The book that keeps writing itself
IVEP alumnus insight
Packing those bags in my room, taking in my mother’s send-off words, yet in my head battling with thoughts of what was really happening. Where on the face of the earth was a city called Calgary? Was it safe like mine? Was it beautiful like mine? Were there people like me there?
Her parting words to me were, “Son, go well, you’ll be fine.” Judging from my thoughts, our idea of fine was clearly different. I was going to live with strangers. The word “stranger” seemed more one-way to me then. It never occurred that my Canadian roommate was thinking the same thing — he was welcoming an African stranger to his house. Then, I hadn’t thought that his story really mattered, it was mine that did. Never thought his fears mattered, but mine did; if his safety mattered, but mine did. This story could only be told from my point of view, not his.
In my defense, I knew no better. If we had really known that it wasn’t only my canvas being painted, but his as well. I then realized that IVEP is not an event, it’s a space where worlds collide, it is an art room where paintings are colored. I came telling a single story, but our worlds collided with vigor, painting a beautiful fall Banff horizon on the picture of my and my roommate’s lives.
To the imaginative, the IVEP experience is not just a year, it is the indelible pages of emboldened inscriptions on a lifelong book, told from clean lenses of what was and what became. My pages have clean cursive writings and equally, deletions that I would not trade for anything. I came with my guard up and I left with a tranquil heart. I wouldn’t profess that the IVEP year was perfect, it was riddled with curveballs, changes, challenges and difficult conversations because like every writer, there are painful erasures, rewrites and sometimes lack of inspiration, but it is the finished book copies we marvel at. It is part of art, it is part of growth, it is the strengthening of the core and it is the beautification of the piece. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could change lives, and that mine could be changed too. I discovered how much of immature I was, how intolerant I was, how feeble my thought processes were. Seeing places in real-time is cool but seeing places and cultures through other people’s lenses became to me, the single most rewarding experience in a human life. It changes you.
Every year, I look forward to the IVEP group photo, I marvel at the smiles of young people whose lives are about to change forever. In 2016 that was me, smiling my life away on that photo, not aware that brick by brick, mortar on mortar, pencil in hand, clay on hand, mine was being transformed. Like an unmissable landmark, fellow alum will agree with me that IVEP is the milestone chapter in the book of our lives. It was the part of writing that redirected my paths, sharpened my viewpoint lenses and brought me into a different existence, redefining complexities, opening critical thoughts, challenging the known and pouring into the unknown. Those smiling on the group photo may not know or see it yet, but great people are being made. The greatest gift of the experience is that it opened the window to being grace filled.
Now as the Summerbridge coordinator, I’m tasked with another program for young people. I continue my MCC journey, I constantly go back to that canvas and borrow a leaf for strength, tolerance and courage. It is those experiences with the people I met, places I went, unerasable lifelong lessons I learnt. This is a picture drawn to influence my view of God, my neighbor, my environment. It is the kind of experience that would churn me both personally and professionally, changing perspectives, to appreciate differences, similarities, stories and journeys. In my MCC work today, I’m reminded daily that I’m not working, I’m serving. That the ones I’m serving, are not working, they are ministering to my life. I’m them, they are me.
I carried those bags back to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, full of lessons. I learnt to serve creation, to speak to power, I learnt to be comfortable in my skin, I changed perspectives. Conversely, my bags carried pain too, of marginalized communities, environmental injustices and the plight of women around world. The book still keeps writing itself, the picture keeps painting itself and the art-piece keeps carving itself. I’ve learnt that learning comes at a cost. I gained much and I lost much. I learned and unlearned. As the IVEP journeys continue, the Lord’s masterpieces are still being curated into His image.
Header photo caption: Wesley Ncube (Zimbabwe, IVEP 2016-17) next to the Passenger statue at the White Rock Museum Archives in White Rock, British Columbia. Photo/Xeeyang Tao