Now it becomes real

I’ve arrived in Kenya and am soaking in the new atmosphere, whilst adjusting to the new climate.  The US leg of was fast-paced with little to no down-time.  I enjoyed myself though – so many experiences packed into a short space of time!

But first things first…

I expected that I would be able to say nice farewells to friends and family Auckland airport.  My hopes were dashed as instead my last few moments were spent frantically off-loading almost 10kg worth of stuff to my parents.  That was kinda sad.  I’m thankful that at least everything went smoothly after that point!

Welcome to Washington, DC or is it Virginia?

In DC, I was fortunate to be housed by a staff member of IJM.  Well actually she lives in Northern Virginia.  The geography of the capital territory confuses me a little.  The IJM head office is also in Northern Virginia, but it’s only 15 minutes on the Metro line from Downtown DC.  So, it’s near enough.

I was excited to see snowflakes falling during the week.  Below is a shot from Melanie’s (my host) dining room looking outside at the after-effects of a blizzard the night before.

Snow in Northern Virginia

Melanie also hosted another trainee from Arizona.  She is an experienced lawyer and is heading to Rwanda as a legal fellow.  We all got on very well and had many deep late night discussions.   Below is a photo of us at Head Office.

Deb, I & Mel

Have you tried drinking from a fire hydrant lately?

Intense is probably an understatement to describe training week!

Our first day was spent with the CEO and Founder of IJM – Gary Haugen.  He shared the vision of the organisation and helped us understand its foundational values.  His passion for the work is authentic and inspiring.  I spent most of the day smiling inside, thinking “I’m so happy to be here… I can’t believe I’m here”.

Throughout the rest of the week we were introduced to all the heads of departments and other key staff.  It struck me how everyone had such a passion for their speciality (E.g. communications, information systems; admin and human resources) combined with a deep resonance with the overall mission of IJM.

On the first night, we were treated to a talent show put on by the staff called The Jammys (aka The Justice Grammys).  There was everything from a barber shop quartet, opera, Spice Girls and a bizarre reinterpretation of Fresh Prince.  The performances were interwoven with the key objectives of IJM to help it stick in our minds – Victim Relief, Victim Aftercare, Perpetrator Accountability and Structural Transformation.

The Justice Grammys = The Jammys

We also had a pizza and movie night one evening, where we were shown “A Dry White Season”.  This movie was set during the height of the Apartheid era in South Africa (around the 1970s) and followed the story of one family.  It was a sombre reminder of things that go on in our world and the personal cost involved in overturning oppressive systems.

Our final day was packed right up until the end, but closed with a reflective commissioning service for all the new trainees.  This was a very special moment.  It was a chance to pause and remember why we were all there. It was a call to humility, as ultimately the mission of IJM is not about us.  I was also very fortunate to have my friend come down from New York as support!  Very cool indeed.

Here’s a photo of Troy, a fellow intern and I with Gary Haugen.

Troy & I with Gary

I cannot forget to mention my comrades in training.  There were about 45 of us in total.  Having been out of the corporate scene for a couple of years, it was nice to be in a big office environment again.  Wearing a suit did feel a bit odd, though.  Nevertheless this situation had a refreshing twist.  Rather than an air of subtle competition (even if people are nice to you) there was an air of genuine camaraderie.  Over the course of the training week I rubbed shoulders with experienced lawyers, HR specialists, teachers, and new grads and students of various disciplines.  Most of them Type A –  ambitious, astute, impatient and intelligent (bossy, some of you might like to add?).

Yet, this was tempered with a strong sense that such ambition is not purely for personal comfort and acclaim.  In fact, we have all sacrificed to be here and none of us take this opportunity lightly.  Some have quit their jobs or paused their careers, others have given up a year in the middle of their study.  Still others have forgone high salaries, even though their qualifications and experience would demand it.  There was a general attitude that it is far better to give than to receive.  It was exciting to hear everyone’s stories about how they came to IJM and their dreams for the future.

Training week was a good preparation for the journey ahead and amazing experience.  I must admit though, that I was feeling pretty peaceful about going to Kenya until our security training session.  We were lectured on personal safety, given pepper spray and taught some hand to hand combat moves (ok that’s an exaggeration – we just learned how to escape someone grabbing us).  It was after that session that I started to think seriously (i.e. freak out just a touch) about the associated risks of my deployment.

Oh well, life is full of risks, so we all go with faith that God will protect us as we keep our whits about us.

Just in Time

I’m a day away from stepping onto the plane and I’m so thankful at how things have come together.  This process has made me very much aware how little I have control over and much God is in control!

Progress so far:

I’ve been able to get my tickets and visa in good time.   I had my last vaccination yesterday and just as well – I swear my arms have seen needles at least 20 times over the past month or so.  My car was sold ON TIME.  On Sunday I had 3 serious buyers turn up to view the car and the last group put a deposit down on the spot.  Since handing the keys over,  I’ve only had to manage 4 days without a car.  This is fantastic because I was starting to lose hope that the car wouldn’t sell as my leaving time fast approaches.  My finances have also been given a boost because of this.

I’ve also been so encouraged and humbled by the generosity of so many people.  People of all walks of life have been moved by the cause and want to help out.  THANK YOU everyone!

Then I get floored:

The other day my neighbour told me about her friend who was sponsored to serve overseas with mystery donations turning up out of the blue.  Yesterday that happened to me – and a sizeable sum too!  I’m still recovering from the speed at which my car eventually sold and now this?!  What a blessing to have more confirmations that I’m on the right track.  After all the stressing I’ve been doing over the past few months, it’s like God’s saying “Chill out, I got this.”

What next?

I’m flying to DC for training at the headquarters, along with close to 50 other people.  Some will be work / serve in US, others to Europe or Asia or parts of Africa.  I’m so excited to spend time with our leadership team, other staff and other like-mindeds!

After DC I will attempt to play tour guide in NYC with another Kiwi who’s been on training week with me.  Haha, not even.  We’ll have a little nosey around and try not to get too lost in the cold.

I’m planning to arrive in the Motherland by Jan 20th.

You know, as I sit in the sweltering Auckland heat writing this piece, I really have no idea how I will handle the cold in USA…

Anyway, until I write again take care & much love!

Welcome to 2011!

Happy New Year everyone!

How did you celebrate the turn of 2011?  I hope it was good 🙂

Last night I attended a midnight Watch service at my friend’s church.  Loud, vibrant, joyful, African.  It was fun.  A key part of the message preached that stuck out to me was to forget the former things (trials, sufferings etc) and look forward to the new things…  With that in my mind, I set my face towards 2011 and today began the arduous task of packing my bags.  How do you pack your life into two suitcases?   I only have a week left to figure this out, so better stop stalling!

When I think of 2010 and even the last few years, I have to pinch myself for the AMAZING experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met.  In 2009 I didn’t know what I signed up for when I moved to New Orleans for 6 months.  The friends who became a family, the food, the culture & vibe, dinner time conversations – grabbed me…  Took a piece of my heart and left me yearning for more.

Last year I was privileged to live in a similar way in Kodesh Community with the Church Army team (can’t believe I’m saying last year!).  The friendships, deep conversations, laughter and learning has bent me even more out of shape – in a good way.  This along with other “growth experiences” have helped me to articulate what my heart beat looks like.  It’s still fuzzy round the edges, but I’m hopeful and excited!

And so to Kenya!  I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to serve those most likely to be forgotten, maligned and marginalised for a year.  This is the direction that my heart beats.

Come join me on this adventure!