Hannah Yoder
Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I was having some thoughts today, thoughts that don't tend to have much conclusion but run through my mind often. Today seemed a little different though; there were new patterns to the regular course my mind takes, and while I hesitate to say anything was concluded, I think something was realized.

 

 

The thoughts I am referring to relate to some big questions about this year in general. One is, “In what ways am I serving here in Asuncion, Paraguay?” Another is, “What were my expectations coming into this year and how have they been fulfilled?” And the two are certainly connected - one of my expectations was to serve.

Service is a - oh, what's the word? - slippery or tricky or sometimes impossible - subject. I heard and saw a lot of emphasis put on this spiritual discipline through my years growing up in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition. MYF [Mennonite Youth Fellowship] service trips, one to Chicago and one to Kentucky, showed me that both building houses and building relationships are important kinds of service. So going into this year abroad, I figured that was that, and believed I had a fairly comprehensive idea of what serving would be like. I would work, probably with kids, and live with a family who would be as eager to share with me as I would be with them. I would maybe find a place in the church to serve as well, singing or playing piano or something of the sort. Oh, yes, I had myself serving this neighborhood long before I arrived.

So what do you do when your position at work exists only because you are there, not because it's needed? What do you do when your host family seldom asks about your day, about how you are handling things, no matter how many times you ask about their week or listen to them recount a challenging situation at work? How do you find a way to serve in a church that is flourishing, with many instrumentalists and preachers and youth leaders? I had created spaces in this place I'd never even been to that were Hannah-sized and, well, surprise! They'd never even met Hannah; how could they have left her a specially fitted place amongst themselves? They've gotten along fine without her since, um, forever.

And so you go round and round, wondering into what space you can squeeze yourself, trying to figure out how to serve, because that's what you're here to do! To serve and to fix things, to make things better, to bring healing. But you know what? Things continue to be pretty normal here - there are still hungry kids and abusive parents and inadequate school systems. And, after all, I'm a pretty ordinary human being - so maybe the radical parts of this journey aren't quite where I expect them to be. And I start to think that radical service isn't that way because it shines a light on itself or because it's dressed in ostentatious clothing - maybe it's radical when it's far-reaching, intimate, complicated, and something I never imagined it could be.

Far-reaching because this year will last much longer than July 13 when I get on that plane back home. Because much of the year will come back with me and it will extend beyond Paraguay. How much differently will I interact with foreign exchange students, with missionaries, with any visitor, now that I've been there? Now that I've been the stranger? I'm being given so much by the people I've met in Paraguay, and since it's not an uncommon thing to feel like I'm hardly reciprocating their generosity, I hope that the relationships I'll feel pulled to make in the future because of this experience will be a way of showing the people here how grateful I am for all they have done for me. And I'm learning another language, building a very strong bridge between myself and millions of people. The little Guarani I'm picking up is much more than a language; it's a pueblo [people] and a culture in itself - you should see the grins when we say something in that indigenous tongue! If anything earns you a quick connection and an easy laugh here, it's using a bit of Guarani with your Spanish.

Service here is intimate because I look at myself and I look at my teammates and I know we've grown so much and it’s a beautiful thing to see us blooming. And the transformation isn't always easy - it can mean confrontation and frustration, but, boy, can't you just see the butterfly?

Complicated because I'm serving them, right? But serving is sharing, I think, and sometimes the empty ones turn out to be the ones who thought they were full and running over. So I guess I'll let them do the pouring, and my how humbling that can be.

I know that we're serving here, and I think it's service that Jesus called us to. And even though I can't always see it, I can trust that it's there. It's in the tereré [cold yerba maté tea] and it's in the listening and it's in the future, all of our futures, because Jesus promised to be with us always, for us to seek and find.

***

This post was originally published May 29, 2014 on Hannah Yoder's blog.

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https://www.mennonitemission.net/blog/1285/Serving each other in Paraguay

Hannah Yoder was a 2013-2014 Radical Journey Paraguay participant who served at a daycare in Asunción, Paraguay.

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