Mara Weaver is participating in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, a year-long cross-cultural service experience for young adults. She is serving in Mexico City at Casa de Los Amigos, a Quaker house of peace and international understanding. Weaver is from Bloomington, Ill., and attends Mennonite Church of Normal.
Entering into this year of international service was not a decision I made lightly. I know the history of U.S. interventions - governmental, organizational and individual - in other nations and in our own. I know that there is baggage that comes with being white, Christian, educated and having economic resources.
How do I give without being patronizing, ethnocentric or assuming that I possess some clarity or knowledge that others do not? How do I receive without taking advantage of those who willingly offer their precious resources, without judging and without failing to see the significance of the gift I am being offered?
I have often asked myself not only how can I both serve and learn with a pure and willing heart, but how can I begin to find the equilibrium that must exist between serving and learning.
In many countries of the Global South, reciprocity is the cornerstone of relationships. Within this cultural context, one person gives something to another person, and at some point that person reciprocates. But the key to reciprocity is that it is cyclical. You never return the favor with something of equal value, because settling the account would effectively end the relationship.
You see, serving and learning is not about finding equilibrium. It is about hanging in the balance, a tension that I am slowly learning to appreciate and implement in my own daily routine.
At the base of all the work at Casa de Los Amigos is the practice of hospitality as a deep form of service. For me, hospitality is the act of honoring the humanity of the other and the divine therein. Sometimes this manifests itself in giving willingly and sometimes in accepting graciously, but it is at the core of all things good in this world. I find examples of this cycle of giving and receiving in the life of Jesus. As he traveled during his ministry, he relied constantly on the hospitality of others while bringing the greatest message.
We have the enormous privilege of being the hands and feet of God and seeing the image of our Divine Creator in those around us. Even when I follow the path to which I believe God has called me, no matter how holy the work, I am going to receive the care and support of others along the way, whether or not I recognize my need or even the gift that I am being offered.
So what am I here to do? I am here to give leftover sweet potato casserole to Sergio, a hungry, homeless migrant from Honduras. I am here to use an online translator to communicate with a Haitian refugee about the doctor’s appointment that she so desperately needs and learn to communicate the other important things through our common language of laughter. I am here to bake a dozen cakes to serve to the Caravan of Central American Mothers, and then to absorb lessons of love, patience and undying commitment to justice from these women who seek their disappeared loved ones and speak truth to the Mexican government. I am here to witness the beauty of the welcome that is never denied at celebrations, family gatherings or most any event in Mexico.
There is no qualification for serving with deep love and learning with deep understanding. We each possess the same ability to offer of ourselves, whether that means speaking or listening, doing or watching, cooking or eating, hosting or being hosted. I have gifts, and I must offer them. But I am also blessed to be surrounded by a global community of people who are patient, kind and just as ready to give.