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The Metaphor of Metamorphosis

By 2014 - Colombia No Comments

Colombia is a country that might best be described as “complicado.”

Having a population only slightly larger than Canada, it has a history that is criss-crossed by violent upheavals, an armed conflict that has lasted for almost a century and comprised of enough players to make your head spin.

Having coordinated with Mennonite Central Committee, our team of students and teachers have been almost two full weeks in the country, connecting with various partners of MCC who work in areas of aid, agriculture, psychosocial support, politics, and more.

Out of the many impactful experiences our crew has had on this trip, I want to highlight one of the days we spent with MCC’s partner, Sembrandopaz.


Sembrandopaz, which means “sowing peace,” works with four different communities in the Monterria and high mountain region.

We heard first from Ricardo Esquivia.

He unfolded for us a beautiful vision of supporting and strengthening communities, and he challenged us also, saying that the academic world was not created to deliberate amongst its own members, isolated, but that it was created to serve the community.

He talked about the history of the armed conflict, beginning with a period in the 1800s known as La Violencia and leading up to today. It is a hard road. There are many setbacks. At times it can seem hopeless to be an advocate for non-violence and justice. What is a human in the face of senseless violence? What is a mere body against the violent tide, a fragile body thrown against the rocks by a surging tide of power and elitism and violence.

He says that justice is a long endeavour, and that change does not happen overnight.

“We have visions, but we must have patience; we are dreaming of butterflies, but working with caterpillars”.


Later, we heard from Narciso, a campesino, or peasant farmer, who runs the Sembrandopaz farm outside Sincelejo.

He stood in front of a table covered in various fruits and vegetables that were produced on the farm, and proceeded to tell us his story.

He was a farmer and community leader in a town in another region of Colombia, and was targeted by a paramilitary group. He was attacked in his home and shot through the face and left for dead. Despite having to find a way to a hospital and losing immense amounts of blood from the wound in his jaw and throat, he managed to survive. He had a friend who happened to work for Sembrandopaz, and was offered a place to stay and work, and eventually became the farm manager.

As Narciso shared his story, talking about feeling helpless in a new place, useless without work, and hopeless as a result, he praised God and expressed his immense gratitude in being allowed to resume a life of dignity and meaning. For the campesino, working the land is their joy and their privilege.

As he spoke and shared his passion and his journey, the room seemed to change, in a way. I really felt that I was seeing the table of fruit in a completely different light; this was not just a pile of root vegetables; this was an altar of first fruits, the harvest of a holy profession.

Narciso held up a cluster of mangos and shared his appreciation for the simple fact of having grown them with his own two hands, something that cannot be measured or substituted. The land is his identity, and his connection to it was life-giving in a powerful way. and his belief is that tomorrow, or the very next day, he himself may be eating mangoes grown by someone else. We all need food, and he explained, saddened, that in the end, the campesinos are the true victims of the conflict and warring over drugs and land and politics, and this is a tragedy that affects the whole nation. Every Colombian needs to eat, and yet the campesino is often degraded and disregarded. His passion, resilient faith, and persistent hope were striking and beautiful to witness.

As he finished speaking, a butterfly came right into the cabana we were seated under, and flew around for the next fifteen minutes. It was a huge specimen, and we were all surprised and captivated by it’s graceful, unpredicable movement and curiously dull exterior, only catching glimpses of a brilliantly coloured interior wing pattern between wingbeats. We hadn’t seen any on the trip yet, and I felt that this was a beautiful symbol. This was one of the few people whose growth and restabilization have progressed enough over the time of their relationship with Sembrandopaz in which we were able to witness a more “butterfly moment” than we had yet seen.  As Ricardo said, we work with Caterpillars, but dream of butterflies.

I have high hopes for MCC and its partners as they continue to dedicate much time and heart to bringing new life and new possibility to communities that have been severely hurt by violence of the military groups, both systemic and chaotic.

Alan Sears managed to snap a photo, so I thought I’d include it.


Let it soak into your skin, further up and further in.

By 2011, Europe No Comments

In Europe, I encountered many different places that spoke to me and resonated with me. I felt often as though I was fulfilling some kind of sacred rite of passage.

Now, back home, I have begun to crave the places of worship.

Shouting their grandeur at tourists, while at the same time seeming to be quietly announcing their holiness.

They are often described as thin places, places in which the fabric that persistently separates the physical world we inhabit from the spiritual realm that exists in parallel to our own. In these places, that fabric seems to have been worn so thin by pilgrim feet and devoted knees, that it becomes merely a transparent membrane. I feel as though, if someone were to be on the other side, they could see the outline of my hand as I push through, like a restless baby still in the mother’s womb. If one were to put their angelic ear to that thin place, they could hear our oohs and aahs, make out our whispered prayers and stifled laughter, as we immerse ourselves in the Cathedrals and Shorelines.

Some time ago someone had a crazy idea about going to Europe, and this year my class and I enjoyed the fruits of those labours. It was well worth it. We planned, we scheduled and we went. It was excellent exposure, and none of us left without being impacted in some way.

We went as strangers, but soon became friends. I had a bone to pick with those narrow cobblestone streets. I loved the plants that spilled over the ornate balconies.

Sometimes we would glide, sometimes we would trudge, sometimes rushing, sometimes leisurely, some strutting, some trundling, in sickness and in health, in company of friends and by ourselves, with eyes wide, mouths open, sweat on brows, hands in hands, occasional tears in eyes, wine across tongues, and the corners of our mouths turned upward. Here, a discotheque; there, an altarpiece that shows what the Savior looks like for the every man. War is a wild danger and Patience is my stickman, but I am learning. If I could convey in a sentence all of what has happened, it would be tricky, but may look something like this: Europe isn’t everything, but at the same time, it’s quite something.



So I wash by hand…

By 2011, Europe No Comments

Traveling in a group is a very rewarding experience. I have had so much time to spend with people, laugh with people, and get to know the real side of them in a way I never would have otherwise if we hadn’t been squeezed together in our little ship of a bus on this sea of European cities.

I have taken, in my time here, to washing clothes by hand. It’s been a good chance to have a moment of peace during my constant flurry of activity, and I feel as if, for a moment, I am getting back to my roots – My ancestors probably didn’t have coin operated washing machines. The truth is that pilgrimage isn’t all fun and games and glamorous architectural marvels! Sometimes participant living requires mundane chores.

So I wash by hand, and naturally, have to wring the clothes out to minimize the drying time when they are hung outside on a line. It takes a great deal of work to squeeze out the water, though, and by the end of a load, my forearms are stiff and sore from so much concentrated effort. Sometimes it even takes two people for the bigger, heavier articles.

As we go, having a plethora of new and incredible experiences packed into the busiest, shortest two months of my academic career up to this point, I have a suspicion.

I suspect that, as I wash, I am echoing the greater experience of this European escapade in the difficult but satisfying task of doing laundry. In the same way that I want to squeeze every single drop of water out of my clean clothes, I want to be intentional about squeezing every ounce of meaning out of my traveling adventure. I seek to separate the wheat of observation and engagement from the chaff of self-absorption and the indiscriminate plodding along of an ignorant tourist. The longer I’m at it, though, the more tired I get and the more my emotional forearms ache. Sometimes, it even takes two people to process these things that are so much bigger than myself.

But it’s worth it! In the end. those mental and spiritual drapings are there now, clean and fresh, and ready to be drawn on for truth, context, maturity, interest, and possibly even some trendy European fashion statements.

Keeping washing, my friends. It’s worth it. (Trust me, not even a European wants to be naked ALL the time. )



By 2011, Europe No Comments

Tonight, in Assisi, I am contemplating peace and am overwhelmed by a sense of blessing, a new realization of the incredible gifts that God gives us, ones we are not deserving of in the least. Here is a little cross-section of my trip so far in poetics:


Triangles and tree trunks,
The perspective of a lifetime.
Tomorrow will be just like today,
except not at all the same, and quite thrilling.
Speedos on the beach,
It’s sunnier than it has been.
Everyone’s chillin.
Beers, frisbee, the roar of the nearby waves
breaking onto the beach
The Spaniards Dream


No self-respecting exploration of Italy is complete without ?Gelato, and we were fortunate enough to be in town for the Florence Gelato Festival!!! Madi, her friend Priscilla, and myself all loaded up our gelato sampling cards and went to town on those little guys!!! The flavors were exotic, and every bite as rich and fresh as the first. We discovered such whimsical flavours as mushroom, rosewater, ginger-pineapple (excellent), pear and red pepper, almond biscotti, and red wine! Delicious, one and all, but our collective favorite was a white wine and florentine cream, which was positively sublime. Food is one of the best ways to experience a country’s culture, and the Italians have stolen my heart by way of my tastebuds.


The Pantheon is currently an active church, and the following is a blessing that was displayed at the entrance as I was toured around Rome by Greg and Dan:

“I beg you, Mary,
Throw me a flower,
So that I may scent it’s perfume.
This is like the token of love
That made me suffer so.
Throw me your bouquet;
Not now and not ever
Will I be satisfied with you.”


I led a “gathering” time, in which a lone white bird made a conspicuous appearance, and Madi and I played and sang the song Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard. We added a verse, turning it into a prayer, and this remains my constant creed:

“Lord please meet us
We invite you
Let your will be done

Here today and
in tomorrow,
Keep and cover us”

This I also pray for you, dear reader.
Until next time,

I wonder if people could recognize me if all they saw was my hands?

By 2010, Asia No Comments
[- This was my last journal entry from the trip, although edited slightly and I thought it was fitting to share it in parting. I hope you have enjoyed our updates thus far, and that some of our “imperfect words” will have stirred you in some small way -]

The Sukhothai part of the trip was terririce. The ruins are so impressive, and one cannot help but wonder about the poeple who inhabited it and what they and their lives were like. We saw the hundreds of spiders that build their webs deep in the porous stones, towering stupas shaped like lotus buds, and some really awesome trees (yes, i climbed them – this is me we’re talking about). My goal is to have my backflip functional by Europe. That way, I’ll be able to flip off of all the most important monuments.

One of the very coolest things I’ve seen on the trip was a wat containing the Speaking Buddha. The story goes that a prince resisted the Burmese occupation of his city by hiding in the temple and climbing behind the massive statue, and tricking them. He shouted threats and warnings from behind the statue, in Burmese, while he had learned after being captured and enslaved when he was younger. We went inside and I could see that the whole building was designed for a voice to resonate, especially if it came from the area behind the head of the Buddha. Quite interesting.
Our guide told us that there are 38 points of difference between the human form and the Buddha, thereby making each statue into a representation of the Buddha as “a being unlike any other”. This is done to balance the feminine and masculine characteristics, and set him apart as special and unique amongst all religious figures. Personally, I find great comfort in the knowledge that Jesus was very much a human. Identifying with our savior is a powerful idea. Furthermore, I think the Christ figure is the most intriguing, complex, and revolutionary  figure ever, in any history or religion. Of course, this is because of my bias, which is finding my whole life and faith rooted in that person, but I still think it’s true. I want to know more of what he looks like. You know? I bet his hands were amazing to look at, strong and tanned. Jesus probably had wonderfully human hands. And so will I be, as part of his body – Fearfully and wonderfully human. And so is his desire for all people, to be alive, from Bangkok to Calgary, Kelowna to Manila, Chiang Mai to St. Stephen.

So be alive my friends.

Until Next Time,


By 2010, Asia No Comments

Parts of our lives exist only in pictures and symbols.

Thailand is a place on the globe in my home, or perhaps the inspiration for a flavor of curry some weekend. Filipino is a reference in a Black Eyed Peas song. Malaysia is a word on the label of my new t-shirt or on a sticker plastered onto the matching salt and pepper shakers I got my parents for Christmas. Really, though, these places are so much more!

Based on my own experience, I believe people need to engage their senses in order for something to become real to them. As I’ve been on the trip, the proximity and focus of living and learning forces oneself to acknowledge the reality of the people and places. It’s right in your face; it’s in sharp relief. I’ve been there, and some of you have been too, and know what I’m talking about. Others won’t be able to understand, because they have only read books and seen pictures of these places, but I have reached this conclusion: It’s tangible. Trust me.

Buddhism is real, the jungles are real, Thailand is real, Southeast Asia is real.

I have walked a small section of the streets, I have hiked a small portion of the landscape. I have experienced a meeting of minds with a breakdancing monk who articulated his religion for me in a way that was knowledgeable and concrete. I have engaged my being for a short while in what Asia means; What were only symbols have become tangible to me.

I expect that some things will fade away, in fact it’s inevitable. Familiar routine will seduce the weary traveler with a persuasive subtlety, events and facts will be less and less clear in memory. Despite this, I am determined to keep the integral parts intact and extract the precious from the insignificant.

I can only hope that every day back home I will be able to remember what resonated with me, and inspired me, and perplexed me, and changed the way I think the world works. I hope to continually forge anew the reality of Asia, not just as a foreign culture but for the lessons in living that apply to the whole of my life. Lessons like the inherent worth and dignity of every human, the beautiful variation of the global spectrum of art and opinion, the fact that a lot of ‘history’ depends on the person writing it and reading it, and the power of living peacefully.

If we meet face to face, ask me, and I will share a thought or two; I will paint a picture of my time here or I will explain a symbolic event. Until then, farewell.


Nakarin (Nygel)

Yo, imma put this up on the web, you cool with that, sugar bear?

By 2010, Asia No Comments

“I packed my bags; last night, pre-flight. Zero Hour. 9 am. And I’m gonna be Hiiiigh, as a kite, by then…”

But seriously folks, I’m talking about Pilgrimage.

It’s on my mind, on the tip of my tongue. I read pilgrim words when alone, I talk about it with my friends, in the classroom, in devotions, amongst devoted peers dedicated to breathing in the foreign sights. But not like tourists! Never like tourists.

See, anyone can travel. It takes a degree of awareness and effort to adopt a pilgrim posture, vs. the pretentious traipsing of people holding landmark checklists.

Forgive my paraphrasing.

It is a great challenge to avoid falling into a pattern of selfishness and consumption that is displayed by a tourist.

So, instead of seeking comfort, we seek experience. Instead of exotic familiarity, we explore the nooks and crannies, the foods and mentalities, we have never before encountered.

And as a group, it takes forgiveness to amend the inevitable, and deal with personal problems.

But those times only teach us, both to focus on the moment, the shifting shape of every instance before our being, and to realize that God isn’t finished with us yet.

See, the pilgrim isn’t perfect. But he does understand that travel is about the journey as well as the destination and that God will do his work in us along the way, as we give and take in a mutuality of cultures meeting.

Traditionally, a pilgrimage is to reach a holy place, but for the modern pilgrim, we recognize that all creation is God’s, and therefore we can be intentional about making every place holy. We can seek to hallow our surroundings wherever we are.

Thank you, friends, for your precious minute, as I try my best to convey a flurry of speculation that has taken place in my brain for the past several weeks.

And for the rest of my class:

Halfway through, and we’re already picking up the pace.

Let’s be ready to

…”Brace Brace.”


By 2010, Asia No Comments

This was composed in a medium sized motel room in a third world country, on one of four occupied beds fitted with only a topsheet. Strangely enough, I can see the window light up every once in a while as lightning flashes outside, despite there being no rain. I’m up too early, due to jet lag. The air is warm, the scenery exotic, the smiles inviting.

Hello, my friends. This is me. Today, I am Filipino.

I am overwhelmed by a sense of adventure, a feeling I haven’t felt in a while. It’s a chill that runs down the spine when I realize how far away I am. It reminds me of Mexico so much, being tropical and hispanic and third world, but it’s different too. Mexico is one thing, but no matter how humid it gets and how big the bugs are, you can look North and think that home is only a day or two’s drive. Here? It’s a different story. I am in a different world, across entire oceans. Now, I realize why Ferdinand Magellan could claim the Philippines for Spain even though he was Portugese. It didn’t matter who he was sailing under, it was his dream to sail. Adventure was in his blood. And in mine. This is me. Today, I am a landed sailor from another world.

But, the people only half-embrace this heritage. They acknowledge the influence, but also the conflict that it encountered in tribal majesty. Some wish to forge a new identity from the scene that resulted from the clash. I wish to identify with that history. This is me historically. This is me, if they will allow me to enter that reconstructed identity for a period.

Today, I am Maharlika.


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