A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast

Episode 30: Spiritual Food, Expensive Olympics & PEACE IS HARD WORK

September 23, 2021 Simon Doong and Lee Catoe Season 1 Episode 30
A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast
Episode 30: Spiritual Food, Expensive Olympics & PEACE IS HARD WORK
Show Notes Transcript

Questions for the Week:

  • Can food, whether it be cooking or eating, be a spiritual experience?
  • Every time the Olympic Games roll around, there is discussion about how expensive it is to host the Olympics and the toll it takes on the hosting city and country. Is it worth it? When does something become too costly to be worth the pride of hosting such an event? Further, have you seen faith communities have similar discussions about their own events and how to manage the cost?

Special Guest:
Rev. Shelvis Smith-Mather, Mission Co-worker, South Sudan

Guest Question:
How can we as Christians work for peace in communities we are not a part of? How do we walk the delicate line between trying to support peace and reconciliation amongst communities we are not from or that we are not directly connected with, but without imposing our own ideas and values on their peace process?

Resource Roundup:
Office of Public Witness Action Alert: Anti-Abortion Policies
Reproductive Health Policy of the PC(USA)

Speaker 1:

Hello, and welcome to a matter of faith, a Frisbee podcast, the podcast, where we respond to your questions and comments on issues of faith, social justice, and church life. Don't be afraid to write in and ask your question because if it matters to you, it matters to us. And it just might be a matter of

Speaker 2:

Whether it be faith in God, faith in others, or faith in yourself. We are brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and Unbound, the interactive journal on Christian social justice for the Presbyterian church USA. I am your host Lee Cato ,

Speaker 1:

And I'm your host Simon dude ,

Speaker 2:

Without further ado, let's dive into today's questions.

Speaker 1:

Well, hello, everyone. Welcome to a matter of faith , the Presby podcast, Lee , it's always good to be with you. How are you doing today?

Speaker 2:

I'm good. Simon. I am, you know, Nan Simon just had a very intense conversation before and yeah, but the one thing I am excited about y'all so whenever this comes out, this is what I've already happened. Uh , but Simon and I are going to get to hang out and we're going to get to eat Korean fried chicken, and I'm going to get to meet Simon's family. And that's just going to be wonderful. Cause Simon's going to be visiting home and I'm going to get to see you.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. I think that , uh, maybe some folks can relate to this , um, this situation where you've done a lot of work with colleagues through zoom or teams or whatever digital platform you communicate in, but you haven't met much in person and you feel like, you know them, you know, the other person's real. Uh, but it's only when you finally see them in person, you're like, oh yeah, you are a real person. And like, I don't know. I don't even remember. I don't even know if I know how tall you are li not that that matters. Yeah .

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I don't remember. Yeah, because Simon I've only met once before and we can't figure out what year that was. So it was a long time ago and yeah, it'll be, it is very interesting. And I've mentioned that before, but male Lowery who is, is pretty well known in the church and one of our good friends and helps with Unbound a lot. I had met male through digital stuff and I'd only talked to her for, you know, just through that for about a year and a half. And then when , when will and I moved to DC, I got, she was the first person I got to hang out with and it wasn't weird. It was, it was very bizarre how bizarre it was because we had met each other and I talked to each other for so long. So yeah, it is interesting to kind of develop relationships through this and yeah, it's been awesome meeting so many people. That's the one good thing about not the one, but one of the things that digital media can really accompany is that kind of relationship building that people don't realize. And so I told Simon, he, he, I hope they're ready for the amount of food that I can eat because I'm excited about fried chicken.

Speaker 1:

And I told Lee that he should not worry because we like to eat. And we like people that like to eat, we'll get along just fine.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. That'll be fun.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And so actually I think we're going to start with this question instead, since we're speaking of eating.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. That's a great lead in,

Speaker 1:

We've got a question written in for today, which reads can food, whether it be cooking or eating, be a spiritual experience, what do you think Lee is that Korean fried chicken going to be a spiritual experience?

Speaker 2:

It probably will be. And, and there is something about, well, I will, I will preface this and say that I have a very complicated relationship with, I suffered from an eating disorder when I was younger and didn't eat a lot. But growing, growing up, enjoyed food and went to high school. And at my highest, I was like 2 80, 2 85 . And then I dropped a hundred pounds in high school. And that's where food became kind of the enemy for me for awhile . And I almost lost, I've lost too much weight. And so for that, it was, I feel like I grew as a person in that kind of experience when it came to food that changed a lot of my, you know, my relationship with my body and how I perceived myself and kind of coming out of that was also a spiritual experience. But when it comes to eating food and cooking, I do think there is something very spiritual about like the communal aspect of food being able to kind of nourish one another or nourish ourselves. Yeah. It's , it's interesting because speaking of food, every time I eat before this, I get burpy . So anyway , um,

Speaker 1:

I saw you taking a swig of that. Uh , was it diet Dr. Pepper?

Speaker 2:

That was a diet, it was a Coke zero , um, from whole foods , which doesn't make it any better, but , um, and we are not sponsored by them by the way. But , uh, when we went to the market, one of the main things I wanted to find during this , this season are butter beans. I love butter beans and I loved, I loved them because of the taste. But I also remember one of the few memories I have of my mother, of my, of my grandmother and great-grandmother is the , the butter beings they used to cook and they would get like a ham Hawk and fat back and put it in there and let it just kind of cook all day and it'd be so good. And I cooked it last night kind of the same way. And just those memories as well. I think food can like still connect us to like the spirits of our ancestors. And there's so many books about that, but I, I do think, yeah, like even just the taste and food, the new experiences that are had, there is something about, I mean, people have been eating together for centuries and there's a reason behind that and it connects you with other people. So,

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And I want to go back to what you started off with talking about having at one point a troubled relationship with food, because I think actually a lot of people in our lives, we have maybe kind of a complicated or questioning or troubled relationship with faith as well. Now, is it always necessarily the same types of ways that we have trouble with food? No, but just that sort of the fact that it's like you go on a journey that at times where you're like, you really are feeling it and you feel like you understand. And then other times where you're maybe not quite as with it in the way you'd like to be, whether that be by choice or by just circumstances, you know, it happens. And so I appreciate you bringing that up and I totally agree that one of the great things about food, like church or this spiritual experience, you can experience it alone, or it can be experienced with others. You can cook it yourself, or you can cook with others, you can eat by yourself or you can eat with others. And something that's really unique about food is that it can be about reflection or contemplation. Some people get a lot of, sort of almost like therapy, or I think maybe it's kind of cathartic to like sit there and cook something for oneself. They really appreciate that, but it's also about creation. You're taking something and maybe you're making some new you're adding to it. And that's something that I feel like we do in our spiritual lives as well. We're trying to figure out how do we add this, or how do we add to it if we give it enough time to simmer and, you know, become the right , uh, for lack of better word, do you want it medium rare? Do you want it rare or do you want it medium? Well, what is the right way that we want to be experiencing our spirituality and spirituality frankly, is also about giving and receiving, and food is very much about giving and receiving as well. And so I think that there's a lot, lots on pack there , um, about the relationship between food and spirituality.

Speaker 2:

And it's like, it's all in scripture, like food is everywhere. And I mean, and we have the last supper and I'm pretty sure there, wasn't just Brad there. I think in order to have a supper, you have to have a little bit more than just bread. But I do think that it is something that is very, it's integrated in our, in our faith and in our traditions, it's integrated into many faith traditions. I mean food. Uh, I worked at a kosher restaurant for three years. I managed it for two years and I learned a lot about the integration of like the Jewish fate and food. And there's also for our Muslim siblings. There is a food integration into that experience and what you know, that, that, that kind of dictates what is what you eat and how it's cooked and how it's prepared. And that's all about that in that tradition. And so I think in the realm of all of it, and then when we think about growing things or how are , how animals are treated and , and all those kinds of ways that kind of it's that things happen before it hits the table or before it really kind of goes into the home, like, what are those types of conversations that also are integrated into a person's spiritual experience in life? I think it is just one of those things that we all, because all humanity has to do it like you, like we have to eat and the order to nourish our bodies. And so it does connect us in that way, but it is also something that kind of differentiates us as well, that certain, certain places in the world and certain cultures and experiences have different ways of preparing food in different, different way, different types of food that is eaten even in the U S I mean, geographically, it's very, very different. I mean, one of my friends from the Midwest, or they used to eat like pasta and mashed potatoes, there was like a , it was like starch on starch and they kind of just blew my mind and it's like gravy on top. And so it all depends on like, and they also like, you know, like I'm obviously from the south where there , a lot of things are deep fried and , um, but also we're a lot of things are grown and we always ate vegetables. And I met someone here in DC and they were like, it was somebody at the GM here. And they were like, I really don't eat vegetables. And I was like, how do you not like, what does that mean? And , um, and so it is just very contextual too . So yeah, I think all around, how do we deeply deep, deeply think about food and where it comes from and how it affects us

Speaker 1:

As someone who is the , uh, who has close relatives, who are , uh , really into plants and trees and agriculture , um, and who liked to garden and grow at least, you know, some vegetables or fruits on their own. I think that, like you said, where it starts, where it comes from, where it goes, how we use it, who gets access to it, who in terms of food justice as well, if we want to go, you know, this is a matter of faith and we know everything's a matter of faith in this case. So, but yeah. Thinking about who has access to the things that are cooked or to the plants, the food, the crop that we plucked from the ground, something else to think about folks. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

So I'm thinking about, well, here's another thing to think about, and this is this, this is part of, one of the, the intense conversations Simon and I had beginning of this, but it has to do a little bit about the Olympics, but it's also a little bit more broader than that. So we got the question and every time the Olympic games roll around, there is a decision about how expensive it is to host the Olympics and the toll it takes on the hosting city and country. Is it worth it? When does something become too costly to be worth the pride of hosting such an event further? Have you seen faith communities have similar discussions about their own events and how to manage the cost? Oh my God. But I'm a last time and go for it.

Speaker 1:

Well, first of all, I think, you know, this question is this person asking this question is correct. I mean, there's always an article in a variety of magazines or newspapers talking about just how expensive the Olympics are to host and how there's the amount that is projected or budgeted for a games to costs . And then there's how much it actually costs because there are things that people don't think about. Um , and there's the fact that sometimes you are going to a host city may build a stadium just for the Olympics. That then goes unused. That's a lot of money for like a week's or the views let alone other impacts to the local economy. And I think that this is in some ways applicable to sort of faith communities, because I think that sometimes we don't often recognize how costly something is until after the fact we look back and we say, oh man, that was a lot, you know, and it doesn't even need to be necessarily money. It can also be time. It can be resources, it could be man manpower. And that there's often a difference between projected costs and expenses compared to the actual cost of doing something. And I think in the church, sometimes it's easy for us to say, you know, go big or go home, or, well, we've always done it this way. So that's how we're going to keep doing it. But the reality is that we don't keep doing it that way. And the same way that I think the Olympics could figure out probably a more sustainable model that is not quite as expensive to a host. Um, and that doesn't impose such a burden on the country or city that is hosting it. If you want to get really specific in terms of like church context , I have been to churches where coffee hour is like a production. I mean, there's, there's so many things available. There's different types of coffee and there's many different kinds of donuts and there's, there's just like this spread. And then at other places it's a little more simple and that's fine. Every place is allowed to do as much or as little as they want, but sometimes I wonder, you know, do we need to always go big in order to do the thing I'm not convinced that we always need to, and we should just be mindful of the way that we spend our money and our resources and our time. What do you think where

Speaker 2:

I have a lot of thoughts. I agree with you on all the things that you said. I'm definitely one that , that always is simpler as better, because I think in many ways, the Olympics is a little different in that, you know, there is a lot of, there is kind of this competitiveness within the Olympics. It's like, will the next city like top what the other city did and when it comes to the opening ceremony and things like that. And , and I also on , I mentioned that many of many times within these types of decisions within the Olympic committee, the community and the town what's in kind of suffers for it, you know, like buildings are being built and people probably aren't getting paid, what they should be getting paid. And the whole city just kind of has to kind of morph around something that is such a big, you know, thing to kind of make happen. And so I wanted to say that in that many of these decisions do affect the people that are within the context of where these places are going, or the events where they're going, and we've had this, I mean, there remain discussions within the denomination about GA and this like, and other events that we've had nationally, like it's the cost or what we put on the responsibilities of the presbyteries of where we're going. Is it, does it, you know, does the benefits, or does the benefits outweigh the cost ? And usually it is very expensive to hold big events and , and there may not be some money in certain presbyteries and all this kind of stuff. And we've seen primarily because of the pandemic, you know, GA is going virtual. And so that kind of sets it , that kind of creates a whole different demographic when we're talking about events. But I do think that we still have to have conversations about virtual things, what an spaces, because it may be cheaper and he might can do more to get people together very easily. But I do think it takes a lot more work for the people who actually can do that work to make it happen. And in many conversations that I have had, you know, with the events, you have vision casters, and you have people who want to think big, but when it comes to making it happen, how are, how are like people communicating and the people who are making these things happen? I always think about it. I mean like construction workers with the Olympic games, if an architect is creating this thing, that is absolutely so convoluted and complicated and whatever that has all these ideas, usually a contractor or that that knows how to build will come in and be like, nah , that's not going to happen. And usually the people who are building the buildings are building it probably up until like the week it happens. It is just like basically killing themselves to make this happen. And that happens all the time. That happens, not just in building work, that happens with everything that , that a vision is cast and the people who can make it happen are relied on almost too much to make it happen. And so I do think what is, how are we communicating is also a big thing that I have seen in fate communities when it comes to big events like this. And , and that also wonder about like the , the question of, is it worth it, you know, like, well, that just depends on what is your ideas of success for an event. And there has to be some form of measurement, but I'm never sure like what that will be. And so there also is a balance of, you know, do you want to put in all your resources and work yourself silly for something that may not produce what you think is going to, so I think it's just all about the sermon. And I think the church is asking itself a lot of these questions right now, and I hope that in responding to those questions, the people who are living into producing the stuff and creating the stuff are also listened to as much as the ones casting the vision speaking. And honestly speaking as someone who can, can make stuff happen. And so, yeah, I just wonder about all that.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I know that with this , uh, with this particular set of Olympics in, you know, one of the big things that's always going to be attached to the Tokyo games is that it took place during a pandemic during COVID. There were basically no spectators and Olympic games without live spectators. And to some people that is, you went to all this effort to bring these athletes, to do the thing. And then no one was able to be there to some people that may not have been worth it . On the flip side, you have athletes who trained so hard for this set of Olympics, only for it to be delayed a year to then say, okay, we need to stay in our competitive shape. We need to make sure that we are, we are peaking in terms of our fitness and our performance. Now, at this new time, they've put in so much work. Some of them probably really would have liked spectators, but for many of them, they just wanted the chance to compete and they got to compete. And from that perspective, it was worth it. I don't know, especially given, I know Tokyo has gone into lockdown multiple times throughout , uh , before after, and maybe even during the Olympics. And so there's all these questions around, you know, people coming in, people coming out and, and what that meant in terms of the spread of COVID and COVID concerns. So, yeah, like you were saying, it depends on who you ask about whether it was successful or not. And I think that, you know, a question that , that Lee and I have talked about before, is this question around , uh, just because we, well, not a question, but more of a thought that just because we can't mantra, just because we can doesn't mean that we should. And I think that that's a , that's something for people to think about is we could do this. What should we, what is the cost involved? What is the benefit involved? And again, you don't, you can't always map everything out perfectly. There's always costs that you can't see, there's always consequences that you can't see, there's also benefits and side effects, or that come out of doing something that you can't foresee either, but still just making that, that sort of calculated decision. And so I'm curious to see for the Olympics moving forward, if that ever changes, maybe they say, Hey, one city is hosting it for many years and then another city hosts. I don't know. I did read that the , uh, the number of applicants in terms of cities to host the Olympics is going down probably because it's so expensive and so much work. And I think that that speaks volumes to how much it costs to actually put the games together. And so, yeah, for folks in the pews and congregations and leadership and the church, just be thinking about how much does it cost or how much could it cost and should you do it only, you can figure out the answer to that. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

And not just costing money, time, talents, energy, because I do think in any decision, the ramification, the , that my grandmother always said choices , consequences, and she never, she never put a positive or negativity in that. Like, whatever you choose, there's going to be, there's going to be consequences, not only within, you know , the creating of the event, but the after effect, what is going to , what are, what are, what is going to happen with people that, that helped do it, or the people that received this, like, or went to this event or washed it, or, you know, there's, there's going to be like a protruding kind of consequence and aura there. And that's also something that I think about, and the people that are relied on to do the work, will their energy be able to get replenished. And sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it will. And sometimes after arrest, it will do so, but there's also the energy, not only physically, but also mentally and the motivation, the, and all this other kinds of thing that I think we should also talk about. So there are choices and consequences to things. And how are we really coming to terms with that as well, specifically in faith communities. So joining us today as our special guest is Reverend Shelvin Smith madder , who is a mission co-worker and South Sudan. And we are so grateful and blessed to have you with us to answer one of our questions that our guests have sent us in. So welcome to the podcast. Thank

Speaker 3:

You so much. My brothers, the honor to be here.

Speaker 1:

And so Chavez our question for you today is, well, it's not a simple one. The question reads, how can we, as Christians work for peace and communities, we are not a part of how do we walk the delicate line between trying to support peace and reconciliation amongst communities we are not from, or that we are not directly connected with, but without imposing our own ideas and values on their peace process of us. I know that's not a , like I said, not a simple question, but you do have some experience working in peacebuilding and peacemaking and South Sudan. What do you have to say? And , uh , as a response to this, this question,

Speaker 3:

I think the fill in the blank answer would be very thoughtfully in regards to how you do it. I think the essay by the fill in the blank answer would need to acknowledge that we as Christians exists in a current space and a historical space that particularly as people who served or serving in mission exists in a space that has many highlights, that we sitting knowledge, blessings, and gifts that have come from the long standing histories of mission coworkers in the past. And those stories need to be told. And at the same time, there's an underbelly to the history that we myself. Um , the denomination is a part of that, that certainly comes with levels of harm that have been present as mission missionaries, both historically when, when expansion was done for , uh , countries that were expanding themselves in colonial hemp enterprises, not only use their militaries, but they also use social anthropologists and not only social anthropologists, but also missionaries to be able to do reconnaissance, so to speak on the communities there, to be able to gain further insight so that they might be able to advance particular agendas that weren't so much central on the gospel, what were central and on the format of empire and the increase of empire. And not only do in doing that, a part of that framework led to a particular type of Christian tradition that, that unfortunately invalidated other cultures and contexts. And , and it can be argued also rubbed up against the models that we found in scripture, because scripture, oftentimes we saw this, this tension that folks like the apostle Paul had to deal with and, and figuring out how do we, in a particularly whether there's a Jewish context or a , um , a greasing context, how do we present this understanding of faith in ways that feel, that resonate with the context and the culture there in ways that we can infuse all of these things and, and clean , there certainly are examples within our missionary history in which that model wasn't embraced, but rather a model that demonized and orientalizing , other cultures and context . Now, all of that to say for anyone working in peacebuilding like myself, who is working on behalf of the domination with, with mission co with mission partners. There's not only the need to be aware of that, but, but to be thoughtful in how to re-engage in meaningful ways that acknowledges the good of the past, and also delicately deals with some of the problematic parts of the past. Let me take that further by giving some personal examples. I know that when my wife and I, who are initially like yourself, my brother Simon, initially when we went abroad, it was as young as to allowing two years , which is, I think one of the best kept secrets in this denomination. One of the jewels of our denomination and allows a young people opportunities to getting involved with the world is doing globally and domestically. Right? When we first did that as 20 something year olds, we, we went in wide eyed and excited about what we might be a part of in the world in reconciliation and peace building. And we certainly came in with what we understood from our perspectives of conversations in the U S conflict in the U S where conciliation in a U S lack of reconciliation and us , all those different things. But there was an immediate need when, when we landed in east Africa to realize there are times in which my perspective might be helpful, but there's plenty of times that I, as an American need to keep my mouth shut, right? It's not because I don't have value in this space, but to be very aware of, of the dynamics at play, the power dynamics that play the ways in which I might wheel those power dynamics as an American, as a male, as a clergy person, in a ways that that would be contrary to what my desire is. I can speak, speak , I could speak peace and spread harm at the same time, you know? Um, so, so, so being aware of some of those dynamics is incredibly important. And while doing that, being present in the context, the question is about being in spaces that aren't quite your own. So, so for us living in east Africa, and particularly for the majority of the time living in, in South Sudan, there has continuously needed to be the recognition on our part of we've come here at the, at the request of our partners, right? So it's an answer prayer to answer it requests that we're here. And at the same time, they've asked for us to bring our gifts and our skills. So that is important to do, but that has to be done with the understanding that I'm not going ahead of the partner. I'm not going ahead of south Sudanese perspective and thoughts. They're things that I don't know in my second year of being of living here, the things that I don't know, my fifth year of living here, the things that I don't know in my 10th year of living here, there's things that I pick up along the way that only come with time and my willingness to be silent and to take in what I , what I'm gathering.

Speaker 1:

I really like what you said, because you, you also delve deeply into, I think what people struggle with often around trying to unpack what it means to witness what it means to be in solidarity with a community, but what it means to be an ally with the community. But the fact is that that is never entirely clear. It's very easy to think that it implies always doing, but it also involves listening. And as you said, it involves sometimes just keeping your mouth shut and learning so that then you can figure out how you can be useful at the invitation of the community that you, that you have become a part of.

Speaker 3:

Part of that is having clarity as to what my, our particular purpose is within that space. Now, let's, let's talk concrete example. I've served as the principal of the reconcile piece as a tube for several years in South Sudan. And the reconcile piece has to talk to as a part of one program , uh, and the larger organization reconcile international, right? This is a south Sudanese organization created by church leaders in South Sudan to address the issue of conflict and trauma that are rolled from the ongoing civil war there. And for those who don't know, South Sudan was a part of sedan . And as the largest country in Africa had the longest standing civil war in Africa, expanding across the several decades until the point in 2011, when there was a referendum. And those were in the south , um, voted to separate themselves from the north and South Sudan all at once became the newest nation in the world. And at the same time, one of the poorest nations in the world, one of the least educated nations in the world. And so on at least develop nation in the world, so on and so forth, right. Um, while that was happening, the reason that all of those things happened was because you had this concentrated, critical mass of people who were black Africans in the Southern part of South Sudan, for religious reasons, political reasons, ethnic reasons who had been , um , disproportionately exposed to violence from their neighbors in the north and an oppression from their neighbors in the north. For those reasons, political, ethnic, religious reasons, as well as some others and the church leaders there, the south Sudanese church leaders said enough is enough. Enough is enough. How do we fairly and appropriately engage the challenges within our nation in ways that are transformative. And they created this organization reconcile to be able to support the peace-building work that was already going on on the ground to make sure that peace builders who are doing the work might have added skills given to them by some of the training that this indigenous organization might do in places where, where communities were in conflict with each other, but they'd be desired, a new cultural mediator when invited, they would bring in reconcile to help in the mediation, right? For communities that had owned the gone all matters of , of tragedy and trauma, when desire, they would bring in reconcile to do counseling with those survivors of war, right? So this is this amazing vision, right? This inspiring vision that's been created by south Sudanese for south Sudanese issues. And while they were doing that, they said , this is our vision. We're going to do it, but please can you send some help and support to , to walk alongside ciders and the Presbyterian church and his longstanding a hundred plus year partnership said will support, how, what do you need? How can we walk with you? Our siblings in South Sudan? So good on the PCUSA for his willingness to do that. Right? And a part of that was sending some individuals to be able to live with, serve with work with some of our south Sudanese colleagues for, for a , um, for a period of time and the creation of this peace Institute. Right? So my role there in light of this larger conversation going on between the denomination and partners wants to come in and to be able to empower my wife, to be able to draw from our experiences in ways that were helpful and in line with the vision that was there. Now, what that's great that the institutions have had their conversations is great, that there's this radical community between siblings there and siblings here, but at the same time, the way this lived out day by day is a delicate process where any American person in that space, there is a need to be able to hold strongly to what we understood as the ethos of that community, right? To recognize that no, we're not bringing our own vehicle in and we drive it. And then our colleagues kind of walk their own way. If there's a vehicle for the compound, then we all share it, right? Like it meant that if we were, if, if the executive director was eating something and the guards were eating something, then we ate the same thing. Right. And it meant that there was a constant sense of us both dying . Maybe it's too strong of a term, but relinquishing the things that were most familiar to us in the past, right? From the context in which we came from, and at the same time, holding strongly to the values that we bring to that space that we do think are important. Right. And I , and I want to make sure that I'm acknowledging that as well, because for any, any person who's serving abroad, doing peace , building work and engagement, there is we don't go in and simply as clear, like white boards cleared all the way out with no particular value system of our own or understandings or design , like, but thoughtfully discerning, what are the things that need to be released? Because I am in this space, right? I , I, I simply won't be able to have this meal. I simply won't be able to have this evening , uh , activity. I simply won't be able to have whatever it is, fill in the blank, because in this space, this is what is most important for myself. So the knees sit siblings here, and I want to be as much as possible in solidarity with that. And at the same time, trying to find out the balance of what are the issues of justice that I will hold on to in this space that are meaningful . I'm going to pause there because I think there's probably some good kind of follow up about kind of the start of where we are in the conversation. I ,

Speaker 2:

I keep thinking back toward the language of like, there is a balance, but also the language of it seems to be there in order to do this work. There also needs to be a big self-awareness and self-reflection and inner work that needs to be done. And I, and I, and I also think like specifically for the Presbyterian church is a largely white denomination. And I think a lot of white people are asking questions when it comes to mission engagement and things like that. And it does take white people need to do their work before. I mean, to , to dismantle like systems of racism and white supremacy in our own lives. And I keep thinking about like, you had that balance of that inner work and this value system that, yeah. Like, I like what you can't just go in like a clean slate and not have any kind of, you know, value for your, like, for you and like the organization. And, and I wonder what are some, yeah, I was wondering what are some kind of like, practical, like ways people can kind of prepare themselves. I was a young adult volunteer too, and I wish that, you know, I was domestic, but there was a lot of things I wished that I had kind of like prepped myself for and like, maybe did some things beforehand, like maybe like to diminish, like what you were saying, like this, this, like, wide-eyed like, we're going to go change things and like all this kind of stuff. And so I wonder about that too. You know ,

Speaker 3:

I think there there's work that we all have to do. I want to , I want to affirm the point that you're making of other white siblings who have been steeped in a tradition that's disproportionately affected people of color. I think what you're saying is, is a fair analysis. And it's something that our denomination is grappling with. The world. Mission is grappling with , um , the world council of churches is grappling with, right? So, so that certainly is, is not anything to be hidden nor ignored. And there's a lot of truth to be said to that. It is so yes to that yes. To the need, to acknowledge it. And yes, to, to the awareness that all of us have work that we need to do in those spaces. Right. My, my, as you all may know, I'm an interracial marriage. Um, so in going into that space, there was work that my wife, as, as a white female from the south, have a particular age and name the things that make up her profile right. Needed to do and being self-aware. And at the same time for myself as African-American particularly age coming from the south east and those different things in the U S that I needed to be aware of going to those spaces. And without some high level of self-awareness, we all do damage that is much more harmful than we intend or imagine , right. Because my starting, my starting assumption is, and it might be a naive one, but it's one in which I will offer for many people who are, who are doing that work abroad. Is there great intentions in going out into the world and being engaged in the world and great desire to be a part of positive change and at the same time, great intentions and great desires don't satisfy, right? The comprehensive nee to be able to carry out right. Significant change and transformation in the world. And transformation starts with ourselves. Right? The peacebuilding work that I love about reconcile is that it was a model that was developed , uh , like , uh , transforming leaders to transform their nation. Right? So the first thing when south Sudanese leaders, whether it's the chief of a particular ethnic group, whether it was the head of the police department was a Lieutenant in the military, whether it was a , a counselor in the schools, whatever the role that, that, that individual had in our first course, we did not start with the issues in our communities. We started with trauma healing. What had you gone through in your life? We started with self-awareness of your own particularities and allowed them to deal with both the brokenness that they exist in and to work in healing those spaces. And in doing those two things, they are better preparing themselves to do better work with other people. And without dealing with themselves first, they somehow short quit . They've done a shortcut in the process, right? They've they've not fully dealt with what they're asking others to do, and they skip the , a significant step in the greater process that's there. So I'm Lee . I absolutely agree with what you're saying and the , and the need to be able to grapple with it. I think the other point that you made was how do we do it? I I'll say this. Um, I , um, there've been many times in which I've been incredibly grateful when I think about the orientation that, that was experienced , that both I and others who were kind of in my cohort experience with the denomination , when I, when I recognize what that was in comparison to other people , serving ambition , right. And kind of the need to grapple with all sorts of things, both of situationally, how do you deal with it with the , I remember thinking like going through a situation where they say, if you're held hostage, what are the things that you need to know about in those particular situations? We thought, man , what's that going to happen? Like what we were going through, all of the particular scenarios that might unfold. And at the same time, it's fair to say, as an American, going into this space, like there are questions that are being had, but between you and the staff, the staff members who are all a part of the indigenous community, are you speaking first? Are you over, are you allowing voices to be heard? Are you lifting up other voices or , or , or, or feeling the space with your own way ? Like, those are things that are important as well. And as proud, as grateful as I am of some of the things that were offered from the denomination, I'm also a huge component of good, better, best, never let it rest of your good is better. Your better is best. Which means we don't, we don't re we don't rely on, okay, we've gone this far. We say, no, the call that we have that's all, all of this faith tradition is, is a perfection. Will , it would be attained , not probably till we get outside of heaven, but in the meantime, doing the very best we can, which means how do I treat the least of these quote, unquote, how do I love in ways that feel meaningful, impactful to my neighbors? How do I love my neighbor as myself? You don't like all of those kinds of key themes that are, that are thread throughout the biblical texts . Like how has that, like practically lived out in our lives when we're serving other space. And I just want to , I want to say this. When , when we arrived in, in, in South Sudan, truth, be told, I am certain that there was a mix between those who we lived with in some of those who looked at us with the lens of suspicion, who do they think they are? Maybe do they think they're going to come in and change the way that we do simply because they're American? Like who are these? You know, like I , I'm certain that there's a lens of suspicion that some of our colleagues looked at us with and others who came in and said, here you come, you bring us some answers. You bring us some money. You bring us some resources. Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on. Right. So between that pendulum swing that, that we experienced in those spaces, and we're at the same time, trying to figure out for ourselves, who do we need to be in this space? Like, we recognize that for those who, who questioned us, either because of who we were, or the history that we specked into, which I think is a fair criticism, we didn't have any street cred. We didn't have , we hadn't gained any kind of respect until several years into the process. And it wasn't just the several years of happening, but it was the first, the first Christmas, when we heard that soldiers were being mobilized to make their way into our town. And other people started to kind of pack up their bags and leave off, including the stop . Some are social needs siblings. And they say , well, where are you going to go? And we say , we want , we're going to hang out with , well , we'll see. And after that time passed , right. When we were willing to stay in that space, right. And then times passed in which, you know, you all have been , I don't my, I realized for Yas , each of the experiences are different and permission, coworkers experiences different. Um, my experience has been , um , dealing with sickness every, every, every couple of months. Um , there's just a level of sickness that I'm going to deal with. We , we, at this point, our family has gone through rickettsia brucellosis, tick fever. I've had malaria several times been hospitalized for several times, right? Like all these different things that we've gone through and, and a part of gaining some street credit . And I'm just being really, really honest about it was with those in the community, recognizing when the going got tough, we didn't just give a peace sign and leave out. Right. And I, and, and that was the building of a sort of mutual appreciation trust with each other, that we are in fact, all in this together. Now the caveat to this, I want to make sure I'm naming this really well. Is that, that that type of solidarity is not a, a , um, a decision process that always swings on the side of living in danger, Lea leaning into danger, because there were plenty of conversations with our colleagues in which we together had to discern whether we would leave out or not. And there were several occasions in which we evacuated out with south our colleagues together. Right. So, so also want to make sure that that's clearly heard that, that, that this process is one in which we're all trying to figure this thing out. And we're trying to figure it out together, trusting our partners. I had to , we had to trust ourselves when these partners, one of the times when we were evacuated, when they said, when I was executive director said, I ain't going back in to do some of the work. Shelby said , Nancy, the best thing that you can do right now is to go back and speak, go back and advocate, go back and raise support for us. And we argued about that. We went back and forth about that, but at the same time, again, needing to yield to what the partners are saying in that space. There are times in which we quote unquote, toughed it out together at times in which we were , um, in which we evacuated yet . And there times in which we had to figure through and when left up to, with what the final decision was needed to yield ourselves to their perspective. And I'm grateful for that wisdom and times in which we rejoined to continue, continue to work.

Speaker 1:

I just really appreciate that you described the importance of the building of the relationship and the sort of , um, the demonstrating a strength of , of commitment, but not just demonstrating a sense , a strength of commitment for the sake of doing it, but doing it in conversation and in dialogue and in community, and not just doing something to show, oh yeah, we can tough it out. No, it's we want to be here and we genuinely want to want to be here in the way that you want us to be, or to not be here and to be serving in the way that will be most helpful in this particular context and in the particular situation. Yeah. I just think it's funny that you brought up people being sick. When I served as a young adult volunteer in Korea, I didn't experience this quite as much, but I definitely had a lot of fellow yaps who were sick throughout at least the first couple months that we were there, just because of the change in diet and other things. I mean, thankfully no one was hospitalized or experienced some of the things that, that you had to go through Chavez , but yeah, recognizing that folks will experience different things in different places. And again, it's all about being in conversation and in community with , with the folks that you're serving with and trying to serve alongside.

Speaker 3:

And I had two other practical pieces that go along with this. Um, if you, so, so w when I, when I arrived in yea South Sudan, and, and I was told in, in three months, this peace Institute is going to be restarted again. Right. And , um, and I thought to myself, okay, where are the list of people who you've reached out to before the organizations that you've been engaged with? You know, what's , um, what are the modalities to be able to get the communication out? Who are the, you know, who are the instructors that are coming in? I recognize from that point, and it continued to now of when, when my colleagues shared with me, well, I mean, we , we got 17, 18 hours a day with no power, right? So, and so that means for many of our colleagues and other spaces, they're not going to have an email to receive this, this invitation. Anyway, we found a way to be able to pass these from, from this group, to this driver, to this taxi cab driver, to you get it to this person. And it makes it to the space to get it across the nation. And that type of innovation that was already present there, although it was foreign to me, it was familiar to them. Right. So for me to be able to say, you know what, just because I don't know how you've done. It doesn't mean that you haven't done it in a really powerful ways. So let me yield to be able to see how you've done this here. Here's a better kind of example of it because we've had to start and stop so many times because of conflict and war coming into our town. It can certainly be unnerving . It can certainly be the subsidy and education and peace project. One of the, of the Presbyterian church, one of the things that it offered was the creation of new dormitories. So we can have more women's coming in. It offered a , um, a classroom so that we would be able to, to have , um, education, not just for the mission coworkers whose kids were there, but for the south Sudanese staff, who've been without their family for such a long period of time because of the violence that they can actually bring their families to that space. So the kids can have a strong education, as well as the students coming, they were going to be able to provide new eating resources, all these different things, and this work was done. And then fighting came in and the bricks and mortar that was being brought in the grants that were being written in one moment. All of that stuff felt like it ended in one moment, the strategic plan, the year, the process , it felt like everything just bam in a moment, stopped on the down and there's a need to pivot. And while it was maybe the first time for me meeting to pivot, it was not the first time for someone my age in South Sudan who had, who had probably been displaced three or four times in their lives, right. With an org within an organization that has, that has gone through periods of time in which it was based across the border in Uganda for periods of time made his way into South Sudan, with things came more stable, went back to Uganda. They know how to be fluent in those spaces in ways that I didn't understand. And it was once again, just recognizing it, there are things that will be new to me that will be familiar to, to, to my siblings there. So there's always a need to say, how do I surrender in this space to the wisdom that's around me, you know, and just kind of take that stuff in, in ways that can be helpful as we're going forward. And the way that's played out, the way that's played out is that even the work on the ground has looked different from year to year. There was a point in time as pressed where the reconcile peace Institute in which my main focus was the recruitment of students, right? The recruitment of instructors, being able to build, to be able to, to, to draw in and , um, other partners to be able to do this work in a development of curriculum. That was kind of the focus of what I was doing saying, how do we expand this from this peacebuilding Institute that is working with these three states in South Sudan, mostly how do we expand it so that it's touching on leaders from each, each of the different states in South Sudan, as well as the refugee camp who had the conversation that we need to be with. And that was that it was something that was being done in conversation with our, you know, the other south Sudanese team members. There are subsidies board of south Sudanese executive director. At the same time, there was a pivot that needed to happen when probably seven or eight years into that process where the staff reconciled needed to bide itself up and some would remain there in kind of the, the hotspots of violence and others would go across the border to , to Uganda and work with those in the refugee camps and do the trainings with some of the alumni of the peace Institute and to carry it out in the local languages. Right. So, so there was a pivot that I needed to make, not because it was my desire to move to another place, but that was the call and the request of the partners. Right. You know, so, so that happened for a period of time. And even now, as you and I are in conversation, my brother, you know, that in a few weeks out, I'll , I'll be leaving to go to the United Kingdom, where there, there was a new collaboration that was developed for reconcile that would allow for research to be done on issues of conflict in South Sudan, that's allowing for curriculum to be developed for building work in South Sudan. And so, so I have the opportunity to great honor and opportunity. It's crazy to even say it out loud, to be able to be able to go to Oxford for a couple of years and to, to be able to connect with some great minds from across Africa and other parts of the world are doing peace building work in policy and the academy and these other spaces to be able to do not just research on it, but also to try to meaningfully develop some curriculum that can be helpful for, with the hopes that there can be a bigger footprint for peace, recognizing what are, what are my south Sudanese colleagues recognizes ? Okay, there's, there's a time in which we're going to do the work on the ground. And if we have a couple of dozen people doing it, that's really important and good, but if we can develop some curriculum that can be used by hundreds of other people or thousands of Harvard , many other people, then there's even greater imprint that we can do. And it's that nimbleness that comes from just being in conversation with ourselves to these partners, and then figuring out how to best move forward. It's been, it's been like this amazing ride, this amazing adventure where things have shifted as they needed to shift . You know what I mean? Not so much as we plan, but at the same time, in my particular role, as, as someone who's excited about peace building , who's excited about reconciliation. Who's had experience in different contexts, but at the same time, recognizing that my purpose in his face is to be supportive, what reconcile international USA and my social needs colleagues were saying. So how do we mindfully go about this process?

Speaker 2:

Elvis, we are so grateful for the work that you are doing. And we are. So we hope that people who are listening and who want to go into this kind of work and who are doing, or exploring maybe the AF program where we might have to put the link out there for that can really take away all that was said today, because it is, it is the ability to pivot and the ability to listen and be ability to, I heard like moving with the spirit in there to like really feeling where the spirit is leading. And I hope that, yeah, I hope that people listening will really think more deeply about what it means to do this type of work. So thank you for, thank you for being with us

Speaker 3:

Honor, an absolute,

Speaker 4:

Absolute, absolute honorly . And I'm really thankful for the work that you all are doing the invitation to be a part of y'all's podcast, man. So blessings, blessings, blessings to you.

Speaker 2:

So we are going to switch to our resource Roundup segment and thank you again, shelving for joining us this week, we are going to be highlighting two things that the Presbyterian church has sent out, you know, in the past, and also has sent out this week. So the first thing that we're going to highlight is the office of public witnesses, action alerts. And if you're not signed up to those, you can go on the website pcusa.org and just search for , uh , office of public witness to sign up for those action alerts. But this week, the action alert was sent out about the decision in Texas, the anti-abortion laws that are being signed and also being talked about in other states. And there's action alert really does ask the church, which has policy. And we'll get to that in a minute to call your senators, call your representatives, to speak out against this very dangerous law that is being passed in order to really take away a woman's or a person's right to choose, and it takes away reproductive health. So that's the first thing. So sign up for those. And then also we wanted to highlight, so the Presbyterian church has policies around this. You may not know that you may not know this, but the Presbyterian church has policy around reproductive health. This policy was written in 2012, and it's called on providing just access to reproductive healthcare . And in this policy, the Presbyterian church is saying that it is pro choice . It is saying that there is, we should not have limits to access to abortions. We should expand reproductive health and the right for people to have this health care and do it affordably. And also it does say that we should really be having these conversations in churches. We should not be having laws that will harm people who are making tough decisions. There should not be vigilante laws , uh, when it comes to the reproductive health of people. And so the Presbyterian church has policy on this. And so if you want to look that up, we'll put those links in the show notes, we'll link this to the policies in which you can read yourself and start having conversations with their churches, call your senators. We'll link the action item as well, and you can sign up for those. And so again, the action item from OPCW, which is our office of public witness and the policy of the church on providing just to reproductive healthcare , read it, learn about it, educate you people. So check it out.

Speaker 4:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

This has been the matter of faith podcast brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and Unbound. If you would like to submit a question for discussion, you can do [email protected] , we look forward to hearing from you, see you next time. See you next time.

Speaker 2:

Y'all

Speaker 4:

[inaudible]

Speaker 2:

Thanks everyone for listening to episode 30 of a matter of fate , a Presby podcast , don't forget to follow, like or subscribe using your favorite podcast platform.

Speaker 1:

And Simon says, please give us a five stars. It really helps the podcast out, and it helps us keep bringing great content to you.

Speaker 2:

And if you have a question, send those questions in to faith [email protected] . We hope to hear from you real soon.