It has been almost 2 years since my last blog post. Going back and rereading old posts feel like I am talking with an old friend. It is fascinating to see where life has taken me since I started this blog. This blog is full of transitions and how I have experienced them. From my first European adventure studying in Belgium, to trips to Turkey and Iraq, moving to Croatia, and then beginning seminary, my life has been full. It has now been a month since I have graduated seminary and I am in the midst of my next life transition. However, this one does not include moving half-way across the world, but growing some roots here in Goshen, Indiana. I am in the midst of job searching, which honestly is scary and intimidating as I am trying to find something that fits my passions and education. I also spend much of my time wedding planning these days as I prepare to marry my best friend in September. We have also purchased a house that we are completely remodeling, so I am working on my carpentry skills. For now, however, I am to share my ministry formation report that I gave orally for my Senior Interview at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. In it I describe my journey over the past four years.
An Experience of Wholeness: A Ministry Reflection Report
As I look back on the last four years of my time here at AMBS, it is incredible to see where this journey has brought me. When I applied to AMBS four years ago, I felt really lost in life. I didn’t feel like I knew who I was after graduating from my undergrad and being placed in new contexts. I ended a voluntary service position in Croatia two years earlier than expected because I had experienced isolation and depression. I had so many questions about God and was identifying myself as agnostic. I didn’t know what else to do and somehow felt a nudge to apply to seminary. I came feeling lost and broken with so many questions. I still have so many questions, but I am leaving with a sense of wholeness, unlike anything else I have experienced in my life. I will talk about my formation in the areas of personal, intellectual, spiritual, pastoral, and vocational growth, but these categories for me are all intertwined, which is what I found so meaningful about seminary. I was viewed as a whole person, not just a student. In this way, I was able to grow in all ways into a deeper sense of myself, and a deeper sense of whom I believe God is calling me to be.
I believe that AMBS gave me a lot of tools to grow as a person and to explore my own complex identity. One of the first requirements of LEAP was to take the Myers Briggs personality test. I am an ENFP. As an extrovert I like to spend most of my time with other people. In Human Development and Christian Formation we took the MPD (Measures of Psychosocial Development) where I scored extremely high on intimacy and zero on isolation, which shows how much I value relationships and how much time and energy I put into relationships. This value on relationships has often guided my formation in many different areas, including academic studies and spiritual formation, as I would often try understand the people and situations around me. During my time in both of my internships I built many relationships with the Latinx community in Elkhart County. This led to my interest in immigration and studying it theologically and biblically. Relationships with close friends who were going through suffering led me to think about theodicy and study it and also spend time developing spiritual disciplines that could help me deal with the difficult emotions I was feeling in seeing their suffering. These emotions also point to the feeling and intuitive parts of my personality type.
It is interesting that my enneagram personality, type 4, also points to a compassionate identity to those who suffer. Don Riso and Russ Hudson write in their book, Discovering Your Personality Type of my personality 4, “When Fours are more in balance, their exquisite attunement to their inner states enable them to discover deep truths about human nature, to bear compassionate witness to the suffering of others, or to be profoundly honest with themselves about their motives.” 4’s are known for their deep feelings and this came through during my time in seminary. I learned how to use spiritual disciplines and have counted on my relationships to help me work through my feelings in a positive way. I cannot say enough how AMBS has been there for me. During one particularly difficult semester, I cried in five different professor’s offices. I believe this speaks to how comfortable I feel here and how AMBS truly is a place where we are seen as whole people. My perceiving side of my personality has also been encouraged at AMBS as I have learned to respond to new ideas and integrate studies. Although I have also been stretched into a judging person as I manage to complete multiple tasks and stay organized while juggling academic work and community work.
Another part of my personal formation is how I recognize myself as a white person of privilege. Michael Brown was shot just before I entered seminary and in many ways I believe that this country was beginning new conversations about white supremacy and the way that racism works in the country and in our own lives. This question of how to be an ally as a white person was something I began exploring right away with Malinda Berry’s class on Church and Race. This question of identity led me to explore theology in new ways, as I wanted to understand other views of how to see God in the world and see the places where the Bible works on the side of the oppressed. This would continue to be a theme as I did two internships where my supervisors were Latino and I worked with Latinx communities. This identity also has gone into vocational call.
My view of the Bible has shifted drastically in the last four years. When I began seminary I had a narrow view of the bible. Growing up in a Mennonite household I knew the Sermon on the Mount and appreciated the peace witness, but I had trouble with violence I saw in the Old Testament and the way fundamentalist youth leaders of mine used the Bible for their own agenda and said that there was only one way to interpret it. My first semester, however, introduced me to new interpretations. In Christian Theology 1, Jamie had us read three different interpretations on different theological topics, including a traditional interpretation, an Anabaptist interpretation, and then interpretations from feminists, people of color, and other. I was encouraged to explore different ways of thinking about God and thinking about the Bible. I learned how to try to understand different positions, even the position of my former youth leaders whom I had felt deeply betrayed by, but also develop my own thoughts and stances on the different theological themes. I feel better prepared to work with diverse understandings of the Bible and still build good relationships built on common faith in Jesus. As Mary Shertz said recently in Biblical Foundations of Peace and Justice, everyone who reads the Bible has the right to speak to what the Bible says. The Bible is relevant and it is proper to argue about what it means.
In Psalms class, I was invited to see God in new ways as I discovered ways that humans have been using poetry to describe their relationship with God. I was amazed to discover in the laments where people cried out to God for God not doing God’s job. I had grown up hearing that we should not question God, but here in our sacred texts, people were doing this. The laments did not usually end, though, with questions, but with thanksgiving. Safwat encouraged me to explore this complexity. Through my academic study of the Bible, I have discovered a God much more complex and bigger than I had previously imagined.
My classes also encouraged me to think about my whole being. In cultural hermeneutics I was able to think more about my job at the local food coop as I thought about it from a Christian view-point. In Suffering and Hope allowed me to think critically about questions I have concerning suffering in the world. I was also able to make connections to the world around me as I took interactive classes in Egypt, on the Migrant Trail, studying immigration, and then on the Trail of Death where I got to think about indigenous people and their connection to God and the Bible. These classes not only had me think academically about the world around me, but spiritually. Education for Peace and Justice led to including worship practices within academics and even though I did not want to do this at first, I soon came to appreciate the importance of the inclusion of spiritual practices with academic as it attends to the whole person and places emphasis on one’s relationship with God.
My pursuit of studies was also very much intertwined with my spiritual formation from the beginning, as Safwat, through advising sessions, always encouraged me to think of issues academically and spiritually. This started my first semester as one of my best friends had a brain tumor. I remember going into Safwat’s office crying. He encourage me to explore this suffering biblically and academically but reminded me that this is also a personal issue and I found it so meaningful that he prayed for me and my friend and encouraged me to find spiritual practices to help me as I processed this news. I felt so supported during this time, which was much different from the year before when my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and I found myself without any support in a foreign country. My friend has now been tumor free for three years and is in good health, but this experience really impacted my spiritual and academic practices and helped me to continue to think about suffering in new ways as I continue to witness the affects of Parkinson’s on my dad.
Spiritual practices were a part of many of classes including Human Development and Christian formation, and Suffering and Hope. In Human Development and Christian Formation I was able to explore different practices. I discovered practices such as walking the prayer labyrinth that helped me to slow down and just be. This was especially helpful in times of stress and when I needed to do inward processing. I also found that when I used running as a spiritual discipline, I found myself praying more and able better handle other situations because I had converted anxious energy into physical exercise and prayer at the same time. My fiancé and I began praying together early on in our relationship, which helped build a solid foundation for our relationship. I still find our prayer time together one of the most meaningful parts of our relationship as it brings us into deeper relationship with each other and with God. Art played an important role in Suffering and Hope as a spiritual discipline as Malinda helped us to process information through this medium. I continued to use this in other classes to take in the information on a spiritual basis such as my final project of the Book of 12, where I painted the main themes for all the minor prophets to give me a visual to remember them by. When I find myself doing spiritual practices on a regular basis, I find myself more in tune with my body and spirit, which helps me in my relationship with both God and others.
I am in the MDiv track, peace studies partly because I do not want to be a pastor in the traditional sense. However, I do believe I have developed a pastoral identity in the past four years as I have increasingly seen myself as a ministering person. I my first internship at Goshen College, my supervisor Gilberto Perez wrote the following as part of his evaluation: “Julia continues to search for the meaning of role of pastor. Her interest appears to be in small group work and community engagement.” However, in a different section he wrote, “Her presence was calm and contemplative. At a time when students are experiencing significant life transition Julia created a space for students to be still and consider the changes at hand. I believe Julia has strong potential for community life pastoral work.” I believe that this points to my pastoral identity, even if I did not recognize as such at the time.
I have found my pastoral identity emerging as other changes have occurred over the past four years. I find myself praying a lot more. In meetings I facilitate for the Elkhart-Goshen Sanctuary Coalition, I often start and end in prayer now and have even cancelled my agenda when it appeared that my team was dealing with issues that we needed to pray about as a way to support each other. Another part of my emerging pastoral identity is my focus on building relationships and understanding the physical, as well as spiritual needs that I see in others. In both my internships, I have worked with vulnerable Latinx people who have experienced suffering in their lives. Even as I have worked to distribute resources about community organizations that work with immigrants, I have tried to also include theological resources and to think deeply about the church’s role in ministering to these communities in ways that the gifts of immigrants can be shared. I believe that the role of recognizing gifts and helping people to learn how to use their gifts and skills to benefit the community is a pastoral role. This role fits well into my hope to become a community organizer.
I think that one of the most influential parts of my seminary experience has been my two internships. At Goshen College’s Center for International and Intercultural Education I had the chance to explore more deeply working with communities of color. My supervisor Gilberto Perez played an important role in helping me understand my identity as a white leader and being able to enter into situations that made me uncomfortable, but use that vulnerability to connect to people at a personal level. I did this through taking attending and leading discussions in a leadership seminar for freshman of color at Goshen College. I also got to work closely with Rocio Diaz, the community outreach coordinator and worked with her to start a support group for Latina women. Even though I struggled in my Spanish and being a white woman, I found acceptance in this group and discovered ways to connect beyond cultural boundaries. I also got the chance to work with white students who were concerned about social justice but did not know how to approach students of other racial and cultural backgrounds. Through this work, I realized my passion for working with the community and finding ways to connect people and build relationship across cultures.
My second internship was with MCC Great Lakes. I chose this internship after I did a Borderlands tour with Saulo Padilla and Jorge Vielman, who became my supervisors. I wanted to explore more deeply what it meant to work on immigration through a faith perspective. Specifically, I wanted to know how churches could connect their theology to taking specific actions. Through this I began to research a possible immigrant resource center that could help locally, and was a part of the formation of the Elkhart-Goshen Sanctuary Coalition. In these leadership roles, I found myself connecting both with white churches and the Latino community. I was invited many times to speak at churches and used sermons and papers I had written in my classes at AMBS. Through this internship, I found a way to practically apply my seminary studies and grow as a faith-based community leader.
As I have said, I do not feel called to be a pastor in the traditional sense, but through my internships and academic work, I have learned that I like working with pastors and communities. Thus a faith-based Community organizer seems to be a good fit for me. I want to explore further of how faith communities actively work out their faith for social justice. I want to help people work through the theology of peace and justice while actively working for it in the world. I’m not sure exactly how this vocational call will work out after seminary, but I am exploring ways that I can keep on organizing and working with the Elkhart-Goshen Sanctuary Coalition and other groups I am now a part of to do this work that I believe God is calling me to. Immigrant justice is so important right now in this political climate and it is so interesting to see how God has used my time at AMBS to prepare me for this work right now when it’s needed so badly.
As I continue forward after seminary, I want to keep exploring new academic work and keep reading, especially as immigration studies continues to become more popular in academics. I believe that this will be important so that my activist, community work is solidly grounded in good theology. I want to keep focused on the bible and continue thinking of what it means to be a ministering person in all the work that I do. I also need to keep exploring the complexity of issues and always be willing to hear the other side and being open to change. I know that sometimes this can be difficult for me, but it is important as I relate to all different sorts of people both in my own culture and others. Only by being in relationship with others can work move forward together. Even as I have shared about my spiritual practices, I admit that I am not always the best at continuing practices. Even this semester, I have found myself not engaging the practices I know are beneficial to me in times of stress and depression. I want to continue to work at becoming better at engaging practices during all periods of my life.
As I’ve talked about the wholeness I’ve found in my life during seminary, I cannot help but think of the word “shalom.” For my final project in God’s Shalom I wrote the following as my definition of Shalom. I believe that this fits well with the growth I have experienced in my own life in the past four years. I wrote:
Shalom = God’s Gift of a Deep Wellbeing for all of Creation
- Lifestyle of following Jesus’ example of nonviolence, especially in the midst of empire
- Studying Scripture with new eyes : focus on the Biblical call of peace
- Taking a second look at history : finding other viewpoints
- Truth-telling from all with a particular focus from the margins
- Significant consideration of power unbalances
- Creative imagining of reconciliation
- Living into the messiness together