One year ago, I attended the Discernment-Interview-Placement weekend for YAGM. In the year since, I have learned so much. I have learned about myself, the world, the church, people, God, and faith... just to name a few. Here is a small sampling of a list of all I have learned:
1. Vulnerability. Ask for help, admit when you're wrong, and be honest in your experiences. The ability to share freely these things as well as to rejoice together has resulted in some really deep and meaningful relationships this year. This is a lesson I am continuing to work on, but one that I am reminded of frequently.
2. I am not needed. My presence in this country and in my sites is not necessary to anyone's survival or well-being. I do not bring with me an invaluable skill to this year. I have had to realize that no one here "needs me". This was a hard lesson to learn. I expected to jump in and be put to work right away and be busy all year. But that just has not been the case. There are days when I do not have a lot to do, and my main "job" is to just be present, just existing alongside other people. While this may sound boring, like a waste of my time or skills, I have come to learn that it is just the opposite. I have learned that it is healthy that my presence here exists in this way. It is a good thing that no one is depending on me in a way that in my absence, things would fall apart. I have learned that as humans, we enter into a situation "to do". My mindset of "doing" has shifted into a mindset of "being". I have learned about myself from the discomfort I felt in the absence of "work" and I have learned more about people and life in community in the days where my "job" was to sit and listen, talk, or help with small tasks.
3. People make up religions and denominations. This year has been one of religious diversity. There is so much religious diversity in Malaysia. I interact with Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists daily. Even going into this year, Christianity has looked different than what I have been used to. The BCCM's theology and worship styles vary in some ways from the traditional Lutheran background I come from. There is common ground among denominations and even among other religions, but even if there are differences, the people behind the title of "Roman Catholic", "Methodist", "Anglican", "BCCM", "Muslim", "Buddhist" are all people. Their beliefs shape them into people of faith who above all else want to love and serve their god and their god's people. Having focused on the differences that separate especially Christian denominations in the past, this year has been a lesson on the value of the people of the church. I think when you know and appreciate the people you can appreciate and learn from their beliefs even more.
4. I need structure. Fun fact: I considered myself pretty go with the flow... then I came to Malaysia and realized I was delusional. Having no set "syllabus" on how to successfully complete this year was a scary realization. I will say that this desire for structure has not changed, but instead I have learned how to create some order on my own. I really value the routines I've established, which have made life a lot less overwhelming.
5. I am not ______________. Be it other YAGMs in Malaysia, YAGMs serving throughout the world, or the volunteers that came before me, there is a huge temptation to compare in this year. "I'm not as outgoing as _________." "I'm not as good at Malay as __________." "__________ did this but I haven't done that yet." "According to facebook, ________ is just having such a great life and today is really hard for me." I am Sarah, I have my own strengths and my own weaknesses. I have my own way of approaching this year. And I know deep down inside, that people only put the good stuff on facebook, that everyone has struggled in this year in some way. I'm thankful for the other volunteers serving this year as well as for the ones who have come before me because I am constantly reminded that this is not a one-woman show. This is a continued relationship, and I am a small small piece to a much greater and beautiful picture of companionship. The story neither starts nor ends with me, and each individual brings their own abilities to the table.
6. There are a whole lot of people who have the love of God just seeping out of them. Hospitality, caring for me when I'm sick, quality time, sharing food, smiles and encouraging words have all shown me God's love, faithfulness, and presence in this year. I could do a whole separate blog on the people in my life, but in short, I could not be more thankful for those whose paths I have crossed this year.
7. Being comfortable with the unknown. I entered into the YAGM process not knowing what country I would go to. I then agreed to come to Malaysia not knowing where I would live or what I would be doing. Then once the year started, there were transitions in leadership, changes in program plans, lots of change and lots of uncertainty. Being someone who apparently likes structure (see #3) this hasn't been easy for me. But, as the changes and questions of what's next arise, I have the past to remind me that God is faithful and that I can find peace in the midst of a lot of unknown.
There are more lessons, and I still continue to be challenged by the things I have named here. When I sat in that room at DIP in Williams Bay, Wisconsin last year, I didn't know what the year ahead held, but I was confident that I was being called to this place. I think God had and still has a lot for me to learn. Malaysia, you have taught me a lot, and I will continue to learn from you even after I leave. For that, I am so thankful.