Saturday, November 24, 2012

A New Kind of Thanks, a New Kind of Thanksgiving

I spent Thanksgiving here in Miami this year & was able to have an entirely new kind of celebration.

Wednesday night I was able to attend an Interfaith Thanksgiving service at my church, where a number of congregations, from different religious traditions, came together for worship. I was so happy to be a part of it and to have the chance to be thankful for congregations who are seeking to come together in respect and celebration of one another during this time of recognizing thanks. This service was like nothing I had ever been a part of. We had a Native American call to worship, an opening prayer by a local Rabbi, a reading from the Quran on gratitude, as well as songs and messages from various religions and denominations. I loved it. Here is the benediction we shared:

"May an abundance of gratitude burst forth as you reflect upon what you have received. May thanksgiving overflow in your heart, and often be proclaimed in your prayer. May you gather around the table of your heart the ardent faithfulness, kindness, and goodness of each person who is true to you. May the harvest of good actions bring forth plentiful fruit each day. May you discover a cache of hidden wisdom among the people and events that have brought you distress and sorrow. May your basket of blessings surprise you with its rich diversity of gifts and its opportunities for growth. May all that nourishes and resources your life bring you daily satisfaction and renewed hope. May you slow your hurried pace of life so you can be aware of, and enjoy, what you too easily take for granted. May you always be open, willing, and ready to share your blessings with others. May you never forget the Generous One who loves you lavishly."

An organization here in Miami, called South Florida Urban Ministries, holds a Thanksgiving outreach each year that is able to serve over 6,000 families. (Woah, right?) There are a number of locations spread out across the area where people from all over South Florida come to help prepare & deliver meals to families who may not otherwise be able to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner together. I was in awe of how many people came out to help on Thursday morning (and I only saw one of the sites!). There were so many people, that I ended up coloring cards alongside an elderly couple for them to deliver to the families on their list. I think it’s a pretty great problem to have when there are too many people wanting to serve. It was inspiring to me to see that so many wanted to give their time on this day to recognize their ability to serve, and to place their focus on creating opportunities for others to be thankful as well.

Thursday afternoon & evening were spent preparing and partaking in our campus ministry’s international student Thanksgiving celebration. FIU is an international university, so we have a number of students associated with us that were away from family during this break & some who also were able to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time. We set up the backyard of one of our Wesley houses with a long line of tables and chairs, hung lights all around the house & tree, and finished preparing all of the food. I had about forty people to celebrate Thanksgiving with this year. Gosh. Friends from Nepal, Saudi Arabia, China, Argentina, India, Japan, Brazil, Ecuador, Libya, Venezuela, Ghana, South Korea, Nigeria, and more. Along with our traditional Thanksgiving foods, we also were able to share Arabic coffee & dates, Indian samosas along with mint rice with curry sauce, and Argentinean empanadas that were shared by our friends. We ate, talked, gathered around the fire in the backyard, and even did some dancing! (Introduced the wobble & Cleveland Shuffle to the group, and it was quite an enjoyable time. I know I loved it!)

Never have I had a Thanksgiving like this one. I continue to be so thankful for the new experiences and new friends that Miami is able to provide. I missed being with my family on this day, but am so glad to have been able to spend the holiday having new experiences, meeting new friends, sharing in new cultures & traditions, and embracing one another as family when ours were far away. I am genuinely thankful for this Thanksgiving and all that came along with it. I hope you were as well!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Passionate People

 Passionate people are something to be celebrated. We should celebrate ourselves, celebrate one another, and celebrate the fact that somewhere, in some way, we all care. I’ve been realizing this a great deal lately in various ways, but I’d like to share a bit more about a more specific instance. The Wesley Foundation at FIU has now put on two incredibly powerful weeks, one last spring and one this October, to bring about awareness of human trafficking (sex trafficking, specifically) to the students on our campus.

I had the privilege this year of being a part of the Freedom Campaign—seeing it come to be through planning, preparation, and through the actual week itself and all that it entailed. It was a week of creativity, newfound realizations, indignant responses to such a harsh reality, and hopeful pursuits of wanting change. This week entailed so much. We had artwork put up around campus to both draw in attention, as well as inform about the reality of human trafficking. We had speakers come in to talk about what trafficking looked like specifically in Miami, considering it is in the top 3 cities in the United States where sex trafficking occurs.  In addition, these women talked extensively on the psychological manipulation associated with trafficking. There was a panel discussion where various individuals (from a representative from the Department of Homeland Security to workers from organizations that work with recovery for survivors) from the Miami community came to share their knowledge and experience about their personal relation to trafficking. There was a day when a survivor came in to share about her personal story of being trafficked in Miami and what she is now doing with her life in response to that. There was a documentary, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, screened to give a more comprehensive understanding of the issue of trafficking itself and what it looks like around the world. There was also an outreach event in which the students were able to gather for a training on what trafficking may look like in relation to prostitution. We were able to go out to various hotels and motels in the area and educate the establishments on what to look for and on how to respond.

The week was chalk full of opportunity for learning and for providing an opportunity for the desire for change to grow. Regan, a woman I work with at FIU-MDC Wesley and the one who had the vision for this week last spring, and I just got back from Imagine What’s Next in St. Louis, which is a conference for young adults involved in collegiate ministries. We were asked to come and speak about the Freedom Campaign and share with all present how we both came to be passionate about this issue and the lives behind it, how the week came to be, as well as the influence that it produced on our campus. It was incredible to be able to share about such a powerful week & to seek to recognize that all of us have our own passions, opportunities, and spheres of influence. We were able to share about our particular experience with the intended purpose of inviting others to call to the forefront their own passions, and to evaluate how those excitements could and should be encouraged. We were able to get excited about the fact that caring about something matters, that recognizing that that care exists matters, and that figuring out what to do with that care matters. Passionate people are something to be celebrated. Something that I tell myself so very often is that simply trying is worth so much. I hope that we can all continue to allow ourselves room to care with intensity and to allow ourselves room to figure out what that can encourage us to try.