On the last retreat I co-led with MCC’s international volunteers, we spent some time walking through a part of the city filled with street art. These commissioned pieces told stories of communities and cultures from around the world. Stories of justice, stories of faith and stories of surviving. Art is by its nature subjective, but I was surprised at just how many different interpretations and feelings these pieces elicited within our group. We spoke together at length, coloring in blank spaces on the wall with the realities of each of our individual stories. Later, we stumbled upon a mural in an abandoned parking lot which read, “Nothing Without Courage”.
It struck a chord with me as well as a few of the other IVEPers. The IVEP year requires a great deal of courage to face the unknown. It is quite a risk to spend a year in service, living each day in a culture which is unfamiliar. Courage is not the absence of fear or struggle, but the choice to persist despite it.
If I were to add a second mural, it would read, “Nothing Without Perspective.” With every new experience and opportunity to learn, our perspective is widened. We see more clearly the world around us, our place in it and the vastness and mystery of God. I find this process to be a deeply spiritual one. When an IVEPer and I had a canoe capsize underneath us, she recalled being immersed in the water and lifted onto the dock. She says that when she came up for air, she felt baptized, lifted from the water by another IVEPer, our resident pastor. On another occasion, I introduced the IVEPers in my region to my dad, a pastor of more than 20 years. He shared his testimony across the dinner table and through our conversations that night, we felt wonder, seeing the many similarities of our individual spiritual journeys. God with us. God with each of us.
And again, I believe we all felt this wonder as we dipped our toes into the icy shores of the Pacific Ocean. God is so big. Each of these experiences widens our perspective on who we are and who God is. Through our relationships with one another, we learn how alike we are, and we learn to value our differences. While our memories of these unique moments may grow hazy over time, I believe our practiced courage and widened perspective will stay with us. May we always remember that the God of the oceans, the God of the canoe and the God who communes with us is with us.