The last couple of weeks have been awesome. [I had to use up some of my leave before my discharge date because it was more than I was able to be compensated for via terminal leave] I first arrived in Philly Sunday afternoon, when Chris Haw picked me up and took me straight to his place (where I completely forgot to change my shirt or put on deodorant before we headed over to the Relational Tithe get together at Kaitlin’s house). Camden is such a run down spot; it reminded me of movies that have a ‘Gotham’ kind of feel about them. I haven’t seen anything like it before, the whole area used to be a shipyard that had a huge economy. Over the years, I guess the production moved elsewhere. The abandonment reminded me of the stuff I used to see in Iraq, where it was eerily Ghost Town-like. Before we headed over to the dinner, Chris showed me the garden Andrea tended every morning, some of the plants were wilted due to the lateness of the season.
I have even been feeling the weather begin to chill. We drove by the ‘big house,’ where Melissa and Jeremy were staying, and I got to see the different areas around the house. Definitely a depressing place if you’re not prepared for it. Somewhere along the drive, Chris mentioned he was looking for someone to sit at a rectory down the street while it got revamped into a museum. I guess that means someone would basically just occupy the living quarters while the workmen were coming in and out during the day. It would be rent free and I would get a very good long-term look at how communities work and get some good ideas about sustainability and financial support for such a group.
We got to Kaitlin’s house and caught up with everyone, dinner was very good. Farah, who had been given a gift by the RT to take with her into Lebanon, shared her experiences with the group. The pictures could have been taken straight out of my Iraq folder; the area’s desolation and destruction is so similar. Some of what she shared was hard for me to swallow, which was a good reminder that I have some skeletons that I need to air out again before I go back to the Middle East. I’ll elaborate more on that later.
I asked her about getting into Lebanon from Israel, and she said it would be near impossible to cross the border with an Israeli stamp on my passport. I suppose I will need to replace my passport when I get home to be able to visit other countries in the area in the future. It answered the question of if I will get into Lebanon after the CPT delegation pretty quickly. Anyway, good stuff was talked about in the time we had, I even brought up the issue that my RT request for Christine was not addressed very much and even kind of fizzled out without enough guidance. Cassie expressed a lot of remorse over that, but it more than likely had a lot to do with my own poorly executed message. Anyway, great fellowship and sharing, I had a great time and learned a lot.
The next day I went with Shane and Chris down to the DC area to attend Mike and Stacy Stavlund’s funeral for their baby Will, who passed away from a heart condition the week before. I heard about what happened through the RT; the couple are members of the East Cluster with me and probably would have been in the get together had it not been for such a tragic occurrence. I read Mike’s blog the day I heard about it and was brought to tears for such a difficult struggle for both Will and his parents. At the funeral, Mike actually approached me and introduced himself, which caught me off guard, since I thought his mind would be elsewhere. I offered my support and my regret that we could not meet under more joyous circumstances, but he seemed grateful that I made it all the way out to be able to attend. I was very glad that I had decided the night prior to go with Chris and Shane.
Mike gave a very emotional and powerful eulogy, as well as many others who knew Will well. I was surprised to find it was an open casket funeral, which only speaks to my own inexperience with funerals. The fact that the deceased was less than a year old was particularly difficult for me to face. I hesitated a long time to approach Mike and Stacy after the service, and pass by the casket to catch a glimpse of young Will. I was convinced that I would be reminded of other dead babies I’ve seen and wasn’t sure if I was prepared for that. I finally committed to passing by and giving my respects to the survivors, and I was surprised that Stacy was so courteous and welcoming in such a harsh time. She said she was so happy that I had made it out and wished we would get another opportunity in the future to get acquainted again. I gave Mike another much needed hug (probably for both of us), and made my way out to meet Chris at the car. Our trip home was a great time catching up with Shane and Chris, and watching DC pass by.
The next day I went to the Simple Way in the morning; I took the subway from south Philly up to a meeting Shane was sharing at. It was a meeting for the Philadelphia chapter of Mission Year, an urban resettlement kind of ministry that sets interested youth up in a house with other people in similar age groups to witness to people in the area. It seems similar to any other community, but the participants only stay for a year, so the members at any given house rotate out once a year. It offers the opportunity to live in a large city in the middle of an impoverished area. Seems like fun. Shane shared about his community and a few tips on how to live together successfully in community.
After the meeting, he and I went back to the Simple Way to pick up Fred to go to the food bank and collect food for distribution. Fred is a great guy, very easy to get along with and affable, who is between jobs and has found a place amongst the guys at the Simple Way. He was very interested in Hawaii and its blue water and easy going atmosphere. We collected food together and returned to the house to sort it into bags to hand out later that afternoon.
The next few days, I just pretty much played the role of a visitor, watching how everything was run, how the whole operation works. I starting to feel lead to seriously pursue starting an intentional community like the Simple Way and Camden House in Hawaii. In the months that I have been searching for like minded people and establishments in the Aloha State, I have been mostly disappointed in the absence of places that do not shy away from what I feel the Bible is pretty clear about. I have found that there is one Mennonite meeting house that meets only every other week on O’ahu, which I thought was unusual. A lot of things that have been going on have really begun to illustrate to me that a Christian community is something that would be a welcome relief in Hawaii. I happen to be visiting the same week as the Christian Community Development conference in Philadelphia, which I find very coincidental.
I have also been given the opportunity to live with the Mission Year ‘Hope House’ community down the street from Simple Way. I am very encouraged by the opportunity to fellowship with others who share much of the same passion I have for ‘the least of these.’ After about three nights at Simple Way, I moved over to the Hope House for the weekend. So far, every night has taught me something new and has sharpened my beliefs and theology as I engage in thoughtful discussion with the men and women at Mission Year.