The gift of mutual experience

When conversing with folks, people might say that simply being in the Peace Corps is the chance of a lifetime, with which I don’t disagree, and realize fully.

Without going into too much detail on my own experience, being in the Peace Corps is unlike anything that I will likely ever come across again in my life, full of emotions that max out both ends of the spectrum. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience.

But when I heard, last year, that Emerywood Baptist Church, my church, was coming to Zambia for a mission trip, now that, I thought, would be the chance of a lifetime. How often does one grungy, weathered Peace Corps Volunteer get to meet up with their church family from back home, and share a beautiful culture and country with one another? Even just the thought of meeting up was worth the 20 hour travel!

For us Peace Corps Volunteers, world-wide, we are trained to work with culture; to integrate within it, and to know it intimately. So, the one thing that individuals in service struggle with the most, is not being able to adequately share their experience with those who are not in service with them. You can describe your house, you can describe the culture, you can describe the amazing people with whom you are working, and you can even describe the challenges you face on a daily basis.

However, it isn’t until someone enters into that realm with you, that you can share the experience, not just the words.

And that was such a beautiful gift that the Emerywood team gave me, and I’m not even sure if they knew it or not.

That is also the beautiful gift that the Emerywood team gave to the Zambians with whom they worked. Someone being genuinely open to another culture is such a beautiful gift to those receiving them, yet it often goes unrecognized.

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It is in my opinion that we as children of God are not called to adhere to one cultural prerogative. As we are all made in God’s image, all people are then of God, and there is beauty to be seen within every facet of Being and culture.

Unfortunately, cultural deference is something that is hard to come by these days. Too often we look for, and find, a disparity between the culture of someone as close to us as our neighbor, and ourselves. Beauty is something of universal significance, and we don’t often look outside of our own inner workings to see what else the world has to offer. Because of this, any different culture can be seen as a faraway fact, but not a lived realization.

But what I’ve come to learn, is that the Culture of God is culture, because the culture we all carry with us is the collective human voice.

In Richard Rohr’s Contemplation in Action, he speaks on silence and waiting, two things that are almost certain as you enter into a new culture (especially with a language barrier and new ways of living). His conclusion states that, “our lives are always usable by God. We need not always be effective, but only transparent and vulnerable. Then we are instruments, not matter what we do.”

Opposite of social tendencies, the Emerywood team willingly came into a culture where they did not know the language, and had no experiential background on what the culture would be like. They were vulnerable, and they were transparent. They were well-read, and they were open.

Living in this country, I have seen a lot of people come here and just barely skim the surface of what this culture has to offer, because socially, that is all that is required of them.

But not Emerywood. As someone who works within the culture, the way in which Emerywood interacted with the people and culture of Zambia made me so incredibly proud and humbled. From the ages of 12 to 60+, they all dove in feet first, trying to see how God could use them to see God in another light. More specifically, through other people! Their spirits shone through all of the jet-lag and any confusion they might have encountered, and they were able to love and be loved in such glorious ways.

They even ate nshima at every opportunity.

Meeting up with the Emerywood team was all I could have hoped for. It was full of fun and laughter, and spiritual rejuvenation for a Peace Corps Volunteer in need of it.

During our time together, I was reminded of my commissioning, and all of the blessings Emerywood sent with me along my journey. As I relish in all of the prayers and blessings coming to me from your side, I am hoping blessings will return to Emerywood, in the form of new spirits and outlooks, cultivated in those who came to Zambia and surrendered their known way of living, only to try and know another beautiful way of doing this thing we call life. God was at work during Emerywood’s time here, and I know that this is just the beginning.

As I reflect on the love that Emerywood gave and received during their weeks here, another Richard Rohr quote comes to mind:

“We are all partial images slowly coming into focus, as long as we allow and filter the Light and Love of God, which longs to shine through us—as us.”

It was a privilege to see Emerywood in action, with all of them shining as their best selves through Christ, which in turn, helped me shine as myself through that very same Channel.

 

Jake Kennedy

Peace Corps Volunteer Leader:

Northern and Muchinga Provinces

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