Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

23 January 2006

My cup overflows

It's strange to be in the U.S. for several weeks, waiting for my long-term visa. Although I am moving from place to place, I have been tremendously blessed. At first, it looked like my three locations amongst which to rotate (where I would stay) were going to be reduced to two, and this worried me that I might begin to wear thin on my hosts' nerves if they saw me every other week or more frequently. Thankfully, more than one additional friend has opened their home to me, so I'm back to three or more locations. Hopefully I won't have to do more than two stints at each place, but who knows how long the visa will take.

Not only have my friends been incredibly generous with their homes, but one has also loaned me her extra car. Then, on top of that, when stopping by to visit at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where I used to work five years ago, I was offered a temporary job that paid even better than the job I'd recently left. This job is great because a) I can ride the subway to work, and b) I can wear casual clothes, which is particularly good considering the fact that I no longer own a "business dress" wardrobe.

I've noticed some more changes in my perceptions, habits, etc. as a result of my Brazilian experience. For example, the fact that I would consider a one hour commute (each way) acceptable is a big change. When I worked at NIH before, I had the option to take the subway to work, but because that trip took one hour and the car took only 30 minutes, I almost always drove. Actually, I'm sure that my five years in North Carolina without access to a subway system at all (and only to a very sparse bus system) also helped overcome my reluctance to take such a long commute on public transportation.

Another thing I noticed is that I was much more willing to eat the hot meal in the cafeteria than I previously would have been. That probably came from eating a hot lunch every day in Brazil.

I've already been able to visit my home church in Durham, NC once since I've been back, because I was scheduled to give a talk on my mission experience at a neighboring church in Kittrell, NC. This was my first opportunity to formally share my experience and pictures. Now that I'm working in the Washington DC area, it will be a little harder to get to Durham, but I still hope to visit at least once more.

And finally, I realize in visiting churches both here and in Brazil that God has used my experience in the multicultural environment of Reconciliation UMC to raise the bar on the characteristics of a church that "feels right" to me. I've encountered perfectly nice monochrome churches that had friendly people, were involved in the community, etc. but they just have not felt like "home" to me because of the lack of diversity. And my home church is by no means perfect, but I am now uncomfortable with anything less than multiculturalism in worship. It's like after getting accustomed to good, imported cheese, you just don't enjoy Cheese Whiz or Velveeta anymore, although you may have a fond memory of them and can understand others' enjoyment of them.

01 January 2006

A new year

I have been in the U.S. for one week now, visiting family and friends for the holidays and attempting to obtain my long-term visa.

It is very interesting to see Washington D.C. with completely new eyes, now that they have been recalibrated in Brazil. The first thing I notice is that poverty here does not appear "poor" compared to what I've seen there. I understand that Washington D.C. is not one of the poorer regions of the country such as Appalachia, but still, today when I was driving through the neighborhoods that I previously viewed as destitute, the exteriors of the residences looked relatively adequate. Now I can easily see how people coming here from resource-poor regions would see this country as a virtual paradise.

In fact, many of the Brazilians I've met have expressed an interest in coming to the U.S. to work and live or have family already doing so. Moreover, the soap opera that was just ending when I arrived in Brazil was called "America" and was based on the story of a young woman who traveled illegally to the U.S. to work and send money back to her family.

The things I would normally do when I'm visiting Washington D.C. (shopping, eating out and seeing movies) seem somehow hollow. Am I homesick for Brazil? I know beyond a doubt that I'm missing the summer temperatures. The training for mission volunteers emphasized that volunteers will be changed by their experiences and will find it difficult to re-enter their home culture--perhaps this accounts for the change in my perception.