After a year in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps serving as Community Health Advocate for the Hepatitis Education Project in Seattle, Linda Chastine '16 embraced an international service year through Young Adults in Global Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Eager to expand her public health experience, she was looking forward to serving in a community health clinic in Rwanda. When she found herself teaching English to children living on the street at Centre Marembo instead, her confidence was shattered. "I was feeling wholly unprepared to be a leader in that way, and there were so many expectations that as an American I would know how to teach English," she remembers. "A lot of that pressure made me feel very insecure about my position."
Insecurity was only one of a dizzying array of emotions she described in her newsletter:
"In the time that I have volunteered at Centre Marembo I have cried, I have laughed, I have danced, I have sang, I have been confused, I have felt isolated, I have realized that I am completely and wholly welcomed and loved in a much different way than before. The people at Marembo have opened their gates, their arms, their hearts, and their life to me. They have taught me so much more about self-acceptance, patience, and faith. As hard as it may seem, we must be open and patient with the changes that God brings in our life. From them, can spring wondrous, unexpected, and much needed gifts."
It wasn't easy to recognize and hold all these emotions at the same time. "As a black woman, I don't think that I've gotten permission to hold different emotions, especially not at the same time," she says. "If I'm enraged or sad or angry, I'm not supposed to also be joyful or hopeful or optimistic. I have to be one or the other."
"Just be free," her Rwandan colleagues would urge. "Just be free." While everyone around her was giving her permission to embrace her mixed emotions, "I was restricting myself to have to be or act in a certain way." Finally, their message got through.
"Being in Rwanda taught me that I'm able to experience a plethora of emotions and experiences all at one time, and that I don't need to separate those things," she says. Now living in Washington DC and searching for opportunities in community health, Linda is incorporating what she learned.
"Suppressing emotions doesn't produce self-reflection, self-awareness, or any clarity in the end. Recognizing and appreciating all the emotions I was experiencing helped me."