A Tiny Slip of Blue Paper

A Tiny Slip of Blue Paper

June has been a “travelin’ month.” I’ve been to Virginia to visit a dear, long-time friend, to Raleigh, NC for the National Conference on Restorative Justice,

to LaGrange, KY for a performance by Shakespeare Behind Bars,

and, for the past several days, to New Windsor, MD, to help with orientation for a new group of volunteers with Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS).

Now, I know lots of you who follow my blog know all about BVS, served as BVS volunteers yourselves and have your own stories to tell. But for those who don’t know about BVS, I thought I’d try to give you a little glimpse of what it’s all about.

First, a few BVS factoids:
BVS was established in 1948 (13 years before the Peace Corps) to provide opportunities for “young people to volunteer for year-long service positions that would promote peace, prevent war, and be about justice in the world.”
• More than 7000 BVS volunteers have served organizations around the world in the past 63 years.
• On any given day, you could find about 100 BVSers serving in 16 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
BVS volunteers range in age from 18 to . . . well, there’s no upper age limit, really. Recently, BVSers with as much as “77 years of life experience” have served.
BVS is open to anyone who is willing to serve – you don’t have to be a member of the Church of the Brethren.
• The BVS goals are: Advocating justice, Working for peace, Serving human needs, and Caring for creation.

This was my sixth BVS orientation and I learn so much from each one. Each orientation provides a little window into the BVS experience. Here’s what I’ve glimpsed through that window:

Humility: A BVS orientation brings together a diverse group of strangers (called a “BVS Unit”) of different ages, nationalities, and religious, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, for three intense weeks of training and preparation for their BVS service assignment. They’re far from home and all that’s familiar. They live, study and work together in dorm-like and sometimes rustic settings, with few creature comforts. They are grouped into three- or four-person teams called “food groups” who take turns planning, grocery-shopping and preparing meals throughout orientation for the entire unit, on a budget of $1 per person per meal. They have to learn to live with each other, serve each other and clean up after each other, with little privacy or personal space. Big egos need not apply.

Heart: During BVS orientation, volunteers get to know each other – fast – including each person’s personality, strengths, quirks, preferences, special gifts, vices, handy skills and annoying habits. Conflicts and tensions are inevitable (the sessions I lead are meant to help navigate those waters). There’s sometimes a bit of “drama.” Big challenges, stepping out of your comfort zone (sometimes WAY out) and personal growth are part of the deal. BVS isn’t for sissies. But there’s also, always, LOTS of encouragement, hugs, affirmation, games, coaching, opportunities, singing, and laughter – with an occasional surprise excursion for ice cream, swimming or other fun.

Hope: Each morning, after breakfast, there’s a time for morning devotions and journaling. My first morning this week with BVS Unit #293, the morning devotions were in the form of a “Word Walk.” Each of us was given a tiny slip of blue paper, with a word printed on it. As we walked through our day, we were to meditate, pray or journal about that word and what it means to us. The word printed on my tiny slip of blue paper was “HOPE.”

It seems to me that, ultimately, hope is what BVS is really about. Sometimes, BVS orientation involves mundane sorts of hope – like, “I hope we aren’t having beans and potatoes for dinner again.” Sometimes there are raw and tender hopes – such as, “I hope the people at the project where I really want to be assigned will want me/like me/think I’m good enough.”

But most of all, I think BVS is about the really HUGE kinds of hope: Hope for the future. Hope for our planet. Hope for peace in the world.

Sometimes the complexities and the forces working against all of this can leave us feeling overwhelmed and dispirited. Is any of this REALLY possible?

But each person who comes into BVS, willing to commit himself or herself to go out into the world to advocate for justice, to work for peace, to serve human needs, to care for creation – each one of them offers the rest of us – and the world – exactly the sort of hope we so desperately need. It is such a privilege to meet them at these orientations and to walk a tiny bit of their journey with them. Each one of them can and will make a difference in the world. Each one of them reminds me of all that really IS possible . . .

As for me and my travels, this trip to Maryland was my last roadtrip for a while. I’ve emptied everything from my backpack into piles on the floor here in my little home office. I’m settling back into the routines of home life now, putting away the things I collected in my travels. Everything except that tiny slip of blue paper. I have it right here on my desk where I can see it every day . . . and be reminded.

Question of the Day

What have you seen or who have you met recently that gave you hope?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: peace

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