Serve Well Blog

April 2014 Entries


What Holding Hands Can Teach You
by Krista Colleague Neshia Alaovae '12

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Urban America, Community, Healthcare, Intercultural Development, Post-Service Term Reflections

In many ways, my year of service began two weeks after it was scheduled to start. Though Joseph's House placed great importance on being mindful and fully present in the moment, I spent my first week there distracted by how unfamiliar this new world was. On my third day at Joseph's House, one of the residents died and the sudden initiation into the immensity of my work for the year was overwhelming. I was being asked to form genuine relationships from the moment someone entered the home to the moment I would escort that same person into a hearse. I felt so different from the people I was being asked to become one with. I was young, educated, and healthy. They were older, destitute, and dying. How am I going to do this, I wondered. How am I going to fit here?

A week later, I was at the bedside of a resident named Brad. It was my first time holding vigil by myself for someone who was near death. I was acutely aware of how Brad's labored breathing was causing my anxiety level to rise. His inability to speak left me speechless. I was nervous being so close to death, and even more mystified about what exactly I was supposed to be doing.

Not knowing what else to do, I reached for his hand. He squeezed my fingers with a strength that surprised me. I pulled my chair closer and shut my eyes. Quieting myself, I focused all of my attention on his breathing. Slowly, I inhaled and exhaled until our breaths were synchronized. Little by little, I realized how intense this moment must be for him. My breaths came easily, supported by lungs that were full of vigor. His breaths were short and rapid, maintained by a body reluctantly shutting down after its long struggle with cancer.

I looked down at our hands and for a few seconds I could not distinguish mine from his. I stared at our intertwined fingers trying to figure out why it was so difficult to see what belonged to me and what belonged to him. Then it came to me: our skin was the exact same shade of brown. We were a perfect color match. In my 22 years of life, that had never happened before. No one was ever my exact brown. Not anyone I encountered studying abroad in Zambia, not any of the models on my makeup bottles, not even anyone in my multi-racial family. No one but this stranger dying beside me. In that moment, something clicked for me.

The Krista Foundation places great emphasis on equipping Colleagues to be practitioners of intercultural competence with tools before a year of service as well as support during and after that service. There is a realization that everyone brings to an experience his or her own rich, complex cultural history. The challenge is to find a way, in the midst of what seems foreign and uncomfortable, from your own sense of normal to a place of understanding and empathy. We can spend so much time fixating on the things that divide us, that we forget to slow down, listen to each other's shared breaths, and see that our hands are meant to be held.

Brad passed away soon after that quiet afternoon. I thought of him often as I held the hands of many others who came through the Joseph's House door. No one was my exact shade of brown, but that didn't really matter. What I learned about Brad after his death was inspiring. Before his cancer, he had been a well-known advocate in Washington, D.C. for those who were homeless or suffering in the margins. He was eloquent, bold, and deeply spiritual. He began his own non-profit, dreamed about making a pilgrimage to India, and was in the process of dictating his life and philosophy to a friend so that his legacy of courage would not be forgotten. My stereotype of everyone at Joseph's House being poor, helpless people who needed my privileged service was shattered by Brad. He did not need me. He was not impressed by me. He was not inferior to me in any way.

On the contrary, I needed him to teach me how to see past the differences I had been taught to fear, and find a new way to grow in curiosity and compassion. The magnitude of how he lived and the grace with which he died still motivates me to be fearless. But the biggest lesson he taught me, the gift I will never be able to repay, was holding my hand on his deathbed. He had enough strength to refuse my presence, and yet he didn't. Brad took my hand, held it with the last of his energy, and taught me how to truly accompany.

In my experience serving in hospice, when someone is dying that person no longer cares about all of the ways that made him or her stand out in life. What matters most in those final moments is knowing that even if that person did not receive it in life, in this moment he or she is seen, heard, and adored. By holding my hand Brad taught me to make the effort to suspend my cultural lens enough to truly see, deeply hear, and come to adore those who seem different. I spent the rest of my year trying to do that, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to as well. I have learned that when all else fails, when I cannot seem to find a way to bridge the dissimilarities between myself and another, to hold out my hand. Even if the back of our hands look different, I know that the skin of our palms will be the same. That is enough.


Beyond the Drafting Table

The Krista Foundation | Krista Foundation Press

As a civil engineer whose work has spanned two continents, Randy L. ‘02 has learned that bringing dreams to fruition takes more than technical expertise. At the heart of the matter is the community and its vision.

Based in Egypt with his Jessy and daughters Faith and Lily, Randy travels throughout North Africa and the Middle East facilitating design teams for Engineering Ministries International. EMI's clients come to Randy and his colleagues with a property and a project in mind-a school, a ministry center, perhaps a hospital. "They are already invested as owners; their community has already sacrificed in hopes of seeing their vision become reality," says Randy. "We work with them in the planning and design process. What is the immediate need? What is the long-term goal? How can the project develop in phases? Are there technologies that could be appropriately introduced through the project?"

My old stereotype saw the bearded Muslim and was afraid, but now some of them are dear friends. Are we not called to value others more highly than ourselves?

Talking and walking with people in the community, Randy becomes part of the project and the process. "We can only help them develop their own vision and give them the tools to make it a reality, but it must be their reality. This is our common goal."

Because he crosses cultures and religions every day, Randy regularly checks his own cultural filter. "Most of my assumptions and stereotypes have been challenged, and I grow through this rich and flavorful process." While the process can be humbling, he says, "I have more to learn than I could ever hope to teach."

Seeing others through Christ's eyes compels Randy to honor differences and be open to change. "My old stereotype saw the bearded Muslim and was afraid, but now some of them are dear friends. Are we not called to value others more highly than ourselves?"


What I Carry Forward
Krista Colleague Kara King

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

In 2003, I arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for a year volunteering at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos or NPH, a residential home for orphaned and abandoned children. In addition to teaching English in the middle school, I was assigned a group of 10 year old boys to help care for each evening. It is one of those boys I would like to introduce you to tonight. Arnold was a reader and a story teller, and we spent many evenings gazing at the Honduran stars making up stories. Since that year, Arnold grew up, graduated from high school, and began classes at the local university.

About a month ago, I was on my way to my own classes here in Seattle when I received news from Honduras that stopped me cold, and brought me instantly back to those starry nights. The boys I once tucked in each night are grown up now, and one of them passed on the news - Arnold had died the night before. He was only 21 years old.

My service assignment, meant to last only 13 months, is interwoven into the fabric of my life. And the Krista Foundation has helped me, over many years, make the transition from a year of service to a lifetime ethic of service leadership. That transition allowed me to step into the grief of losing Arnold, and into the rage at an unjust world in which children die much before their time. In moments like this, it is not just "nice" if we happen to have a strong community to turn to - we MUST have it. We must have it, not just to hang out with great people, though Krista Colleagues are certainly fun to hang out with. We must have this community because it builds our capacity to love and serve well. Here, within the Krista Foundation, I have found a community that knows both how to comfort and how to challenge.

We learn together how to hold the grief, joy, and complexity of this work. 

After five years of working in Honduras and Bolivia, I returned to Seattle feeling uprooted and isolated and very unsure of myself. At my debriefing retreat with the Krista Foundation, a blob of scribbling on a paper marked what I was not yet ready to speak. As I attempted to share pieces of my time in Bolivia, it was like my voice was taken away.

It took me a long time to share those stories, and they needed to be told - and told honestly - for healing to begin. And as I have processed some of those stories, the KF has continued to help me build my own leadership capacity and resilience. The space to work through my service experiences within the Krista Foundation gave me the capacity to uncover the goodness that was, and is, there and finally, to step back into this work - BUT in a new and different way.

And so, over the past three years, I have had the amazing privilege to work with 15 young leaders from Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua in partnership with local families, leaders, and mentors. When I think about the future of NPH, I hope that many them will fill leadership positions. I hope they will become the mentors, the directors -- people of change and hope and redemption in their communities.

To have hope for our future, I need only picture emerging leaders like Julissa, who took what she learned in the training program and has adapted it to her community in Guatemala where she facilitates retreats on faith, spiritual formation, and leadership for our kids. The ripples of the Krista Foundation are indeed far and wide.

And as the foundation continues to reach beyond the Colleague program, to influence the larger service culture - it is so exciting to see how we are already impacting other organizations. Just this year for example, NPH made a commitment to provide debriefing retreats for our volunteers. After over 50 years of receiving volunteers, this is a major cultural shift and right now we are in conversation about how to partner with the Krista Foundation to help make our programs even more effective. Stacy and Val's guidance in understanding the behind the scenes work and strategic listening needed for these retreats was so helpful.

Sharing our service experiences with others and finding our way back into even the hard stories is part of what allows us to move through them, lay down what needs to be laid down - and to carry forward the pieces that will continue to inform our lives.

For me, I will carry forward Arnold. And the faces of so many others I have been blessed to love and to be loved by. My heart has been opened through this work and that is why i continue to engage with the Krista Foundation - a place where i find comfort and community - and a place where I am challenged to grow and to become more than I am capable of imagining for myself.

That is why you have been invited here tonight, so you too can do more in partnership with the Krista Foundation than you would have imagined.

Thank you!