Monday, March 12, 2012

Days 3 and 4: Diversity!

Sorry I didn't post last night. we got back kind of late, we had kind of a late night and I couldn't resist some programming on Milton afterwards. But yesterday and today kind of fit together thematically, so that's fine.

Yesterday was (amazingly) Sunday. We had a bit of a slow morning; we were attending church in the evening and didn't do much in the morning even though we could have gone to Hope. We just hung out for the morning and played some games; I was on Milton for a while. At 1 we went to Hope, where the second service was just finishing up; we snagged some Panera bread. We were going on another tour of the city led by John Mayer (not the John Mayer, but we joked about it plenty). He was the leader of a group called City Vision dedicated to serving the poor and sharing the gospel in Minneapolis. He was a big fan of what he called "stomach evangelism", which apparently involved trying lots of multicultural food. We climbed on the Hope bus (this tour had apparently been publicized at the service today, so there were lots of people there besides our group) and headed for Midtown.

At Midtown we went to an amazing ethnic market with shops and restaurants representing many of the cultures in Minneapolis. I had biked by the Midtown building tons of times on the Greenway, but I had no idea how amazing it was inside! John Mayer recommended the camel burger (that he apparently invented), which many people tried. We walked around and visited the shops as we waited for them to be prepared. It was all amazingly colorful and full of cool stuff hanging in stalls, though we didn't buy anything. I wasn't adventurous enough to try the camel burger (I wish I had) and had some Thai food instead. After we were all sufficiently stuffed, we went on a tour of the rest of the city.

John's tour focused on the ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity in the city. Apparently Minneapolis is the top ___ city in America for just about any minority religion or ethnic group you can think of. He made plenty of jokes to help teach us about them (if you see green buildings, it more likely means they're Somali than Irish). We got out in a few places and explored a few neighborhoods, including the Super Mercado, a Hispanic mall on Lake Street. I'm already having a bit of trouble remembering all the specifics, but it was similarly illustrative to yesterday's tour. I will admit, I was a bit reluctant to keep hearing about all the diversity. Maybe it reminded me a bit of all the silly diversity exercises we did at my (not very diverse) high school. Sometimes it seemed like he was focusing on diversity for diversity's sake.

After the tour we debriefed a bit at Hope and then had some down time before the evening church service. We went to the neighborhood around the church (which the tour had passed through) and visited Mercado Central (across the street from Super Mercado), a Hispanic grocery store, where we got some soda (with cane sugar!) for dinner. We just walked around and visited a few markets in the neighborhood, then went into the church.

We were pretty much the only white folks there. It was a totally Hispanic church, and we weren't really sure what to expect. Luckily they apparently had a translation service for the sermon. They started off with six or seven worship songs; because they were in pretty basic Spanish ("Mi Dios es grande y fuerte") and I remembered surprisingly much of my high school Spanish, I actually followed the songs pretty well and even sang along. Some were translations of familiar English worship songs, and had sections where they broke intro English (I wondered if that was for our sake). The worship was surprisingly great; having to mentally translate really got me to think about the lyrics more.

The sermon was also all in Spanish; they gave us receivers and headsets to listen to an English translation, but mine didn't work very well and I eventually ditched it and just tried to understand as much as I could, which was actually about a quarter to a third of it. (About as much as I was getting off the headset, plus I could hear his tone) The sermon was about the importance of coming to church and participating in the body of Christ, which seemed pretty solid from what I could tell. (Apparently there was some theology we didn't really agree with, but I missed it) So that service went better than expected; just like with the African-American churches we went to in Milwaukee, everyone was really welcoming and you could tell the Spirit was there at the service with us.

After that was over we returned to le Hotel Legault to finally make spaghetti dinner; I did the meat for the sauce as I was good at it from making chili. the service had gotten out around 8:30, so it was a late dinner; David and Michelle joined us and a good time and meal was had by all. After Danielle and Rebecca (the female spring break-goers) left for the night it was pretty late and I just did some coding before bed, hence the lack of a blog.

The next day was mostly spent at Hope. Seth was taking us on another epic whirlwind tour through the entire Bible as we often did on Sundays, only this one took all day. I kind of had to force myself to pay attention and not feel like I knew the story by now: God's perfect creation of man, the tragedy of the fall, and the rest of the Bible as the working out of His redemptive plan. It was pretty dense and we spent a while on each part of the timeline; luckily there was plenty of food. As a break we went to a cool used book store (The Book House) in Dinkytown that I had known about but never went into. any students who are reading this, it's at 14th and 5th, I think; check it out. Books everywhere. I got a couple of good books like a Java book from 1996 that had been marked down from $50 to $1.

After lunch we got through the rest of scripture, covering how necessary and yet unexpected Jesus was in first-century Israel, then just hung out at a coffee shop until our evening activity. One other nice thing about this trip compared to Summer Project is that it's much less packed with lots of free time scheduled and unscheduled. We sat at a bar (drinking tea) but I kind of sat on the outside next to a speaker, so I couldn't really hear much. While lost in thought I designed most of an algorithm for my latest coding project.

In the evening we went to International Village, a nonprofit in St. Paul that offers lots of services to immigrants and refugees. Apparently they started out aimed at Somalis, but lots of Bhutanese refugees have been coming lately and they've mostly switched to helping them. The couple running the ministry showed us a video on the Bhutanese plight (ethnic Nepalis were getting kicked out of the country by the government and had spent over 15 years in refugee camps in Nepal before the United States invited them here) and did a simulation on how stressful the refugee experience could be.

After dinner we actually went out and visited some refugees in their apartment. These visits were apparently pretty common for the couple and served no purpose other than to be friendly and social. I wasn't too excited at first; I was worried about the language barrier and that I'd have no idea what to discuss with them. But nonetheless we went into an unassuming apartment, knocked on a door in the bottom floor, and were accepted into an apartment. My first impressions were that it was pretty bare, and it smelled. I eased into a chair in a corner and Charity, the woman we'd come with (who knew some Nepali) started talking with them.

Living in the apartment were the guy International Village knew best, Mohan, his younger brother, and their parents, who were students of IV's ESL classes. One of Mohan's friends and an older guy in a cool elf-like cap (we weren't sure of his relation to the family) were also there. Mohan and his brother spoke pretty good English; his friend was somewhat less intelligible, and the parents spoke minimal English. At first they left and let us English speakers talk, but Charity invited them back and tried to engage them in the conversation. They were generous and served us some chia (pronounced in one syllable), a traditional blend of tea and coffee, and then Mountain Dew, which was a nice illustration of the merging of two very different cultures.

Like I said, I at first had no idea what to say and we kind of let Charity do most of the talking, but pretty soon they opened up to us. Bhutanese people are really open; I asked questions that would have gotten one or two sentences out of an American, and they told us these cool stories. I ended up conversing with Mohan a lot and heard his own story as a refugee. He was about six when his family got kicked out of Bhutan and has only fleeting memories of his life there; his family apparently lived on a big farm in the mountains. He then lived as a refugee in Nepal for 18 years, which I could barely even imagine. Their accommodations in the camp there were really cramped, but they did get ten free years of schooling including English lessons, which turned out to be really valuable when they got to come to America. His parents had similar stories, remembering more of their life in Bhutan, but compared to life in Nepal their only problem in America was not knowing English, which IV was helping them with.

The other older guy (with the cool hat) also randomly mentioned he'd been bitten by a snake in Bhutan, which I asked more about. He was carrying some firewood home at night when his leg suddenly started stinging and going numb. By the time he got him it was swollen and he could barely move it, then he lost consciousness. When he woke up lots of his friends and family were there and his mother was tying up his left to keep the poison out of the rest of his body and applying an herbal treatment. Obviously he was fine now, but it was just amazing hearing first (or secondhand) something I would normally have read out of a book. It was so cool to be talking to these representatives from another world.

We drove that guy and Mohan's friend back; me and the friend had a nice conversation about how flat Minnesota was compared to Nepal. (It's hard to compete with Mt. Everest) We briefly stopped by the apartment the other group had gone to before heading home for the night. Apparently their conversation hadn't gone so well with the IV guy with them doing most of the talking. Anyway, today really brought home the point John Mayer made about the importance of bridging ethnic and cultural gaps. When you do, you meet some really cool people with amazing stories!

God has really surprised me the last two days and broken down lots of the resistance I had to cross-cultural ministry. Tomorrow we are doing more Biblical teaching in the morning and going to Hope Academy. I can't wait!

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