was a challenging and tiring week for us.  7-9 women (with the occasional male) ended up moving 105 cubic feet of trash out of 3 houses in 12 hours spread out over 2 different days.  Despite the heat, smells, and awkward objects to get rid of, the girls kept plugging along with smiles and encouragement to each other.  Again, I’m super proud of all of them (and I hope that we can post some of their reflections in a blog post soon).

Soon after Urban Experience ended though, I was on a plane headed for a ‘rural experience.’   My mom was raised by her grandparents in a rural part of Kansas (we’re talking 10 in her graduating class). This past spring, my mom turned 50, my grandma turned 70 and my great-grandma (who raised her) turned 90.  Since it’s been a few years since we’ve been able to visit, and everyone’s had a significant birthday, my mom really wanted to visit her home and my brother and I decided to ‘tag along.’ 

Going into this long weekend, I knew that we’d be facing some interesting, somewhat difficult issues, but it still shocked me how “same, same but different” Urban Experience and ‘Rural Experience’ were.  As we cleaned out houses during Urban, we wondered how in the world people could live with so much junk and trash piled around their house, then during Rural Experience I saw how my grandma lives like that and I still wonder how someone could live like that.  But it’s so much more personal now.  And it’s so much harder.  As a result, I’ve been reflecting on the concept that “it’s easier to serve abroad then at home,” or in my case, “it’s easier to serve in Grand Rapids than at grandma’s.”  I believe that this is due to the fact that I have a more personal connection to my grandma than I do to the person in Grand Rapids whose house I cleaned out. 

At Calvin and in the Service-Learning Center, we also talk a lot about ‘seeking shalom.’  As I found this weekend during rural experience, this can also be harder closer to home than in the broader picture of a city or society.  It’s heart-wrenching to see the brokenness and stark absence of the hints of shalom in one’s own family, but it was a good reminder for me.  Brokenness and the absence of shalom happen at a very personal level that I feel is sometimes overlooked when we look at city or neighborhood issues.  We see the brokenness and what agencies are doing to try to alleviate that pain, but we don’t always realize, see, or think about how the vast absence of shalom effects people’s lives and those they come in contact with.

Now that I’m back in Grand Rapids, with no idea when I’ll be back in Kansas, I wonder:  where are there obvious absences of shalom in the city, in my neighborhood, and in the lives of those I interact with?  And I am praying for peace and shalom not only for my family, but also for the places that I don’t see shalom, where shalom is desperately needed.

Hannah Bechtold