Serve Well Blog

Entries tagged 'Colleague Press'


Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 12
Dirt Like Us, by Sarah Jackson

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

I first began working with mud as a medium in 2008, when I was volunteering in South Africa with various organizations that supported local schools. As an artist, I understand how important the experience of creation can be in a child's education, and I was frustrated that the children I was working with were rarely given creative opportunities in school, partly because of a lack of resources. On my walk to work each day, I passed by lots of mole hills with lovely, freshly turned earth. At some point, my desire to find a cheap artistic medium collided with my surroundings, and I thought, "Why not mud?"

Throughout my time in South Africa, I experimented with different techniques and processes, and I collected many different colors of dirt. I now paint frequently in mud. I love the textures it makes. I love how it smells. I love that it connects me tangibly to places I care about. I love that there seem to be as many colors of dirt as there are of people.

Dirt Like Us

In one of the creation stories in the Bible, we are told that God formed Adam out of dirt, and I like to pretend that God did that for every human, that each of us is made from some dirt and a bit of God-breath. Later in the Bible, we are told that we will return to dust when we die. The way I see it we, and all the rest of creation, are somewhere between dirt and dust. Christmas is the season when we recognize the supremely humbling truth that our God, the immaculate and holy creator of the universe, chose to become dirt like us.

The Twelve Days of Christmas end on Epiphany, when Christians remember the arrival of the Magi, a group of foreigners who have traveled a great distance to visit Jesus. In South Africa, I was treated like a magus (the singular of magi, apparently). I was very obviously from a far-off place. I was assumed to be wealthy. I was often assumed to be wise (though I usually revised that notion within five minutes!). In other words, I was even more privileged than I am in the United States. But as I worked and worshipped alongside people who were so different from me in most ways, I became convinced of two things: 1.) We are all dirt, and 2.) God loves dirt far more than I do.

Dirt Like Us

Up to this point in the Christmas narrative, only a few poor Jewish people - Mary, Joseph, a handful of shepherds - have met their King. Epiphany, however, marks the initial introduction of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Christmas is incomplete without the Magi because they give us a glimpse of a bigger picture. The baby these dusty, travel-weary strangers worship will die as much for them as for anyone. And the breath-catching, heart-starting news for us dusty, life-weary strangers is that he died as much for us as he did for them.

Here's an image I painted with South African
mud based off a scene of a video I made
for my church's Christmas Eve service.

Read more about Sarah below

Click below to watch the video

 The Holy Night from sarahjackson314 on Vimeo.

Sarah Jackson

Sarah served in several local nonprofits in Grahamstown and Mthatha, South Africa in 2008. She has since gotten her MFA in Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and is getting her MA in Children's Literature at Hollins University. She is currently working as a preschool teacher outside of Vancouver, WA, where the kids are encouraged to play in the mud, and even paint with it! To view more of her artwork, visit her website at Sarah heads up the Sojourner Support team, encouraging the newest Krista Colleagues during their service and transition.


Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 11
Guided by the Light, by Brittany Harwell

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

. . . the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:2-11


Guided by the Light

I have been pondering the kings, those first gift-givers, and the star that led them to Christ. That is a well know part of the nativity story and I have heard it many times. But looking back over the last year of my life, especially my time in Nairobi, I see the ways that God was present in my service, a light to guide me right to the places where Christ was waiting for me.

Guided by the Light

At times the journey was unpleasant, dark, cold (figuratively definitely not literally), and painfully lonely but if I took a look around I could see God moving in the work, illuminating paths to guide his creation into his story. Often I was blessed to see glimpses of what those wise men saw, heaven come to earth, a Christmas of sorts, a holy moment, a reminder that God is with us. 

Guided by the LightI hope that during these twelve days of Christmas you, too, are able to see the small or large ways God is moving in the world around you and through the work of everyday life. I hope that that recognition serves as a light to guide you. 


Brittany Harwell

Brittany returned from her internship with International Justice Mission (IJM) in Nairobi, Kenya in April 2012. The IJM Kenya team works to combat cases of child sexual assault and illegal detention for people who would have no access to legal representation. Brittany now lives in San Antonio TX, where she is a middle-school math teacher for students with learning disabilities.



Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 10
Un Nuevo Amanecer (A New Dawn), by Sean Rawson

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

I spent two years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Managua, Nicaragua. It worked out that I happened to be there for three Christmases, and I noticed that this song always got a lot of play right around Christmas time. It's called "El Cristo de Palacaguina", "The Christ of Palacaguina." Palacaguina is a small mountain town in the north of Nicaragua, so the song is about Christ being born to the peasants of the rural countryside. A Christ born to a simple humble background with which the poor can more closely identify! Not the curly blond-haired, blue-eyed child we feature so often in our Nativity scenes in the North, but a dark-skinned, indigenous Christ; the Divine manifested as human who has chosen the poor campesinos of the world to bring about his salvation!

El Cristo de Palacaguina

It's a beautiful revolutionary song with a great melody. One of my favorite lines, roughly translated, from the second verse:

"The people all gathered together to see him,
The Indian Joaquin brought him quesillo from Nagarote,
Instead of gold, incense and myrrh they gave him
Cookies from Diriomo and even buñelos from Guadalupe"

And if you ever have the pleasure of running across Krista Colleague Michael Marchesini, who also spent several years in Managua, ask him to play you his version! He plays a mean classical guitar. Feliz Navidad y que viva el Cristo de Palacaguina!

Read more about Sean below


Un Nuevo Amanecer Mural
Un Nuevo Amanecer mural at the North Batahola Cultural Center, Managua 

Sean Rawson

As a Jesuit Volunteer from 2009-11, Sean worked with the Nicaraguan organization CANTERA doing youth organizing in at-risk barrios in Managua. He is returning to Nicaragua to work in Ciudad Sandino on the outskirts of Managua with CANTERA again, starting in January 2013!



Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 9
Walking in a Winter Wonderland, by Anthony DeLorenzo

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

The August after I graduated from Gonzaga I found myself in Newark, New Jersey, as a Jesuit Volunteer and was connected with an incredible organization, Greater Newark Conservancy (GNC).  Studies have shown that having more natural beauty in urban areas lowers crime rates, improves public health, lowers pollution, and has a myriad of other indirect benefits to the community. Through the promotion of environmental stewardship, GNC works to improve the quality of life in one of the country's most dismissed, forgotten, and needy urban communities.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Seeing the intense poverty in Newark quickly created a deep desire to be sure that my decisions were reflective of my commitment to both the city and the natural world. Thus when the holiday season approached I opted for a quieter way to celebrate, and stayed in Newark alone rather than fly back to the west coast. Compared to any other form of transportation (car, train, bus, etc), flying requires considerably more natural resources to make the trip. Were I to fly the 2,500 miles back home, not only would I be taking advantage of a privilege I had that much of the local community did not, I would also be contributing to the pollution that disproportionately affects impoverished communities more than the rest of the US population. It seemed contradictory to the reason I was there in the first place.

Click on image to view trailer

What Would Jesus Buy?

And so I found myself with a week of vacation, finding creative ways to spend my time. Somehow I had gotten my hands on the movie "What Would Jesus Buy," a sobering yet humorous documentary about the effects of consumerism during the holiday season on our local businesses, our wallets, and our planet. In the film Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir travel the country by bus, speaking out (or is "singing out" more appropriate?) against the mainstream approach to the Christmas season. The documentary offers absurd demonstrations by Rev. Billy, sickening statistics of the vast amounts of waste Americans create during this time of year, as well as anecdotal stories from people who I believe to understand the holiday at its deepest meaning. At one point an older woman talks about how incredibly grateful she was for the one gift she was given each year growing up, which was often something functional, like boots. This has since become the movie I watch every year to get me in the Christmas spirit.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

One of the challenges of staying on the east coast was wondering what was happening at home without me. But rather than dwell on what I was missing out on, I tried to focus on the opportunities I was able to take advantage of by remaining in Newark that I otherwise would have missed. I went for several long walks throughout my neighborhood, making myself a visible presence. I came to realize that my intention in these walks was to tell this city that although the common perspective in our country was that this place was dirty, miserable, and may as well be abandoned, that I was one person wanting a real relationship with it. I was someone who did not want to leave it behind.

Honestly, I initially doubted the effectiveness of this statement. But weeks later it became clear that the neighborhood recognized me as an integrated part of their community. Riding the bus or walking home from GNC, I began meeting people who would comment that they had seen me in the area, and would strike up conversations with me. These welcoming gestures were not something that all Jesuit Volunteers who lived in Newark had experienced.

When we think of our perfect way to spend Christmas, we usually don't think of spending it alone, watching documentaries, and going for walks in empty streets. But as I look back to my year in Newark and what it meant to become a part of that community there really is no other way I wish I would have spent it.

Anthony DeLorenzo

After two years of serving as a Jesuit Volunteer, Anthony was hired onto the staff of JVC Northwest where he walks with current JVs as they strive to bring justice to the communities they live in. Given his passions, he is very excited to be a part of an organization with "Ecological Justice" as one of its core values. 



Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 8
God is Always Right Where You Are Looking, by Amanda Pelle

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

You don't discuss Alaska for very long before someone asks if you saw the northern lights. Within the first few months of my Jesuit Volunteer year in Sitka, I had my opportunity. The forecast called for a glorious show so my roommates and I clamored onto the roof bundled with sleeping bags, hats, scarves, and mugs of hot chocolate. We were told they would come up over the mountain across from our house so we sat on the roof looking toward the mountains, talked, and waited.

God is Always Right Where You Are

The winter air was cold. It had been dusk for a few hours when we climbed up and soon full darkness was upon us. We were so excited we kept darting our heads around the night sky and asking each other if they saw something we didn't. We were getting antsy with waiting as we fought off sleep. We started making excuses and getting annoyed at the streetlight behind our house that was casting too bright a glare on the sky. Worse still were the lights from the city just on the other side of the mountain. How were we supposed to see the northern lights rise from behind that mountain when the city lights were so brightly shining?!

We struggled to stay awake as we yawned and complained about the missed opportunity and the cold. The buzz of the conversation slowed to a hum as the half-asleep breaks became longer and longer. I remember mumbling something about the stupid city that ruined our chance to see the northern lights when suddenly I looked up into the sky and noticed movement in the dark. I rubbed my eyes and tentatively asked my roommates, "Wait...look that it?" The sky was on fire. It was all white, undulating like the flames of hot coals, dancing across the entire night sky. We all sat up, mouths gaped opened, silent in a pregnant moment of awe.

God is Always Right Where You Are Looking

The city lights behind the mountain that "ruined" our evening were not city lights at all - they were the northern lights rising up into the sky. In fact, there was no city behind that mountain - something we actually knew but managed to forget. We were looking up into the sky for a light we had heard about but not yet seen for ourselves. We didn't know exactly what it would be but were so excited that we let the disappointment of false realities overcome the experience of simply seeing something that was right in front of us.

Reflecting on this experience gave me one more vivid reminder of what Christmas is really about: God's light shining through the darkness. It's about reminding ourselves to stop focusing on the problems that keep us from experiencing the good in our world and reminding ourselves that God's presence is right in front of us, that our hope is not in vain, and that God's grace, strength, and compassion, like the northern lights, will rise up into our darkest nights, and light the sky on fire. 


Amanda PelleAmanda worked in a domestic violence shelter through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps from 2003-2005. She currently lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and 3 month old son.





Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 7
La Noche Buena, by Joe Tobiason

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

In Lima, Peru this was was where Christmas made its D-Day landing. Peru was the home of the Shining Path and the MRTA, militant groups who, along with government forces, clashed throughout both the rural Andean villages as well as urban Lima. Only 15 years earlier, loud noises in the night could be explosions in shopping centers, gunbattles in the suburbs or people simply disappearing. Though gangs still roamed the streets, a holy limeñian night had changed a lot, especially in this Christmas season.

La Noche Buena

Extended host family had come in from across the country. All afternoon, we had prepared the traditional turkey (sliced up, marinated in a red sauce and baked), the panetone and even some champagne. It had been great working in the kitchen with three generations of my host family along with Erika, the woman who would become my wife. We'd made the meal, including a delivery of propane at 9pm on Christmas Eve. The biggest moment came when the clock struck midnight.

La Noche Buena

I was sitting at the dining room table with my family, talking about politics or soap operas when the sound of loud noises rung out. At first Erika and I were startled, but when everyone smiled and talked about the fireworks, we ran up to the roof. The scene that greeted us looked to us more like the night-vision videos from invasions than a celebration. But, the random cheers, the loud cumbia music and the fireworks pointed me away from the fear, violence and pain that come from war, and toward the joy, laughter and light of the coming Christ.

Click below to watch video

Now, when I stand holding a candle in a quiet church on Christmas eve, a big part of me wishes I was holding a bottle rocket. It even seems more biblical, that even if it's just for a few seconds, I'm adding a star in the heavens to guide all into his birth. 

Joe TobiasonSince returning from Peru in 2010, Joe has been working at Big Fish Games and is a budding wedding and event photographer with his JTobiason Photography business. He recently married Erika Trott, lives in Ballard, bikes to work and is a member of the Krista Foundation's Colleague Council.




Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 6
O Come, O Come Emmanuel, by Neshia Alaovae

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

During this season of holiday tunes, I always listen for "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Emmanuel, God-with-us, is my favorite name of God. For me it captures both the sheer, infinite nature of the Divine and his loving closeness to us. How amazing that a being so majestic is with and for us, is with and for me. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is a people's deep petition to be rescued from a world of loneliness, mourning, and darkness. "Rejoice! Rejoice!" the song tells us. For "Emmanuel shall come." Together we remember what it feels like to hope for a salvation greater than anything we can imagine and to wait in great expectation once again for God to come to us. Emmanuel is coming.

As a Jesuit-educated student, and now serving with Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I have spent the past four and a half years learning to find God in all things. Though I usually do not remember to notice God in the moment, when I do look for the holiness in the midst of ordinary life, I always seem to find it. I have always believed that Emmanuel is here. God is with us.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

One of the residents at Joseph's House passed away this week, a man whose presence had been a source of joy and laughter for everyone. He was estranged from his wife for years, but their friendship was strong. In the last two weeks of his life she came and so beautifully fulfilled her marital vow to love and to hold in sickness and in health that she earned the respect of everyone around her. Though our resident had hurt her in ways that prevented them from living with one another, her compassion and gentleness with her husband in his last days was a powerful example of forgiveness. In the hours I spent showing her how to care for her husband in his illness, she taught me how to love even when carrying scars. Emmanuel was with us.

It is easy to find God in all things when those things are good, but at the funeral it was like trying to find Waldo. The funeral brought out the pain of family members and friends who lashed out at one another. Sitting behind our resident's wife, my co-workers and I grieved for the woman he had loved and the undeserved hostility directed at her. Where is God amongst people who do not let old grievances go in order to recognize that everyone is hurting?

Later that day, we heard about the school shooting in Connecticut. My roommate, Marlena, is from Connecticut and has a brother in kindergarten. When news first started coming out, Marlena spent hours in miserable waiting. Where was the shooting? Was Nino there? Was he okay?

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Nino's okay. The shooting was in a town far away from their home. Nino was happy and safe, completely unaware of the horror that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. But 20 precious first-graders were not and neither were the seven adults who died alongside them or the hundreds of individuals who will be affected for years to come. As I read more about the tragedy in the newspaper, I could not stop the tears that accompanied my heartache. How my heart breaks for the families who are now missing a significant member of their lives at a time that should be filled with joy. How saddened am I, too, that this young shooter slipped through the cracks until he reached a point where he felt this was the only way to make an impact.

At Joseph's House we walk alongside death every day. Every person who comes through the door is on the path to dying and we willingly step in to make the journey gentler. But the deaths of those in Connecticut were accompanied by a violence that makes me feel faint with sorrow. How can God be found in this? Emmanuel, why were you not with us when we needed you? Why were you not here to save these children and the adults committed to their growth?

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Once again, just as in the time of the songwriter of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," the world finds itself weak from the burden of human brokenness that creates systems of loneliness, mourning, and darkness. Just as in those times, we realize that something has gone horribly wrong. Once again, society finds itself looking for salvation. There are so many questions as I try to find the truth in the midst of travesty. I am pretty certain of some things. I know that this is not the time for political bickering, and I am disgusted by those who are making this a divisive event. This is a tragedy for all. I know that mental health played a part in this tragedy and I feel even more motivated to pursue a career in psychology. But more importantly, I know that Emmanuel is here. I know that God is with us.

God was with that young principal who wanted learning to be academic and fun. God was with the teacher who told her students how much she loved them, because she thought that would be the last thing they heard, and that was the most important thing she wanted to teach them. God was with the other teacher who hid her students and when there was no room left for her, stepped into the hallway and sacrificed herself. I see the Divine in those moments. I am looking for it elsewhere. In the meantime, I will mourn this great loss, work for a more just future, and await the moment when we can all finally rejoice without loneliness, mourning, or darkness to taint the celebration.

 Neshia AlaovaeNeshia is serving as a Compassionate Companion with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps at Joseph's House in Washington, DC. She also is an avid reader and can often be found in used bookstores happily inhaling that old book smell. Neshia sees God in her six housemates, footed onesie pajamas, rice, and those moments when it only takes one try to parallel park. Follow her on her blog from which this post is adapted.




Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 5
God is Here: The Parable of the Good Samaritans, by Bill Hoskyn

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

Holy Child within the manger, long ago yet ever near,
Come as friend to ev'ry stranger, come as hope for ev'ry fear.
As you lived to heal the broken, greet the outcast, free the bound,
As you taught us love unspoken, teach us now where you are found.
-Marty Haugen, "Carol at the Manger"


During my time of service, the holidays always ushered in a sense of celebration and play, but definitely brought some loneliness, too. I had always been surrounded by family and friends at Christmas, so the holiday season was a reminder of just how far I was from home.


But fortunately, I was not alone. We never truly are, are we? God's presence is always near if only we stop to recognize it. Christmas is an annual reminder of the Divine becoming flesh and living in solidarity with creation. And that presence is still among us. Especially during times of loneliness and times of desperation, I felt God's love from the people around me. I was lucky enough to have a community of other volunteers supporting me. But even more importantly, those that I was serving ended up serving me in return.

This was illustrated repeatedly during my three years in the L'Arche community in Tacoma. L'Arche (French for "the Ark") is an international federation of communities in which people without disabilities (or "assistants") live in intentional community with people with developmental disabilities (or "core members"). In the Tacoma community, we have four homes and a farm. The purpose of L'Arche is to announce the gifts of people with disabilities, as revealed through mutual relationships between core members and assistants.


I had only been in the community for about three months, and I was asked to participate in a reenactment of the Good Samaritan parable. I was the guy who gets beat up and left for dead. Here's a refresher of the story: a man is robbed and left by the side of the road; after a priest and Levite pass him by, a (good) Samaritan takes pity on him, dresses his wounds, and brings him to an inn.

Two kids of friends of the community assumed the roles of the thieves, attacking me with a plastic sword and a windshield scraper. The narrator read along as I lay "suffering" on the ground. (I was able to put my college theater background to use.) I cried out, "Help me! Help me!" Janice, a core member who takes things very literally, shot out of her seat near the back of the audience, ran towards me, and helped me up. This was not part of the skit. I thanked her and sank back to the ground...the show must go on!

Dicko played the priest, as usual. He was a round, wrinkly core member beloved by the community who always insisted on playing the priestly figure, whether Noah, Moses, or Jesus. As the story goes, he was supposed to pass me by but, using my acting chops, I reached towards him and moaned. Clearly concerned for my well-being, he dropped character, stopped and pulled me up. As with Janice, I thanked him and went back to the floor, but Dicko stayed with me. He stroked my shoulder for the rest of the skit.


Prompted by the narrator, I cried out, "Help me! Help me!" once more. And again, Janice sprang out of her seat, raced forward, and assisted me. This was getting a little out of hand. Three times I was rescued before I was supposed to be! Fortunately, the rest of the reenactment went as planned. Les, one of the core members in my house, played the Levite. With a sweep of the hand and a turn of the head, he knocked it out of the park. Finally, another core member Carie, came to my rescue as the Good Samaritan. She (and Dicko, who had never left my side) helped me up and sat me down in the "inn," then they proceeded to pet my head, letting me know that I was going to be okay.


While I wasn't truly hurt during the skit, I certainly would be during those three years in L'Arche. But the core members carried me just as much as (I thought) I carried them, memorably illustrated by the Good Samaritan reenactment. I had had very little interaction with Janice, Dicko, and Carie at that point. They had no reason to help me. They loved me not for anything that I had done for them but simply because I was worthy of it. (Les was the only person that I knew well, and he walked right by me!) I was repeatedly surprised by the love and wisdom from this segment of society that is so often pitied and undervalued. Jesus was in these people, the last place where I expected to find him. It's the same with any population that we are serving.

As we celebrate this holiday season, let us remember to recognize the many unexpected ways in which God's love has been revealed to us in 2012. And as we pray and work for peace and justice in the new year, let's also ask God to continue to, as the lyrics above state, "teach us now where you are found." 

Bill HoskynBill volunteered with the L'Arche Community in Tacoma, Washington from 2005-08. His experience with L'Arche led him to an accelerated nursing program at the University of Washington. For the past two years, Bill has been a home health and hospice nurse case manager in the Seattle area. He's also (very slowly) working towards a graduate degree at UW to become a nurse practitioner. Bill thinks of himself as a Krista Foundation "Super Colleague," as he serves on the Sojourner Support team and the first ever Colleague Council, and he's lived with two other Colleagues (and their future Colleague offspring) for over three years now.


Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 4
A Thrill of Hope, by Kendall Paine

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

In my second year of service, I was caught in a moment of sheer hopelessness as I stood in front of my class of 23 third-grade students. This wasn't an unfamiliar feeling. I had become all too accustomed to the absence of hope, as my story intertwined with those of my students over the past two years; accounts of homelessness, armed robberies, shootings, hunger, and neglect regularly filled our classroom walls. I had come to believe that a childhood spent on the south side of Chicago was not a childhood at all. Still, I was bent on making Room 213 a sanctuary separate from that reality.

So here I was, sharing a Scholastic News article with my students about the imminent milestone of the world population reaching seven billion. It was going to be a cross-curricular lesson-a teacher's masterpiece. We were going to discuss geography (locating the world's most populous nations), weave in math (place value to the billions!), draw in science (the impact on natural resources), and anything else that came to my mind in the moment. Because as an infantile teacher, running with a whim had become my specialty.

Thrill of Hope

It was one such whim that led me to zero in on a particular line within the children's article: it explained that, even though the world's population was on the rise, this is not universally the case. I asked my students to reflect on that sentence and brainstorm possible causes for a group's population to decline. Brilliantly, and with hardly any prompting, these 8 year-olds came up with a host of reasons: sickness, no doctors, war, not enough food. To confirm their grasp on this concept, I followed up with a simple question: "So, then, what do you think is going on in the United States? Are we one of those countries that has an increasing population, or is our population decreasing?"

With an almost guilty expression on her face, Isabel raised her hand from the back right corner of my classroom. I called on her.

"Well, it must be decreasing here."

"And why is that?" I asked, preparing to clear up her confusion.

"‘Cause everyone's shooting each other here."

The breath knocked out of me, I steadied myself, and looked out at Isabel's classmates, their faces full of youth but void of innocence. "And what do you all think?" I finally brought myself to ask. "Do you agree with Isabel?"

One by one, my students piped in. There are gangs on every corner. My mom doesn't let us play outside. We wake up to the sound of gunshots. Their opinion was unanimous and very clear: Yes, we agree with Isabel.

Humbled, I stood there speechless. There was nothing I could say to correct my students' perceptions. For even though their grasp on demography might have been skewed, there was nothing false about their observations. I honestly don't know what I said to conclude this discussion, but I remember praying for grace and hope in that moment.

Thrill of Hope

In the wake of recent tragedies, this memory won't stop running through my head. I find myself back in Room 213, looking out at their faces. I am struck with despair as I see the world through my students' eyes, and the devastation that is their norm.

Shortly after that moment in my classroom, I was home on winter break. It was Christmas Eve, and alongside my family I was singing along to "O Holy Night." I was a broken version of myself, and most of all, I was exhausted. And so in that moment, the words of this song struck a particular chord with me: "A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices / For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."

Now, it is to this hope I return. I am weary; perhaps not as weary as I was in my second year of service, but weary still. The realities of this world engulf me, and threaten to engulf my hope. But they will not, because as the Christmas story reminds us, we are promised a glorious new morning. And even in the midst of this one, the birth of our Savior has given us the ultimate gift: a thrill of hope.

(December 28 the Western church commemorates the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod, described in Matthew 2. Hearing from the magi that a new king had been born, Herod decreed the death of boy babies two years old and younger, in Bethlehem and surrounding areas. Joseph and Mary flee with the infant Jesus to sanctuary in Egypt.)

Kendall PaineKendall served with the Inner-City Teaching Corps in Chicago from 2010 through 2012, teaching third grade at St. Gall School. She recently moved to the Pacific Northwest and began teaching a 4th/5th classroom at West Seattle Elementary School. Kendall is one of six Colleagues providing leadership and direction through the Krista Colleague Council.




Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 3
The Gift of Loneliness, by Cassie DeFillipo

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal...
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance... Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Christmas is the embodiment of pure joy for me. It has always been my favorite time of year, and I love every single tradition and custom that goes along with it, from Christmas caroling to Christmas cards and everything in between. No matter how old I am, I am still the first one awake to celebrate Christmas-even beating my young nieces to the Christmas tree-because I am so excited I can't sleep.

During my volunteer year, however, my Christmas was very different from the norm. I was volunteering in Lewiston, Maine, creating youth and parental education programs for Somali refugee families. My work was incredibly fulfilling, but I had never felt so alone. I worked long hours, so other than a few people from church, I didn't know any people outside of my work situation. My co-workers were busy with their own lives, and while I had and still have deep and meaningful bonds with the youth and parents I worked with, I was serving and supporting them and couldn't rely on them to do the same for me. For the first time in my life, I was a long plane flight away from everyone who truly cared about me, and sometimes I really, really needed them.

That year as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I didn't have the time off or the funds to pay for that plane ticket home for Christmas, so I stayed in Maine to spend my very first Christmas alone. My family sent me a large package full of gifts and holiday candy, but presents somehow didn't matter much without the people who mattered to me. I spent that Christmas day curled up on my bed crying and wishing I could be with people I love.

That Christmas was part of months of loneliness and sadness, and for me-perhaps because it was a day that traditionally means so much to me-it was the culmination of my complete and utter aloneness. At the time, I felt such frustration with God that he would allow me to feel so alone.

What I couldn't see then was that my lonely Christmas was part of a season of loneliness when God strengthened and shaped me. I am lucky enough to have a strong community of family and friends that I have always been able to count on, and while they were only a phone call away, my lack of a physical community taught me to create community with God. During that season of loneliness, I learned to rely on the Lord. I learned how to argue with God, yell, cry, praise, thank, and love him in a whole new way. I learned to trust the Lord through all circumstances-even through seasons of pain and sadness. In addition, that season of loneliness taught me to deeply appreciate my family, my friends, and the importance of community. And, perhaps most importantly, it taught me that the seasons of life are only seasons. The painful seasons and even the joyous seasons don't last, but the joy of a trusting relationship with God always does.

I now think that my season of loneliness was preparing me for what I would face in the future. After finishing AmeriCorps, I faced many painful trials that I never could have expected. During this time I felt God's presence stronger than I have ever felt before or since. This presence lasted for weeks throughout the worst chapter of my life, and it was so incredible that I often miss how close I felt to the Lord during that time. I honestly think that I wouldn't have known how to let the Lord support me through my pain without having learned to rely on him in my season of loneliness.

I didn't realize it at the time of course, but that season of loneliness-while not exactly gift-wrapped and underneath the Christmas tree-was the best gift I received that year. Unlike many gifts, which may break or get used up, this gift has only compounded itself into a deeper relationship with the Lord and a greater sense of who I am made to be.

Christmas has always been about community and joy for me, but during my year of service I learned that it is not only a time to honor the birth of Jesus but also a time to draw him close. What he most desires is a relationship with us, and I think that each and every human being desires the same relationship with God. Because of my gift of loneliness and all that it taught me, Christmas will not only be a time to celebrate Jesus but also a time to reflect on my relationship with him.

This year, for the first time since my season of loneliness in Maine, I will once again spend Christmas alone. I am having the adventure of a lifetime backpacking through Southeast Asia, so I don't even know where I will be for Christmas or who I might be with. What I do know is that no matter where I end up, God will be there with me, guiding me through any season I might be experiencing.

Cassie DeFillipoIn 2010 Cassie DeFillipo served as an Americorps Vista volunteer in Lewiston, Maine, working at a low-income housing development with a large number of East African refugee residents. She graduated in 2012 with her Master's Degree from Clark University in International Development and Social Change. Cassie currently interns with Eureka Child Foundation, which empowers local local communities through projects in the fields of education, health, and livelihood.