Emily Dahle is spending a year in South Africa as part of the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Mission program. In this entry from her blog, she explains why retreats are so vital during a YAGM year. To support Emily, or others in the program, go here.
All right, big revelation comin' at ya. You might want to sit down.
Here it goes:
YAGM is hard sometimes.
OK, enough with the attempts to be witty. Seriously, though. YAGM is tough.
Yes, I get to live alongside wonderful people in a beautiful place for a year. Yes, I get to learn so many things about a new country and culture. Yes, I have seen elephants and sat on the beach.
However, I am also living so far from home that I actually have no idea how many miles really separate me from my family. I am living in an area where the first language isn't English. I am forced to go outside of my comfort zone just to do something as simple as get groceries. I am forced to face the remnants of apartheid head-on whether I like it or not. I see the beauty of this country and its people, but I also see the oppression and heartache.
Sometimes, all of these things weigh on me and my spirits. There are times when I just want to vent and let it all out. Luckily, I'm not the only person called to live and serve here. My YAGM year came with a built-in set of best friends and shoulders to lean on.
I honestly don't think I would survive this year without the love and support of my fellow YAGM-SA family. However, we are pretty spread out across the country and it can get pretty expensive to talk on the phone all the time. This is precisely why retreats are so important.
For those of you on Facebook, you may have seen my pictures from our first retreat in November as well as our most recent one last week. Those albums are full of gorgeous pictures of beaches, mountains, good food, sunsets, and more. To many, these pictures make it seem like the words "YAGM retreat" are just code for "fancy vacation."
In one way, retreats could be considered a vacation. We leave our homes (sites), venture to unknown places, and take a bit of a "break" from our everyday lives. We meet up with great friends, have fun and eat wonderful food. However, that is not the point or reason for these retreats.
YAGM retreats serve as a time of community, reflection, discussion, spiritual discernment and more. We have incredible conversations about our place in YAGM, South Africa, the United States and the world. We bask in the rapid-fire English conversation and make jokes that only other YAGMs would understand. Our hearts, spirits and souls are rejuvenated and reawakened. Generally, we leave with a new sense of calling and excitement to get back to our sites and communities.
So, yes, we have spent time on the beach, hiking in the mountains and seeing elephants. However, we have also dealt with questions like "What is the power and privilege that I carry with me and how does that affect my life back home and here in South Africa?" and "How do I even attempt to say good-bye to people who have helped shape my life and who have welcomed me into their lives?"
Trust me, discussing questions like these aren't easy and don't exactly fit into my definition of a "vacation." However, they are necessary conversations to have and I wouldn't choose to have them with anyone other than my lovely YAGM-SA family.
In my experience, YAGM retreats have been life-giving, incredibly fun, challenging, definitely needed, and much, much more than a "fancy vacation."