Monday, June 27, 2011

Holler to a Hood Mom

Today, while the group and kids rode mountain bikes around Lake Tahoe, my staff partner and I got some down time on the internet, which quickly became instant messenger conversations with friends from all over, including A, who just decided to enroll in college in the fall, L, who is packing for a semester with the International House of Prayer and a woman I know fondly as "Mama G".

I have a few friends in Winnipeg that I have only met in person several times, Mamma G is one of them. Our friendship defies the normal rules for making connections- we are not peers by age, background or hobbies. However, we are connected through people and a shared passion for those people. I heard about Mama G before I ever met her.
Someone would often referred to her, and a few others mentioned her, asked me if I knew her. It seemed we were doing the same thing: diving into a group of young, refugee boys who were selling drugs and into violence, and for some reason, we were drawn to love them.
It was only after I left Winnipeg and returned to school in Michigan that I even talked/emailed Mama G. My old boss had asked permission to pass my contact information on to this woman who was asking about me. And so, we began to talk. And it turned out we knew many of the same people, prayed many of the same prayers and wrote similar letters to people in jail. I finally formally met her when I visited Winnipeg, meeting up at a coffee shop, she gave me a warm hug, as if we had been friends for ages. On other visits to Winnipeg, I would simply show up at her house, noting the iron gate and characteristic porch, but never remembering the house number. She would always greet me with a smile and a hug, usually introducing me to some one she was hosting in her home.
We would talk for hours on the phone, praying together, or offering encouragement, talking about what we had learned recently. Afterwards, Biruk would look at me and ask who I was talking to for that long, laughing that it was someone I'd only met once before. And now, no matter the miles between us, or the time that lapses between our emails or phone calls when we chat again, it is always an encouragement to me. She is a mother in so many ways and an inspiring person, without question.
Recently ChristianWeek wrote an article on Mama G, which I believe captures many of the beautiful and radical things about her. But if you can, you should meet her- she is even better in person. And, I'm thankful to call her my friend. Love you!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I wish that I had a chance to upload my photos so share with all of you. I've been to such beautiful places! From the beach to the mountains, wilderness to San Francisco, from bears and elk to seals and blue herons.

San Francisco was lovely, beautiful houses lined up against each other and steep hills that made me feel like I was on an amusement ride. I did not enjoy driving a fifteen passenger van in the ghetto of San Francisco, where people were constantly running red lights and honking at me if I stayed stationary until the light turned green, and the trolleys rolling past me were unnerving. The next day, using the public transportation and being a passenger on one of those trolleys was much more pleasant. I walked the piers- from 2 to 40, reaching the AT&T stadium filled with Giants fans when I realized that I was not going to reach Pier 39, because I had been walking in the wrong direction. Instead of back-tracking and walking about 80 piers back, I surrendered and hopped on the subway and took a tourist-filled trolley to Fisherman's Warf; which was a combination of a boardwalk, county fair and any beachy souvenir area: filled with people, treats, bright colors, fish and plenty of ways to spend money.
I ate some famous soup- and rightfully famous from what I tasted, and a shrimp and crab sandwich that left me licking my fingers, finished off with some fudge and Ghiradelli chocolate. My family should be jealous; I perused a Shaffenberger chocolate store outlet for a little while, smiling as I thought about the many Christmases that those chocolate bars were presents to my father, although I think we ate more of the chocolate than he did.
Next time, I'm visiting Chinatown and maybe hitting up a beach.
The place I stayed in was in the Tenderloin district, which made me feel like I was back in my little apartment in Winnipeg- someone was always out on the sidewalk yelling something, there was a siren blasting somewhere within hearing range and downtown was only two blocks away. I walked around Union Square, enjoying the free entertainment and mobs of people until the chill from the Bay drove me indoors.

Tonight, I'm sleeping near the beach again, and hopefully will wake up to another beautiful, sunny summer day. And then driving to Yosemite for some beautiful hikes with energetic kids- it's bound to be fun!
I've been having a wonderful time! Loving my job, loving traveling and visiting all these beautiful places, my only wish is that I could share my photos right away, but you'll have to wait until I'm back in Edmonton.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Big White Van

The drive from Wyoming to California took two days of driving, each of the six of us taking our turn behind the wheel of the fifteen passenger van. The back loaded up to the ceiling with tents and gear and backpacks, even with the rear seat missing, we were still wedged between bags of groceries and sleeping pads. With four Ipods, we were well entertained and two people in the back seat became obsessed with a game called "Angry Birds" and would randomly start screaming out things like: "Get them monkeys!" or "The bird blew up too early! Got to try again!"

We began at around 8,000 feet, curving slowly in first gear down the side of a mountain, surrounded by aspens and various evergreens. Then we drove through Utah, and spent the night in Nevada, just off the highway, surrounded by sage brush and dirt, under a clear sky and a glowing moon.

The next day we arrived safely in California and set up camp. 5 minutes infront of us, and lulling us to sleep each night is the Pacific Ocean, with barking seals and diving pelicans. 2 minutes behind us are strawberry fields, filled early with bent workers collecting the sweet red berries that we buy for change at the fruit stands lining the hiway and gorge ourselves on pails of fresh berries, along with sides of guacamole made from fresh and ridiculously cheap avacados.

We didn't stay long, but loaded back up in the vans and did a super-speed run through of the program we are taking kids on later this summer. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, the American River and San Francisco in five days!!!
We hiked, backpacked, went mountain biking, rock climbing and visited hot springs. Near Lake Tahoe I saw my first bear, sniffing and licking around the campsite beside ours, as they had left food sitting out. I was so excited to see a real black bear right across the road from me, we were all so enamored, taking pictures, that we didn't even try to scare the bear away.
Lake Tahoe and further hidden, but just as amazing, Marlette Lake parallel that of Lake Lucerne: vivid blue, from the glaciers of mountains, surrounded by stone and snow peaks. The Yosemite Valley was a too-perfect painting, so surreal I had to tell myself to breathe because I was too taken by the majesty of the mountains and waterfalls. We hiked up to a waterfall, following the natural stairs, almost constantly surrounded by rainbows as we climbed through the mist and spray that soaked us until we reached the top, and laid on a slab of rock and dried in the sun.
And now I'm back at the beach, two hours or so from San Francisco, ready to eat piles of fresh fruit and laugh in the sand, lay in the sun.
I am having such a great time!

In two days the actual program, youth and all, starts. I am so excited! Everything has been wonderful and so much fun!