Amos, Buses and a YAV Year

Amos was both the best and worst Young Adult Volunteer.

He goes to faraway, unfamiliar land, Bethel, to prophesy about the social justice issues of his time, inequality and corrupt leadership.

The Young Adult Volunteer program sends people between 18 and 29 like me to far away from home national and international sites to work on a cause within the wider umbrella of social justice – the environment, gender equality, racial justice, homelessness, etc.

Even at the height of his work, he does not abandon his background as a shepherd. If he’s anything like any of the YAVs, he never felt totally at ease with his call, while constantly questioning his lack of training as an outsider.

YAVs rarely really understand or completely feel at ease with our calls and constantly question our place. Is it alright to just be present and act as a window into the work of the church around the country? Aren’t we supposed to be speaking truth to power and “changing the world” like Amos?

If you read my blog, you saw those comments.

Amos is essentially the ultimate YAV because he faithfully accepts a call that he did not completely understand.

Admittedly, Amos’ particular call would make him a problem YAV. There is literally no tact to “Jeroboam will die by the sword” and that if things stay the way they are “And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.” YAVs are usually more subtle and the program certainly does not ask to emulate Amos.

Amos’ methods also remind me of the Joining Hands model, which I worked for in Peru. Joining Hands is part of Presbyterian World Mission with offices in Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Peru and other developing countries. In each country, the focus is to unite disparate NGOs and target the root causes of poverty. In the old “teach a man to fish” mantra, it’s like asking why all the fish are gone.

Joining Hands identifies local issues, like mining contamination and identifies ways to target those issues at the local level by informing people, national through laws, and international levels through trade deals and pressure on international (i.e. US-based) corporations. There’s a lot more I could say, so please ask me afterward.

Mainly, Amos serves as a nice reminder of what it means to be a YAV. But he’s not the most concrete reminder in the last week.

Friday night, I was brought right back to Peru. I wasn’t conversing in Spanish. Nor was I eating cuy. I certainly wasn’t gasping for air at 16,000 feet or shepherding around an eager, well-intentioned but absent-minded pack of Presbyterians visiting Joining Hands.

I was waiting for a bus scheduled to take me hundreds of miles through the night… scheduled to leave two and a half hours before it actually did. Like in Peru, I could not understand the announcements garbled through the speakers. Just like in Peru, people stood and waited for a bus.

Now, even if you’re waiting for hours in Peru for a bus, people are generally pretty patient. But here? Not so much.

Then I missed my connection in New York. As I spent the night, shivering in the North Wing of the Port Authority while doors opened and closed all night, I was reminded of a trip from Huancayo to Lima. With everywhere closed but the unheated terminal situated at 10,692 feet over sea level, my supervisor suggested we arrive three hours early to wait for 11:00 p.m. bus. Which was late. And we almost missed because we couldn’t understand the garbled announcements.

Bussing was central to my YAV year. Really bussing is central to what I know of Latin America. When you’re priced out of air travel you take the bus and the bussing industry flourishes. Of course, the best and most exclusive bus in Peru is still 5 times cheaper than the worst bus I’ve ever taken, i.e. Friday night’s Greyhound. Latin America does bussing better.

For the Peruvians I met night busing is the preferred transport into the Andes. Sleep on the bus, show up for a meeting, sleep on your return journey home. You save on hotel fees and you put you wake up somewhere new.

So in the midst of Friday night’s misery, I was reminded of my travels in Peru. My first lengthy bus ride in Peru taught me about altitude sickness as I ventured to the small city Ayacucho where I would spend the next two months frustrated with my placement.

It was on a bus that Jenny and I ventured home after my first placement in Ayacucho fell apart in November. An outcome that I would process for the rest of my time in Peru and make me question whether I had a place in Peru.

And I remembered a plane and a car that took me to my first retreat with my fellow YAVs, AJ and Rachel. With them, I was able to share my pain, my guilt, and even my shame over my failed placement in Ayacucho. It was with the help of that community, a community that prayed for me by laying their hands on my shoulders, than I began a process of healing that would last months. Every time I think of the weight of their hands, I am reminded of the redemption of community.

Other bus trips brought me to different, but equally important communities. Each week an hour-long bus ride brought me to La Congregacion Cristo Rey, a Lutheran congregation that I attended with my host brother David. I started to play guitar there and attended the youth group on occasion. The congregation welcomed me, and trusted me, likely sensing my baggage. I took small steps and was slow to engage with people for almost three months, but still they welcomed me.

It was on buses that I ventured around the outskirts of Lima or to Huancayo or Huancavelica to meet with artisans and barely scratch the surface of their incredible stories through video interviews. (Sometimes we’d also take cars through herds of llamas and sheep.)

On several occasions I corralled packs of Presbyterians from bus to bus bringing them to see the scarred landscape and people of La Oroya, a product of centuries of poor mining regulation and placing profits over cleanup.

By the end I knew several roots on the dizzying bus “system” in Lima. I also learned to manage lengthy nocturnal bus trips.

More often than not though, you’d find me lamenting my struggles with the imperfect Peruvian bus system to whomever would listen. Until finally, a friend, called me out.

One day my host brother, his girlfriend, Lizbeth, and I waited for a bus to take us home from church. Eventually our bus came up and zoomed right past the designated stop without waiting – a regular, frustrating occurrence in Lima.

In that moment, I jokingly raised my head and cursed “Peru!” to which Lizbeth said, “No, Kyle. Es un bus.” “No, Kyle. That’s one bus.” And she was right. The moment passed, I apologized, but I was shaken by my dismissive, unhelpful anger.

Of course, I blogged about that moment, but more importantly I tried to take the chip off my shoulder. YAVs rarely feel completely at home in their host countries and that can come out in different ways. For me that meant scapegoating the country for my transit troubles. Public transportation is a complex and touchy problem for many Peruvians, especially in Lima. Petty insults like that only hurt.

Luckily, Lizbeth continued to be my friend. My host mother and brother started to make fun of me for it. That bus is full. “We’re in Peru.” Traffic makes me late to church. “We’re in Peru.” Kyle stubbed his toe. “We’re in Peru.”

Another great example of the redemptive power of community in my year. Even though I kept screwing up, and sometimes said hurtful things, my host family still managed to love me.

And then there’s the community I’m visiting today, coincidentally via bus. All of you here at Trinity. A community cannot thank enough for your unwavering support. Between the letters, emails, financial, Facebook messages, and candy, I was only better prepared to work through my year. So thank you.

Not only did you provide me with comfort and support, you have always pushed me to keep an open mind in life and specifically my year. It’s not like I have it all figured out, but I’m continually finding ways to lend my hands to environmental racial, and other justice issues. What I learned in Peru did not end because I left the country.

The Joining Hands model emphasizes international action in solving local problems such as what has happened with mining in La Oroya.  There is a petition started by the Joining Hands Network in Peru to push the state government to maintain regulations on mining operations in the area. If you’re interested in learning more and possibly signing it, let me know.

Even more concrete, consider fair trade organizations like Bridge of Hope when purchasing gifts for others this year. Maybe we could collectively purchase appropriate fair trade items for the adopt-a-family this year. I would be happy to coordinate that.

Or consider continuing to support the YAV program. With prayer, with funds, or if you’re 18-29 or no somebody in that group, consider taking a year.

Feel free to ask me more later. Just get to me fast because as may come as no surprise, I’ve got a bus to catch at 3:30.