Saturday, September 27

Single Stories

"All consciousness raising, or awareness, begins with personal relationships. It doesn’t matter how many books you read, or how many times you read the news online or in a daily paper, or how many journals or policy briefings you peruse. Banners and bumper stickers are worthless. These things may lift up “issues” worthy of our attention, but as long as we are able to objectify certain things as “issues,” then we are removed from the urgency, the immediacy, the living, breathing reality of our fellow humans." 
-Wes Magruder

I've had an idea floating around about what I wanted to write about on my blog for sometime and then a friend shared this quote on his Facebook status and it continued to add to my feelings of getting out of our "single stories."In the summer of 2012, when I went through Missionary training in New York, we watched this video. In the video, Chimanda Adiche talks about the discovery of her own culture amidst a single story and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. If you don't have time to watch the entire video, I encourage you to at least watch the first five minutes.

I knew right then and there that God's largest calling for me in this journey is to get outside of my "single story", or as I often call it, my "bubble." How often do we ALL re-learn the lesson over and over that we just don't truly understand someone until we begin a personal relationship with them. Christ crossed all sorts of boundaries set in place by society. We must cross boundaries. We must leave our little, happy, warm places of comfort. 

I don't think I even need to explicitly point out that what we see in our media, news, and literature will often only feed us a "single story". Today many of the issues that flash across our news sources encourage us to think in a biased manner. Yet, Jesus Christ himself ignored the stories spewing out of the mouths of the majority and helped the Disciples expand the stories of others.

Everyday I am learning something new as I live in a small, rural, Southern, mountain town. I'm learning what it's like for people to visit the local food pantry once a week to help save money. I'm learning about the use of EBTs or food stamps and how many people in need don't receive very many. I'm learning about the desirefor a peaceful way of living from both the people who have lived here their entire lives and those who choose to retire here  I'm learning how some people continue to can vegetables and a few others still use a wood burning stove to heat their homes. I'm learning of the history of the Cherokee's banishment from the area. Everyday my story expands little by little, yet I know there will always be something more to learn. If I let myself get too comfortable it what I already understand and know, I will fail God's calling to grow.

Here are a few more interesting facts/demographics about Clay County, NC:

  • 260 people live within the city limits of Hayesville
  • 10,000 live in Clay County
  • 3 schools (Elementary, Middle, High) all located on the same campus but in 3 different buildings
  • 2 stop lights
  • New, fancy grocery store with organic food options
  • local farmer's market every Thursday evening
  • many different food giveaway programs
  • families who have lived here for generations and generations
  • retirees who used to vacation here
  • LOTs of thrift stores benefitting local resource agencies/non-profits
  • 30 minute drive to go to a Walmart
  • 20+ minute drive to go to a hospital
  • remnants of a moon shine culture- streets named things like "Thumping Hills"
  • families who live on their family's street "Penland" "Roach"
  • public transportation exists- but you have to plan in advance and wait a while
  • local dialect- "you'ins" "have a good'in"
  • probably 90% white, 4% hispanic, 1% black/African American
  • LOTs of churches- even in small neighborhoods
  • highest speed limit in the area is 55mph
  • many people have their own gardens
  • only 20% of the population has a Bachelor's degree or higher
  • statistics show that the median household income is $30,000- $35,000 but this contains outliers from transplant community members

Wednesday, September 10

Summer Season

I am not going to even start to explain my long absence... I had a CRAZY SUMMER SEASON working at a mission outreach retreat center. But I am back in action in the world of blog writing. 

This summer Hinton Center hosted 1,200 volunteers who worked within our community, helping local homeowners with different home repairs/projects. Teams built ramps, and decks. They repaired sub-flooring. Some installed vinyl flooring as well as new doors and windows. Others scraped and painted houses, ramps, and living rooms. Yet, I believe encouraging and uplifting the local community members is the biggest achievement of the summer.

I first encountered Mindy at our weekly Thursday night dinner on Hinton Hill as she requested to talk on the microphone in front of 150 people . Each Thursday the teams invited the homeowners to partake in a celebratory meal with us. Before eating teams share about their experiences and what work they accomplished during the week. According to my colleague, when the volunteers first arrived to Mindy's house she acted very shy and hesitant in regards to the presence of visitors at her home. The team began painting the outside of Mindy's house the first day, but decided to leave early to allow time for Mindy to adjust to the new visitors. Mindy lost her husband a few years ago and ever since has somewhat lived the life a hermit and one might say as someone who hoards a bunch of stuff. The volunteers and Mindy slowly began to bond. Mindy began to open up emotionally and to open up her house to the team members. She even allowed one volunteer to help sort and donate a good amount of her things. Fast forward to Thursday night of that week and there stood Cindy in front of all of those people, holding a microphone. Similar to when the volunteers first entered her home, she hesitated. She stood almost frozen with eyes glued to her. Then, the words of gratitude poured out. She explained to all of us how the volunteers had truly changed her life and helped her realize she was living a life of solitude. They helped her escape the overwhelming feelings associated with her living situation. We are now working with Mindy so that she can volunteer with us and also give back to someone in the community.

Stories like Cindy's represent the true accomplishments our volunteers and staff achieved this summer. Her story can also remind us all of the importance of embracing community, allowing our communities to help restore, encourage, and motivate each of us.

Saturday, May 17

Snippits from my Life in Hayesville

2 months.
 I've been living in Western North Carolina for a little over 2 months. 
I've been back in the United States for a little over 3 months.
Time is flying. 
Something that has truly been filling me with joy is where I now live. Diamond and I moved into one of Hinton's lakeside cabins. Each and everyday I see a part of God's creation that takes my breath away. There are times I want to stop on the side of the road just to soak up the views around here. At night, I often have to pause and stare up at the brilliantly shining stars. 
Here are a few glimpses into my life so far living in Hayesville, NC. I hope "you'ins" enjoy.

Tuesday, April 22

Those Who Are Left Out

She reached out for my hand and as she held on to me she said, in a sort of whimper, "I love you." 

 When loading into the car that morning to visit Ms. Molly (name changed) I didn't realize the impact a simple visit for an "exit interview" would have on me... or the impact of speaking on the phone earlier this week with an 80 year old woman who shared with me her life and constant battles living on a low income throughout her life. Also, she shared about her struggles with recently onset agoraphobia. 

Each of these impactful moments happened as part of my new work at the Hinton Rural Life Center. The Hinton Center does home repairs, helps with landscaping, builds staircases and handicap ramps, etc. to over 100 homes each year in Western North Carolina. However, in my opinion it's biggest accomplishments involve visiting community members and building relationships with them. 

Part of my job is to conduct exit interviews with different community members who received help from Hinton within the last two years. Hinton Center wants feedback in regards to the work accomplished and any suggestions the community may have. It is also a great way to stay in contact with those who have received help and show that Hinton still cares about them. 

Something I quickly began realizing about this area is that many retirees are the majority of the people faced with the issue of poverty. Not just a financial poverty, but a social poverty as well. 

I came to find out, for example, that Ms. Molly who should have family members taking care of her in her old age is stuck taking care of her only son who is around 40 but has lots of health problems. She can barely walk between her house and her son's house which is located just up the hill from her own and I just thought of how easy it would be for her to fall. Then, her desperate reaction to our short visit made me think it is not often that she receives visitors or gets to interact with people other than her son. 

Yet, when I started thinking about her situation more, I realize her story of isolation and struggle is one of thousands in our nation. I think of the certain elderly who live almost abandoned as they live out the rest of their lives. Are they are fellow church members? Neighbors? Relatives?

I think of the volunteers from my home church who are dedicated to help deliver shut-in communion to church members who are unable to travel to church on Sundays. The time they spend sitting and listening to stories. How important that small amount of time can be!

I still feel Ms. Molly's grip as she shared such intimate words with me after just meeting me and think- how can we include our isolated elderly brothers and sisters into our communities more?

Monday, April 7


Osiyo (spelled phonetically)= Hello in Cherokee

Naksa= Hello in Miskito

When considering who exists within our marginalized populations within the United States, I have a feeling many of us forget to include the first persecuted groups... Native Americans or after my experiences in Nicaragua... indigenous groups.

Living in Western North Carolina I quickly began to realize I now live where part of the Cherokee Nation existed and where many Cherokee people still live today. Sadly, I don't know if I would be as interested in growing my knowledge of the Cherokee if I hadn't met several Miskito people in Nicaragua. 

One of the most eye-opening experiences I had in regards to witnessing injustices  that the Miskito people face was when I got to participate in a regional assembly for the RAAN. I witnessed people speaking in their native language, expressing their rights to share their opinions and experiences about the faults in health care and access. 

Last week, I attended a Cherokee Culture Center dedication at the local library. Several Hayesville residents worked together to create an exhibit in the library and there is a "trail" leading to other exhibits and monuments. Many Cherokee were invited to the event including people who help with cultural preservation and education.

 I really appreciated that when a local leader spoke he admitted that the committee from Hayesville all of "European descent" learned along the way and may have made some mistakes in trying to preserve the Cherokee history, but emphasized the effort is to honor the area's early history. 

There was a pretty awful moment during the event, though. The library's little auditorium has a huge mural of when "Europeans" first settled Hayesville covering the front wall. My co-worker pointed out that she did find one black women in the mural who is wearing a maid outfit. The worst was when the presentor had the Eastern Band's Principal Chief take a picture with the dedication plaque in front of this horrible mural. Maybe the library can consider adding to the mural the history before the white people came as an even further recognition of the Cherokee. 

One of my learning goals while I am living here is to understand more about the Cherokee history and perhaps learn a few words in Cherokee, too. As a person who lives with many privileges, I hope to continue recognizing my brothers and sisters who may face marginalization and to become more educated about their situations. I also realize that perhaps we can never be perfect at trying to close our gaps in society, but we can be vulnerable enough to try and humble to admit mistakes along the journey to learning more.

Saturday, March 29

I Am Completely Different

My fellow Mission Intern Hillary Taylor recently shared this poem on her blog.  I loved it and thought I would share it with you, too.

“I Am Completely Different”
I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same tie as yesterday,
am as poor as yesterday,
as good for nothing as yesterday,
I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same clothes,
am as drunk as yesterday,
living as clumsily as yesterday, nevertheless
I am completely different.
Ah …
I patiently close my eyes
on all the grins and smirks
on all the twisted smiles and horse laughs—
and glimpse then, inside me
one beautiful white butterfly
fluttering towards tomorrow
--Kuroda Saburo—

Monday, March 24

Shakin' Your Booty Looks a Little Different Throughout the World

As a means to try to begin branching out to my new community, as well as get some exercise, Diamond, my new co-worker and co-missionary, and I went to a Zumba class in a local recreation center. The rec center we went to is located in a town called Franklin which is about a 30-45 minute drive from Hayesville- my new "home" town. I am slowly learning that almost everywhere or anything takes at least a 30 minute drive, which if I considered everyday travel in Managua, it would take me about 30 minutes to walk to the bus, wait, get on, switch buses and walk to the office. Also, I love that there is never traffic around here. :)

Well.... so back to the Zumba class. Diamond and I arrived to class after wandering through the small halls of the rec center. There were about 4 ladies already seated in a room with a lot of open space. At least 5 more women showed up. All of them were at least 40 and older. I am only informing you of their ages so you can get a good picture in your head- I love to hang out with people of all ages, so no hatin'. The instructor informed us that she got certified last year to teach Zumba classes and she was proud of herself for becoming certified and teaching a dance class at 50 years old. She is a rock star!

Finally the music started and we all found our own space to be able to move around well. Many of the songs were familiar to me from the dance exercise class I participated when I was in Nicaragua. However, there were several moments I had to giggle to myself because I was no longer surrounded by Latinas who could almost all shake it like Shakira. Instead, I was surrounded by middle-aged white women who danced with lots of passion and enjoyed themselves, but let's just say... there was some lack of smooth hip movements.

I've had many moments, such as my new dance class, comparing my new community of North Carolina to Nicaragua. On our campus, we have an outdoor chapel area, but you have to hike a little ways to get to arrive to it's location. As we were hiking up the hill through the trees and crunching leaves with our feet, I has a flashback to the many times in Nicaragua I had to hike just to arrive to someone's house. I remembered how many people have to hike to go to school or hike to go to a hospital or hike to get water for their homes. As we hiked for entertainment, I remembered the hardships of others.

As I learn more about my new community, I want to try not to always think of the differences between Nicaragua and North Carolina but instead issues as well as blessings that are similar. I mean both places start with the letter N so there's a start. No, but seriously I've already noticed there are many food banks located all within a small area of each other and food security is something Nicaragua is constantly concerned about as well.

In this new part of my journey, I will happily "dance" within a new culture and with new people while using my past and present to learn and grow.

Peace, Whitney P.

Sunday, March 16

Emotions & Lessons Learned

Look at my new home in Hayesville, NC!

I said goodbye to dear, dear people in Nicaragua…

I spent 12 days at “Mid Terms” with fellow Mission Fellows in NY reflecting, celebrating, sharing and mourning our times spent outside of our home countries…

I squeezed each of my family members and tried to soak up every minute of my short time in McKinney, TX…

I visited several churches that allowed me to share about my personal experiences in Nicaragua…

I arrived 4 days ago to Hayesville, NC and have begun settling into my new community and job…

I feel like my whole transition from Nicaragua to the United States was a blur at times.  I’ve experienced a variety of emotions from feeling

sad- to leave people and a country
numb- many times I didn’t feel anything. When I might have cried or felt overwhelmingly grateful, I felt numb instead.
Joyful- to see loved ones once again = amazing
Disgusted- Yes, at times, I’ve felt disgusted with materialism, excess of things, attitudes of people, people’s priorities, etc. This is an intese emotion that I do not wish to feel, but instead wish to feel less hateful and simply acknowledge my opinions of these situations with respect for others, yet live differently based on my opinions.
Challenged/questioning- mid-terms allowed me to converse with others about those social issues that are really affecting the areas where we were working- what can we do? How are we called? Why are things this way? (My parents were also wonderful people with whom to discuss the hard stuff- thanks padres)
Humbled/inspired- all the churches I visited are so open to hearing about missions and gave so generously of their time and money to my program
Unsettled- I had to think about a word to describe this particular emotion I’ve been having, but I sometimes feel like an outsider looking in on what’s happening and a desire to perhaps to be living once again in a Nica-like culture
Blessed- There were several moments I would be looking at my nephew or sitting with my parents or siblings & I just wanted to stare at them, soaking up the moment.  I also had time to spend with extended relatives, after missing the death of one of uncles and an aunt while I was working in Nicaragua. I definitely have so much more appreciation for my entire family.

I share these emotions with you so perhaps you can have a new perspective of thefact that it is tough to face one’s home country again, after living in a different reality.  Society expects you to just fit right back in again, but what are we fitting into?

It was great speaking at churches and actually pretty healing to get to share pictures and stories about my adventures. I do, however, want to share a few reactions/opions/what-have-yous that made me realize, hmmm, perhaps I did not share certain perspectives thouroughly.  I am not trying to criticize, cause’ let’s be honest- I’ve probably said some of these things in the past. I simply have a new perspective now and want to challenge you, too, to think a bit differently about some of the following things that were said to me.   

“so we can learn from this presentation just how blessed we are to live here”
Is this the lesson you learned..and the only one? Uh oh. Yes, large majorities of people in the US have access to health care, clean water, safetly, food, etc. which are blessings everyone deserves and should have. Yet, if we keep going, in my opinion, those other  “blessings” we have, own, drive, live in, prioritize are many times a sign of living in too much excess or waste. Those extra things we don’t need, yet feel we deserve, often cause injustices throughout the world. Perhaps it’s better to learn from my Nicaraguan experiences …how we need to share those “blessings”? … learn that we too can live with less? …learn that we have too much?

they are poor, but they seem really happy”
For me, this statement isn’t seeing those “poor people” as dignified human beings. Of course they are happy. They are also sad sometimes, possibly mad, grumpy, energized, joyful, silly, and tired- just like YOU. I’ve come to realize that “poor people” do not exist. Nope. Only people, children of God, who are living with the issue of poverty.

“aren’t you just so glad to be back in the United States?”
This one makes me kind of sad. I know people are just trying to relate and create conversation, but it makes me question their question. Perhaps, these people are just trying to ask if I am happy to see my family, because, oh yes, to be able to see my family was amazing, as well as, friends. Yet, I wonder what this person thinks of Nicaragua or of other countries or my wonderful friends that I met in Nicaragua. As US students and children, we were raised to believe our country is the best. God bless America. Elitism and competition do not help create the kingdom of God. I am not saying we should dislike the US, but instead try to take on more global perspectives, uderstanding and acceptance. Oooh, also appreciation!

Today I hope I challenged you some. I know it was heavier stuff, but that’s what’s on my mind and what we are called as Christ Followers to think about.

Thanks for your continued support!

Peace, Whitney

Special thanks to…
University Christian Church: Fort Worth, TX
First Christian Church of McKinney, TX
Wesley Foundation TCU
First United Methodist Church of McKinney
Grace Christian Church: Prosper, TX

Lion’s Club of McKinney