I have two pieces of great news to share with you. First, Fidesco has bought me my plane ticket home so I will arrive in California the evening of July 28th. Second, last week I was offered the youth minister and middle school religion teacher positions at a parish in MN (I've edited this post to keep some of the work details hidden because my new assignment hasn't been announced to the parish yet.)
One of your questions might be, "Why Minnesota?", especially when I am a California girl. Well, that's an easy question to answer. I like the sense of community and the down-home country values of the Midwest. It's also where my spiritual family, the Emmanuel Community, and a lot of good friends are. To be close to the brothers and sisters of the EC, especially the Minnesota ones who are so close to my heart, is important enough to me that I will gladly live in the frozen tundra of MN. Will I complain when I walk outside and it's 20 below? Oh yes, but I will be so happy to have a weekly faithsharing group and a monthly community weekend as part of my faith life.
Another question might be, "What will you do as the youth minister?" A lot of hanging out! That sounds like I'm joking, but I'm not. One thing I really appreciate about the youth minister position is that it is very people-oriented. There is a weekly hang out time, retreats, a summer faith camp, a high school core team, and other things to direct.
Another question might be, "How many hours do I have to teach?" I will teach 5 hours a week. I have a friend in MN who teaches middle school religion (you know who you are) and she loves it. Every day she gets to pass the truth onto young people and help them grow in their faith. I remember listening to her stories and thinking, "Wow, maybe I should reconsider being a teacher." Well, now I have the opportunity to try my hand at teaching religion in the States. I must confess that I am nervous about the responsibility of teaching ~40-45 students four days a week and all that entails, but I'm sure I will love it once I get over the nervousness.
One thing that really strikes me about the opportunities awaiting me in MN is how God used this year to prepare me for them. Before Rwanda, the only classroom teaching experience I had was at The Pines Catholic Camp in Texas and that was not the same as teaching in a school. 5th graders would arrive for four days, our team would teach environmental classes, and then the students would leave. We didn't have to deal with bad behavior for long or give assignments and grades. But now, by the time I return home, I will have a year of classroom teaching under my belt. I've had some experience trying to motivate disinterested or sleepy students to pay attention, to manage student behavior, and to discover which activities engage the students in the process of learning. I think I still have a lot to learn because a Rwandan classroom is not the same as an American one, but I am not as much of a neophyte as I would have been in the same position last year.
My time at the ENDPK has also given me one more year's experience working with teenagers and answering their difficult questions. A cool story of hanging out with the students comes from last Friday. I finished teaching the last period of the day, but the students and I were rained in; if we left the classroom, we'd get drenched. One of the students said, "Don't go outside. Stay with us," so I did. I walked over to one of the students who was practicing traditional dance moves and started to copy her. She delighted in showing me different moves to practice and the whole class watched with enjoyment and often laughter. She then asked me to show the students some American moves. Hmm, what to teach? I ended up showing them some disco moves while singing "Staying Alive," the basic salsa step (I know it's not American, but they asked for it), and the waltz (also asked for). It was hilarious to watch the students pair up with each other and practice a basic waltz box step. An example of the type of questions I get asked sometimes is this one from a class about marriage and religious life, "If a priest stands in the person of Christ and marries the Church, and a sister stands in the person of the Church and marries Christ, why don't a priest and sister marry each other since one represents Christ and the other represents the Church?" Good question! These are just two examples of my work in Rwanda and how it has better prepared me for my work next year.
Lastly, I wanted to leave you with one of my favorite passages from Scripture. It is one that I have turned to hundreds of times in my life when the future is uncertain. I turned to it when I was submitting my resume and cover letters to job openings the past two months. I turned to it when I worried that I would be too far from my friends in the Twin Cities. I turned to it when I was intimidated and stressed by the number of teaching hours (originally there were more) and the anticipated workload of a new teacher. And I'm sure I'll turn to it again many more hundreds of times before I end this life. I hope it brings you the same comfort it brings me.
He said to [his] disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your lifespan? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. - Lk 12:22-32