Monday, February 2, 2015

Mission Statement Monday: Looking back...

Our first Mission Statement alumni post comes from Tim Honchel, who was a LASP student in Fall 2009. Follow Tim as he reflects on the semester abroad experience that introduced him to author (LASP friend & speaker) Elmer Hernán Rodríguez Campos and helped him find the path he is on today. You can read more about Tim's translation work here.
  After a transforming short-term mission trip to Honduras when I was 16, I knew that I wanted to do something different with my life and help change the world for the better. For a long time, I thought that meant becoming a missionary in Latin America, which prompted me to study abroad through the Best Semester Latin American Studies Program in the fall of 2009. My three months with LASP confirmed my convictions to do something out of the ordinary and gave me the tools, insights, and confidence I needed to get started. The experience also shaped those convictions in a way I would have never anticipated.

Experiential Learning
I came to LASP with a set of conscious and unconscious expectations, only to find that each day was an adventure and that I never knew what to expect. I had wanted to learn more about Latin American culture and life. Now I was immersed almost full-time with a Latin American family, observing and experiencing the ins and outs of everyday life. I had wanted to improve my Spanish so I could communicate better. Now I was finding that language was more than a collection of words and was allowing me to connect with people that I could barely relate to before. I had wanted to learn about Latin America in the present day, but I was also learning about the historical forces that have shaped and continue to shape the region. I had wanted to learn about poverty and how to help people escape it. Now I was meeting and hearing the stories of people who had been poor their entire lives. I was also meeting people who had very few material possessions but lived such rich fulfilling lives that they were redefining my perspective of poverty altogether. In summary, I discovered that my education included, but could go beyond the information contained in textbooks.

Seek First the Kingdom – Be Open to Critical Thinking
The lectures, experiences, and relationships from that semester in Costa Rica challenged me to question things I had uncritically taken for granted, to explore possibilities that I had never considered, and kindled a desire to understand other people and the world we live in. I was drawn back to Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God and reminded that the world (even much of the Christian world surprisingly, including myself!) did not operate by or think highly of the principles he described and modeled.* I realized that I still wanted to change the world for the better, but the best way to start doing that might be to first make some changes in myself.
Find out more here.

Learning Never Ends – Global Awareness
I returned home committed to learn more about the Kingdom of God and the things that might be preventing us from living it out. I wanted to take at least a year to intentionally explore this ideal, this way of life. So after graduating college, I traveled through Central America and was welcomed with generous hospitality in every town I visited. I also saw how the products we enjoy are often made possible by importing natural resources and cheap labor from countries that have been allowed no other choices. I then moved back to the US, to a predominantly African-American urban neighborhood, where I became aware of my own unconscious racial barriers and fears, the numerous challenges facing American minorities, and was able to develop genuine relationships with people whose backgrounds were often very different than my own. Next, I went to work in a US oilfield and came to understand the effects, implications, and dependence of our economy and way of life on the world’s ecosystems that we are a part of and that sustain our basic needs; and the tendency to use economic policies and war for control of foreign resources. I interned at organic farms and enjoyed learning how to live more simply and work with others to more directly meet our basic needs. Finally, I helped translate and publish the powerful story of Elmer Hernán Rodríguez Campos, one of the friends I made during my time at LASP.

Where I am Now
I’m still on this journey and it’s one that has rarely been easy and will likely take my entire life (or longer). Learning how to sail in seemingly uncharted waters, living in a US culture when I have fairly different values requires a lot of my energy. There is plenty of stumbling and uncertainty, which as I learned from my experiences at LASP, can be an opportunity to grow even more. Instead of material wealth and convenience, I’ve found my wealth in deeper relationships, better health, personal freedom, and the knowledge that I’m learning how to live in a way that can hopefully make the world a better place. I’m doing something different with my life after all, and I’m now able to use my life experiences, planning skills, and business education to offer practical help to other groups and individuals that want to do something different and are trying to figure out how. This service is one way I try to give back and also how I earn a humble living. I love being self-employed.

My friends and fellow students, even though they came and left with various interests and goals, all benefited and grew from their time at LASP. I’m personally grateful to LASP for inspiring me to look deeper, ask questions, think critically, step out of my comfort zone, and work towards making my goals a reality. Three months of transformative learning has gone on to impact my entire life.

*Perhaps we do this because following Jesus’s teachings would require us to acknowledge the source of most problems and renounce that which we love most: ourselves. It is easier to reinterpret these teachings or place the focus on less demanding passages that require small sacrifices, postpone life’s meaning until after death, and put the blame on others. It takes courage, trust, and humility to admit that we are hurting others to benefit ourselves and then learn to change our ways.

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