Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Summer of Service

This summer I had the blessing of serving as the Evangelical Friends Church Mid-America Yearly Meeting Summer Intern. In short, my internship included everything from preparing for large ministry events to running errands to collecting supplies to being right there serving at an event; my internship was learning and serving in the capacity of the behind scenes work of ministry leadership. I was able to catch a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in ministry and event planning through helping plan and/or carrying out our summer camps at Camp Quaker Haven, VBS at Northridge Friends Church,  Kaleo Academy: A Friends Youth Leadership Training, Ministry Conference in Haviland, KS, our annual college gathering for Friends University students, Friends Friends Friends Retreat, and more!

I helped prepare for and served as an assistant administrative assistant at our regional gathering, Ministry Conference.

I was a counselor for a cabin of Junior High girls at Camp Quaker Haven for a week.  

I served as a Peer Leader at the first ever Kaleo Theology Camp. 

I have gained a deeper connection to the Friends church and have found great joy in becoming better acquainted to those in my yearly meeting–both younger and older than me. Throughout this summer I have seen the value in intergenerational living. The older generation has such wisdom and life experience to share and pour into me; the younger generation has such different views on varying topics and provides me with wisdom and creative thinking I would not have thought of on my own. Going forward, I would like to continue to foster relationships with both those older and younger than me, because I think that they both have things that I can learn from them and both provide outlets and opportunities to serve those within my local church body.

I look forward to continuing to serve in my local church and the local yearly meeting for the sake of the Good News. I'm thankful to the Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment Grant for helping make my summer of service possible. I am excited to continue to use the leadership skills I acquired this summer for the sake of His Kingdom!

Christa Follette
EFC-MAYM Summer Intern

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Retreat in the Cloud Forest

It is a treat to be contributing to a blog of such creative and meaningful projects! The summer of 2017 is proving to be an important moment to be of service and I appreciate the role that the Pickett Endowment has played in making that possible.

Starting in June, I have been supporting the development of an interfaith center in Huatusco, Mexico. Over the last ten years, I have been a part of a community in the state of Veracruz, Mexico protecting a Cloud Forest bioregion. This community provides education regarding sustainable agriculture and has planted thousands of trees in the region, promoting the regeneration of an important ecosystem here in Mexico.

I first came to live in Mexico two years ago, to blend my interest in spiritual practices and teachings with nature conservation. That work has blossomed into the creation of a retreat center that opened this summer. My role in the formation of this retreat center has been two fold. First, it is to provide a Quaker framework to our decision making process. I work with our leadership team to create an equitable and respectful environment through which to base all decisions going forward. Second, I am forming the first year’s program design and schedule in order to reflect the values of my faith and my community.

My first opportunity to step towards these goals was during our inaugural event. The vision of this event was to create an experience that honored and exposed participants to many faith traditions. In advance of the weekend, I was nervous about how it would turn out. While spiritual leaders from many traditions, from Buddhist to Celtic, and from Sikh to traditions honoring the sacred feminine had gathered, we did not have many people registered. What if it turned out to be a big flop?!

On opening night, over 100 people gathered to celebrate the space and to begin an important dialogue about the role of all religious faiths in the healing and protection of our earth. Here is our group just before saying goodbye on the final day of the inauguration in front of the retreat center:

The space is designed with eight pillars that lead towards a skylight, signaling the many paths that lead to God.

I had the honor of welcoming the participants on Friday night. I initiated the sequence of interfaith ceremonies with the Quaker tradition. Every tradition offered a symbol for an alter we created. These symbols will remain in the center for years to come, reminding us to create experiences that are inclusive and in the service of Spirit. For the Quaker tradition there is a carving saying “Welcome Friends.”

Perhaps the most touching ceremony for me was led by a French Canadian priest who serves those without resources in this community. Representing the Catholic faith, he presented five colorful squares, each with a symbol of Catholicism. One was a pair of dirty shoes. It was an invitation to step inside the experience of the other, and to treat all with love and compassion, as Jesus would have done.

The connection with the land here is so important. It speaks to us in ways that people can’t. Outside the retreat center, we built a spiral of Chicalaba trees. These trees grow to be so large that they create an supportive canopy for much of the cloud forest flora and fauna. Under it’s shade birds that are going extinct find refuge and plants seldom seen grow again. We have planted hundreds of Chicalabas nearby but the retreat was a chance for many people to meet one for the first time.

We closed the inauguration with a circle dance that was taught for healing in Mexico, after the use of nuclear waste caused great harm to many communities. The dance was a recognition of the healing power of trees in the face of disaster. Here you can see us dancing!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Partners in Ministry

Summer 2017 is off and running, and with that the Evangelical Friends Church Mid-America Yearly Meeting (EFC-MAYM) Ministry Center is busy preparing for all of the activities of this Summer! I am Christa Follette and I am the EFC-MAYM Summer Intern. I started serving in this position one week ago, and I am enjoying and soaking in every minute of it. The past week has included much planning and preparation for our summer camps held at Camp Quaker Haven: updating camp counselor information, putting together camp handbooks, loading a van, and calling counselors. I also had a great meeting with the Family Ministries Pastor at Northridge Friends Church to discuss Vacation Bible School and youth programming at Northridge Friends Church. Then, that same day I spend an hour and a half on the phone discussing and hashing out information regarding retreat books, college and young adult programming, Run 4 Missions, and how to use GoogleDocs.  This past week was full of a lot of planning, learning about long-term projects, and summer goals, which makes me eager for what the next nine weeks will hold. I have the joy of working alongside many different leaders within our yearly meeting, learning from them, and utilizing my time to serve them and serve with them. I'm so grateful for this opportunity to partner in ministry with EFC-MAYM and Northridge Friends Church.

Christa Follette
EFC-MAYM Summer Intern

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Casa de los Amigos, el libro: poco a poco

Muchos saludos amigos y amigas, friends, readers and fellow Pickett Endowment grantees. I have enjoyed reading updates from other projects, you do get a sense of these journeys.

My own project is a book about Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker Center for Peace and International Understanding in Mexico City. The Casa turns 60 this year and it's been exciting Quaker peacework, so there's a lot to write about, research, and understand. There are a lot of people to interview. I've been working on this book for just over a year.

an interview with Orfila Vidal de Flores, a Casa volunteer from 1967, in the Biblioteca Jorge Fox.  
I wrote a post on this blog in July, introducing this project. At that time, I still hoped to be finished by the fall (e.g., now), and I've since extended that date to the spring of next year. Things are moving along wonderfully, slowly and surely...just a bit more slowly than I had imagined they might. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it turns out. I recently wrote a bit about my decision to extend the project finish date on the book's Kickstarter campaign page here. The support that I have received in response to letting folks know about this decision has been very affirming for me.

Last weekend, at the Casa's 60th anniversary celebrations, I was able to speak with a large group of people about the project and about my own process. It was a fun chance to talk about what I'd been doing during the last year: research in several archives, interviewing many people, reading, collecting and organizing documents, photos and personal histories, writing a grant, running a Kickstarter campaign, and yes, writing.

kind of a weird picture of me talking about this project at the Casa last Saturday night 
It was also a great opportunity for me to hold up some of the myriad distractions I've succumbed to since leaving the Casa in April of last year (after over a decade of living and working there). Such as attending Pacific Yearly Meeting, traveling and spending lots of time with my 9-year-old, moving (twice), being involved in my Meeting, working for several months to help coordinate an AFSC delegation to Mexico, and adjusting to life outside Casa de los Amigos...things like that. It's helpful for me to look at this list, both to see that I've been very busy, and that I've not been entirely successful in resisting temptation and stripping my life down mostly just to creating this book (and hanging out with my kid, of course).

On a deeper level, Writing--as a full-time thing--has been more challenging for me than I thought. I was quite sure that I had learned how to work hard and long at the Casa, and I had. I'd also had to write, pretty much every day. However, the discipline of daily, solo writing was (is) nothing like the fast-paced, multi-tasking teamwork of the Casa, and I had to shift gears on several levels to get into it. I have done that, but I didn't give myself the time I needed. I slowly reconciled myself with the decision to extend this project and continue working on this book until its properly done. The finished product has to be where I want it...for me, and for all the Casa community. If the book is some months behind my schedule, nobody will recall this in ten years. It is more important that the book is an accurate and effective statement of the Casa's amazing history and impact.

A Casa piñata. Many people have responded to my ongoing call for Casa de los Amigos photos.
I have a few outlets to talk and write about this project and this process, so I have wondered exactly what to publish here. I've felt the temptation to use the Pickett Endowment Blog as the "support group" blog, as I've read other grantees who share news about their projects but who are also very honest about their trials and challenges along the way. I've certainly felt my share of those, but the sense of relief upon extending the timeline was re-inspiring, and I'm still feeling it...I've gone back to focusing on the project and not the deadline. Hope to post more frequently to this blog. Thanks again to Pickett Endowment folks and other grantees for reading, and for your great work.

¡Saludos a todxs!

This photo seems appropriate: here's a note to then-President Lázaro Cardenas about an upcoming, 1939 meeting with Clarence Pickett at the National Palace in Mexico City. This document is in the Archivo General de la Nación, where you have to wear gloves to look at anything...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Volunteer Coordinating at Los Quinchos, Nicaragua

Buenas Tardes! Reading through previous blog posts by other Pickett Fund recipients, I am amazed at the breadth and depth of the projects undertaken by fellow Friends, past and present.

A brief description of my project is that I am working in San Marcos, Nicaragua at Los Quinchos, a residential care center for street children from the capital city of Managua. While my day-to-day work involves a plethora of other tasks, my primary focus here is on improving the various forms of short-term volunteer engagements. Led by previous experiences at Los Quinchos in which I witnessed first-hand some of the deleterious effects of well-intended, but fundamentally misguided volunteer work, I felt a calling to return and devote my attention to improving these modes of volunteering. I have been blessed to have the material support of both the Pickett Fund and Haverford College´s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, as well as emotional support from F/friends and family.

Los Quinchos is a residential program for children ages 8-18. The children all have unique histories and reasons for living at Los Quinchos, but the unifying characteristic of all their stories is that their parents are unable to provide a safe and stable home life for them. They are considered to be coming from ¨high risk¨ situations for reasons such as domestic abuse, sexual abuse and trafficking, involvement with gangs, long-term abandonment, forced child labor, alcoholism and drug addictions, and the death of parents. Los Quinchos provides stable long-term care for the children in a rural setting, attempting to also equip them with an adequate education, psychological services, and vocational training programs.

During 10 weeks spent working with Los Quinchos during the summer of 2015, I was alarmed by some of the negative manifestations of volunteers´ good intentions. In a particular striking instance, a visiting delegation of American missionaries unintentionally re-traumatized a number of the children by carelessly mentioning the children´s previous abuse and abandonment. After the group left, several of the kids struggled for the ensuing days to cope with the feelings that resurfaced. While it is easier to find fault in the behavior of others, I acknowledge my complicity in participating in potentially negative forms of volunteering; especially last summer, walking into Los Quinchos without either the adequate context or qualifications for working with high-risk youth, I am sure my presence had unintended consequences for the children and staff.

This is not to say that all short-term international volunteer work is problematic, but there are significant problems accompanying the presence of foreign volunteers in residential care centers and orphanages. (For a brief summary of some of the main challenges and risks, I highly recommend the Better Care Network´s position paper on orphanage volunteering).

After last summer, I returned to my final year of my undergraduate studies and dove into exploring the issues associated with short-term international volunteering, culminating in my senior thesis. For my thesis, I conducted primary research on volunteering in Chile and was able to find many instances in which the presence of short-term international volunteers can be useful, when carefully structured.

Acting upon one´s faith, for many Quakers, involves a deep commitment to social justice work, both in domestic and global contexts. Having gaining knowledge of what are considered ¨best practices¨ in international short- term volunteering, I now feel led to work in collaboration with the full-time staff to establish these practices within Los Quinchos.

I have been surprised at the many tensions between these ¨best practices¨ and practical institutional considerations. As a small NGO, Los Quinchos largely relies on international funding, much of which comes from individuals who visit the center in Nicaragua and make larger term commitments of resources. As such, Los Quinchos staff and leadership feels the need to appease volunteers and visitors, despite the fact that groups and individuals provide a significant drain of the staff´s time and resources. Groups frequently show-up unannounced at the center and without a translator, expecting to be guided around the various sites. Frequently when groups or individuals show up, the kids are all pulled out of school for the day in order to accommodate the visitors´ schedules. Despite these concerns, the Los Quinchos leadership has previously felt unable to restrict the times and ways in which volunteers interact with the children at Los Quinchos.

As a temporary volunteer coordinator, my main projects work to develop institutional practices and structure around volunteers and visitors. Over the summer months when most groups and volunteers arrive, this meant serving as an interlocutor between the center´s staff and the visitors.

Understandably, volunteers arrive with many pre-conceived notions of what volunteering at an orphanage in a developing country looks like. They want to take sweet photos with the smiling children to upload to their social media profiles. They want to return home to the United States, Italy, or Canada with emotional stories of the impact they had on the children´s lives, of the permanently forged bonds.

These are all natural instincts and desires, many of which I have felt myself. However, for the children and the center, these preconceived forms of volunteering can lead to behaviors that infringe on the children´s privacy or lead to longer-term attachment issues.

During the months in which the center was flooded with visitors and volunteers, I mostly worked to facilitate conversations about these instincts. Rather than accusing individuals, I tried to situate these instincts and preconceptions within the larger context of global North-to-South aid flows and the ways paternalistic attitudes are cloaked within norms and traditions around volunteering.

Since the majority of volunteers have returned to their homes, I am now mostly focusing on creating a framework for future volunteering. In an effort towards sustainability, I am working with the staff to institutionalize the ¨best practices¨ of volunteering. My hope is that by establishing basic perimeters and requirements for volunteers, the center can resolve some of the longer-term tensions between the center´s financial need for volunteers and their mandate to protect the privacy and emotional well-being of the kids.

Of course, most of my day-to-day activities involve working in solidarity with the full-time staff, developing trusting and mutual relationships with them and the children, and accompanying the kids through the daily challenges and joys in their lives. Every day spent working with the children and staff, I feel such deep gratitude for this opportunity.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Exploring Pain Through Paint

I received the Pickett Endowment to pursue creating a body of work exploring the pain being experienced within the North West Yearly Meeting. In this season we are facing a deep diversity in our views of human sexuality, both within our individual churches as well as the entire meeting itself. I have seen individuals on all sides of the issue experiencing deep pain as the NWYM treads through such a sensitive topic. As we begin to understand how diverse our beliefs are I believe it is becoming harder and harder to see one another well. We are clouded by our opinions and frustration with those who are different than us. Within these paintings I am interested in reminding myself and the members of the NWYM that everybody, even those whose beliefs are contrary to your own, is hurting in this season.

I have collected half of my photo references for this project and will get the rest by the end of the month. As I collect images of individuals from the NWYM I am also collecting stories. It has been beautiful and challenging to sit with people who are different than I am. I have had to remind myself to give them space to speak of their experiences without involving my own beliefs and convictions in the conversation. As I learn about our meeting I am continuously reminded how beautiful our Creator's work is and how our minds, hearts and bodies have been crafted so uniquely. 

Between now and July 2017 I will create 7-12 paintings to display at next year's Yearly Meeting. They will be on 3' round panels and the figures will be larger than life (See images below). My hope for this project is that it will create space for people to remember the humanity of all members of the meeting. I hope that this display will facilitate conversation, forgiveness and learning. 

I have begun my first painting and some of my process is displayed below. When I sit with individuals I take many photos from different angles so I have plenty of information to work form. I also take images that are distorted by motion. When I create the paintings I often choose a few images to combine. You can see below how images are combined into one painting.

Here are some reference images I have taken so far followed by a small painting study: 

Here is a the process of a painting that is further along:

Here is a painting that has multiple viewpoints. This is not for this project but is an example of something I will explore in these paintings. I feel that this strategy can communicate the complexity of a single individual: