Serve Well Blog

January 2013 Entries


Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 13
A Message from Executive Director Valerie Norwood

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

Twelve Days of Christmas

We hope the Krista Colleague blogs have helped you celebrate The Twelve Days of Christmas and keep the holidays in perspective. Thank you for journeying along with us.

It seems very fitting that we close The Twelve Days of Christmas drawing upon the metaphor of mud as Sarah Jackson did in her reflection. For all the potential and actual beauty of Christmas and its intersection with service and faith, the season can be a muddy and messy affair.

Twelve Days of Christmas

Mud reminds me that the Christmas story, and the attempt to live and articulate a life of faith, can be very messy - beautifully messy. I am grateful for the stories that offer their perspectives of faith and hope as well as the stories that remind us to embrace broken and struggling aspects of our communities.

Instead of an emphasis on one day of packages and sparkling décor, keeping the Twelve Days of Christmas gifts us with the wonderful opportunity to wade deep into the muddy world, a part of the dirt from which we come and into which we are sent.

Joe TobiasonKendall Paine

Thank you to the Krista Colleagues who so generously offered their stories and perspectives! Thank you to the many who joined us as readers and for those who shared your own insights and thoughts on the Christmas journey. Together we can strengthen our capacity to engage variety of voices and perspectives within and beyond the breadth of Christian tradition, nurturing a life-long ethic of service, civic engagement and global understanding.

Jonathan Koc, Valerie Norwood, Stacy Kitahata

A service year, when nurtured, becomes a life of service leadership.

Valerie Norwood, Executive Director

on behalf of the ServeWell Blog team - Kendall Paine, Joe Tobiason and staff Stacy Kitahata and Jonathan Koc.




Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 12
Dirt Like Us, by Sarah Jackson

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

I first began working with mud as a medium in 2008, when I was volunteering in South Africa with various organizations that supported local schools. As an artist, I understand how important the experience of creation can be in a child's education, and I was frustrated that the children I was working with were rarely given creative opportunities in school, partly because of a lack of resources. On my walk to work each day, I passed by lots of mole hills with lovely, freshly turned earth. At some point, my desire to find a cheap artistic medium collided with my surroundings, and I thought, "Why not mud?"

Throughout my time in South Africa, I experimented with different techniques and processes, and I collected many different colors of dirt. I now paint frequently in mud. I love the textures it makes. I love how it smells. I love that it connects me tangibly to places I care about. I love that there seem to be as many colors of dirt as there are of people.

Dirt Like Us

In one of the creation stories in the Bible, we are told that God formed Adam out of dirt, and I like to pretend that God did that for every human, that each of us is made from some dirt and a bit of God-breath. Later in the Bible, we are told that we will return to dust when we die. The way I see it we, and all the rest of creation, are somewhere between dirt and dust. Christmas is the season when we recognize the supremely humbling truth that our God, the immaculate and holy creator of the universe, chose to become dirt like us.

The Twelve Days of Christmas end on Epiphany, when Christians remember the arrival of the Magi, a group of foreigners who have traveled a great distance to visit Jesus. In South Africa, I was treated like a magus (the singular of magi, apparently). I was very obviously from a far-off place. I was assumed to be wealthy. I was often assumed to be wise (though I usually revised that notion within five minutes!). In other words, I was even more privileged than I am in the United States. But as I worked and worshipped alongside people who were so different from me in most ways, I became convinced of two things: 1.) We are all dirt, and 2.) God loves dirt far more than I do.

Dirt Like Us

Up to this point in the Christmas narrative, only a few poor Jewish people - Mary, Joseph, a handful of shepherds - have met their King. Epiphany, however, marks the initial introduction of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Christmas is incomplete without the Magi because they give us a glimpse of a bigger picture. The baby these dusty, travel-weary strangers worship will die as much for them as for anyone. And the breath-catching, heart-starting news for us dusty, life-weary strangers is that he died as much for us as he did for them.

Here's an image I painted with South African
mud based off a scene of a video I made
for my church's Christmas Eve service.

Read more about Sarah below

Click below to watch the video

 The Holy Night from sarahjackson314 on Vimeo.

Sarah Jackson

Sarah served in several local nonprofits in Grahamstown and Mthatha, South Africa in 2008. She has since gotten her MFA in Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and is getting her MA in Children's Literature at Hollins University. She is currently working as a preschool teacher outside of Vancouver, WA, where the kids are encouraged to play in the mud, and even paint with it! To view more of her artwork, visit her website at Sarah heads up the Sojourner Support team, encouraging the newest Krista Colleagues during their service and transition.


Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 11
Guided by the Light, by Brittany Harwell

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

. . . the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:2-11


Guided by the Light

I have been pondering the kings, those first gift-givers, and the star that led them to Christ. That is a well know part of the nativity story and I have heard it many times. But looking back over the last year of my life, especially my time in Nairobi, I see the ways that God was present in my service, a light to guide me right to the places where Christ was waiting for me.

Guided by the Light

At times the journey was unpleasant, dark, cold (figuratively definitely not literally), and painfully lonely but if I took a look around I could see God moving in the work, illuminating paths to guide his creation into his story. Often I was blessed to see glimpses of what those wise men saw, heaven come to earth, a Christmas of sorts, a holy moment, a reminder that God is with us. 

Guided by the LightI hope that during these twelve days of Christmas you, too, are able to see the small or large ways God is moving in the world around you and through the work of everyday life. I hope that that recognition serves as a light to guide you. 


Brittany Harwell

Brittany returned from her internship with International Justice Mission (IJM) in Nairobi, Kenya in April 2012. The IJM Kenya team works to combat cases of child sexual assault and illegal detention for people who would have no access to legal representation. Brittany now lives in San Antonio TX, where she is a middle-school math teacher for students with learning disabilities.



Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 10
Un Nuevo Amanecer (A New Dawn), by Sean Rawson

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

I spent two years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Managua, Nicaragua. It worked out that I happened to be there for three Christmases, and I noticed that this song always got a lot of play right around Christmas time. It's called "El Cristo de Palacaguina", "The Christ of Palacaguina." Palacaguina is a small mountain town in the north of Nicaragua, so the song is about Christ being born to the peasants of the rural countryside. A Christ born to a simple humble background with which the poor can more closely identify! Not the curly blond-haired, blue-eyed child we feature so often in our Nativity scenes in the North, but a dark-skinned, indigenous Christ; the Divine manifested as human who has chosen the poor campesinos of the world to bring about his salvation!

El Cristo de Palacaguina

It's a beautiful revolutionary song with a great melody. One of my favorite lines, roughly translated, from the second verse:

"The people all gathered together to see him,
The Indian Joaquin brought him quesillo from Nagarote,
Instead of gold, incense and myrrh they gave him
Cookies from Diriomo and even buñelos from Guadalupe"

And if you ever have the pleasure of running across Krista Colleague Michael Marchesini, who also spent several years in Managua, ask him to play you his version! He plays a mean classical guitar. Feliz Navidad y que viva el Cristo de Palacaguina!

Read more about Sean below


Un Nuevo Amanecer Mural
Un Nuevo Amanecer mural at the North Batahola Cultural Center, Managua 

Sean Rawson

As a Jesuit Volunteer from 2009-11, Sean worked with the Nicaraguan organization CANTERA doing youth organizing in at-risk barrios in Managua. He is returning to Nicaragua to work in Ciudad Sandino on the outskirts of Managua with CANTERA again, starting in January 2013!



Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 9
Walking in a Winter Wonderland, by Anthony DeLorenzo

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

The August after I graduated from Gonzaga I found myself in Newark, New Jersey, as a Jesuit Volunteer and was connected with an incredible organization, Greater Newark Conservancy (GNC).  Studies have shown that having more natural beauty in urban areas lowers crime rates, improves public health, lowers pollution, and has a myriad of other indirect benefits to the community. Through the promotion of environmental stewardship, GNC works to improve the quality of life in one of the country's most dismissed, forgotten, and needy urban communities.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Seeing the intense poverty in Newark quickly created a deep desire to be sure that my decisions were reflective of my commitment to both the city and the natural world. Thus when the holiday season approached I opted for a quieter way to celebrate, and stayed in Newark alone rather than fly back to the west coast. Compared to any other form of transportation (car, train, bus, etc), flying requires considerably more natural resources to make the trip. Were I to fly the 2,500 miles back home, not only would I be taking advantage of a privilege I had that much of the local community did not, I would also be contributing to the pollution that disproportionately affects impoverished communities more than the rest of the US population. It seemed contradictory to the reason I was there in the first place.

Click on image to view trailer

What Would Jesus Buy?

And so I found myself with a week of vacation, finding creative ways to spend my time. Somehow I had gotten my hands on the movie "What Would Jesus Buy," a sobering yet humorous documentary about the effects of consumerism during the holiday season on our local businesses, our wallets, and our planet. In the film Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir travel the country by bus, speaking out (or is "singing out" more appropriate?) against the mainstream approach to the Christmas season. The documentary offers absurd demonstrations by Rev. Billy, sickening statistics of the vast amounts of waste Americans create during this time of year, as well as anecdotal stories from people who I believe to understand the holiday at its deepest meaning. At one point an older woman talks about how incredibly grateful she was for the one gift she was given each year growing up, which was often something functional, like boots. This has since become the movie I watch every year to get me in the Christmas spirit.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

One of the challenges of staying on the east coast was wondering what was happening at home without me. But rather than dwell on what I was missing out on, I tried to focus on the opportunities I was able to take advantage of by remaining in Newark that I otherwise would have missed. I went for several long walks throughout my neighborhood, making myself a visible presence. I came to realize that my intention in these walks was to tell this city that although the common perspective in our country was that this place was dirty, miserable, and may as well be abandoned, that I was one person wanting a real relationship with it. I was someone who did not want to leave it behind.

Honestly, I initially doubted the effectiveness of this statement. But weeks later it became clear that the neighborhood recognized me as an integrated part of their community. Riding the bus or walking home from GNC, I began meeting people who would comment that they had seen me in the area, and would strike up conversations with me. These welcoming gestures were not something that all Jesuit Volunteers who lived in Newark had experienced.

When we think of our perfect way to spend Christmas, we usually don't think of spending it alone, watching documentaries, and going for walks in empty streets. But as I look back to my year in Newark and what it meant to become a part of that community there really is no other way I wish I would have spent it.

Anthony DeLorenzo

After two years of serving as a Jesuit Volunteer, Anthony was hired onto the staff of JVC Northwest where he walks with current JVs as they strive to bring justice to the communities they live in. Given his passions, he is very excited to be a part of an organization with "Ecological Justice" as one of its core values. 



Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 8
God is Always Right Where You Are Looking, by Amanda Pelle

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

You don't discuss Alaska for very long before someone asks if you saw the northern lights. Within the first few months of my Jesuit Volunteer year in Sitka, I had my opportunity. The forecast called for a glorious show so my roommates and I clamored onto the roof bundled with sleeping bags, hats, scarves, and mugs of hot chocolate. We were told they would come up over the mountain across from our house so we sat on the roof looking toward the mountains, talked, and waited.

God is Always Right Where You Are

The winter air was cold. It had been dusk for a few hours when we climbed up and soon full darkness was upon us. We were so excited we kept darting our heads around the night sky and asking each other if they saw something we didn't. We were getting antsy with waiting as we fought off sleep. We started making excuses and getting annoyed at the streetlight behind our house that was casting too bright a glare on the sky. Worse still were the lights from the city just on the other side of the mountain. How were we supposed to see the northern lights rise from behind that mountain when the city lights were so brightly shining?!

We struggled to stay awake as we yawned and complained about the missed opportunity and the cold. The buzz of the conversation slowed to a hum as the half-asleep breaks became longer and longer. I remember mumbling something about the stupid city that ruined our chance to see the northern lights when suddenly I looked up into the sky and noticed movement in the dark. I rubbed my eyes and tentatively asked my roommates, "Wait...look that it?" The sky was on fire. It was all white, undulating like the flames of hot coals, dancing across the entire night sky. We all sat up, mouths gaped opened, silent in a pregnant moment of awe.

God is Always Right Where You Are Looking

The city lights behind the mountain that "ruined" our evening were not city lights at all - they were the northern lights rising up into the sky. In fact, there was no city behind that mountain - something we actually knew but managed to forget. We were looking up into the sky for a light we had heard about but not yet seen for ourselves. We didn't know exactly what it would be but were so excited that we let the disappointment of false realities overcome the experience of simply seeing something that was right in front of us.

Reflecting on this experience gave me one more vivid reminder of what Christmas is really about: God's light shining through the darkness. It's about reminding ourselves to stop focusing on the problems that keep us from experiencing the good in our world and reminding ourselves that God's presence is right in front of us, that our hope is not in vain, and that God's grace, strength, and compassion, like the northern lights, will rise up into our darkest nights, and light the sky on fire. 


Amanda PelleAmanda worked in a domestic violence shelter through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps from 2003-2005. She currently lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and 3 month old son.