Fellows

Everything Happens for a Reason? | Fellow Rambert Tyree '19

When I was a child, my parents would always respond to any stroke of misfortune with one simple sentence: Everything happens for a reason. Get rejected by your middle school crush? Everything happens for a reason. Lose the biggest game of the season? Everything happens for a reason. Do poorly on an assignment in math class? Everything happens for a reason.

When I was younger, this response began to infuriate me. What good could possibly come from me getting my heart crushed by my first *love*! What benefit could there possibly be from getting embarrassed in front of everyone I knew and costing the team the biggest game of the year? I didn’t see any value in these hardships and I didn’t understand how these things could be working for my good. These failures ultimately taught me my first lessons in faith.

 I began to lean a little deeper into scriptures that my grandmother recited on an almost daily basis. Jeremiah 29:11, ‘“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”’. I couldn’t comprehend the fact that I had to endure those failures in the beginning in order to grow towards my future. When I dropped the ball in front of hundreds of friends, family, and classmates and cost my team the game, I had no clue that I had to have that failure in order to grow to one day become a member of a collegiate varsity athletic football team.

 There was an old church song my grandmother used to always sing, “He may not come when you want it, but He’ll be there right on time. He’s an on-time God, yes, He is!”. In those moments, I didn’t understand that I had to go through those young *love* heartbreaks in order to eventually end up with the significant other that was meant to be. Even if I can’t see it in the present, I know that what is meant to be will be…and what is not meant to be, won’t.

 At a young age, I was determined to have things go my way on my time but as I grew more confident in my faith, I learned to let god and let God’s plan work just the way he intended. My all-time favorite scripture comes from Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to His purpose”. As I look back over my life, and think things over, I can truly say that every high, low, and in-between has all worked out for His purpose and for good. I guess when I think about it all, everything does happen for a reason…even if we can’t quite see it at the time.

Longing for childlikeness | Reflections by Fellow Evan Heitman '19

Venerable Fulton Sheen tells the following parable:

Picture a child with a ball, and suppose that he is told that it is the only ball he will ever have to play with. The natural psychological reaction of the child will be to be fearful of playing too much with it, or bouncing it too often, or even pricking it full of pin holes, because he will never have another ball. But suppose that the child is told that perhaps next month, perhaps next week, perhaps even in five minutes, he will be given another ball, which will never wear out, which will always give joy and with which he will never tire of playing. The natural reaction of the child will be to take the first ball a little less seriously, and to begin playing with it joyously and happily, not even caring if someone does prick it full of pin holes, because he is very soon going to have another ball which will endure eternally.

He tells this parable to describe what life is able to and ought to be like for the Christian. He continues saying: “The Christian [believes] that some day, perhaps even tomorrow, he will have another ball, another world, another sphere, another life. And so he can begin to play with this earth, enjoy it’s monotony, and even be resigned to it’s pinpricks, for he knows that very soon he is going to have the other ball, which is the other life that will never wear out or become tiresome, because its life is the life of the eternal God, the beginning and the end of all that is.”

Childlikeness has been calling to me a lot recently. It keeps inserting itself into my thoughts and prayers with what seems like the dogged persistence of a… child. Now, I’m a little ways out from being a young child myself and, by all appearances, a little ways out from having kids of my own (although I just become Catholic so who can say), but I’ve been struck by what a treasure trove of wisdom children possess, even if they won’t realize this fact until they’re at least a 20-something getting ready to graduate from UVA. 

I could go on and about how the idea of childlikeness has captured my heart, but for brevity’s sake I’ll leave it at this:

I desire the playfulness that makes a child see a trip to the hardware store as an adventure not a chore

I desire the trust that makes a child ask to be thrown up in the air, never even imagining that they might be dropped

I desire the insouciance that makes a child approach total and complete stranger because they want to make a friend 

I desire the wonder that makes a child want to see a magic trick over and over and over and over again

I desire that love that makes a child tell their parents everything without a filter

I desire to take my life a little less seriously, to begin living it more joyously and happily, not caring if someone pricks it full of pin holes, because I know Who my Father is.

Anything Dead Coming Back to Life Hurts | Reflections by Cynthia Ajuzie '19

If I’ve realized anything about being at UVa the past four years, it’s that one of my favorite quotes from Toni Morrison’s Beloved holds true. The quote is “Anything dead coming back to life hurts”. (Slight digression: I wasn’t sure if I should write this blog post about how college has further solidified my identity as a Nigerian-American woman, but I often need to my remind myself that being black is only one story that streaks my life and that God has given me many other stories that deserve attention too.)

Merely a few weeks into my fall semester as a third year, I quickly noticed how difficult it was for me to stay on top of my workload. However, I thought that my struggles were just going to be something I overcame by working hard and being strategic with the time I spent studying. School had always been something I felt completely in control of and believed I could excel at with the right efforts, so I didn’t worry too much about my rigorous course load. The night before my first exam rolled around and I remember reviewing notes in my room, trying to elucidate concepts that were still blurry to me. Once I realized that information was no longer sticking in my head, I decided to go to bed. The only problem was that after I did get in bed, I couldn’t sleep. My mind continued strumming through concepts I didn’t understand and my heart felt squeamish in my chest. By 2:30 a.m., I figured I should probably try to talk to someone to see if that would get my mind off of things. I called my mom, who works night shifts as a nurse, and she tried to calm me down for a few minutes. It was comforting hearing her voice and being reminded that my heart and thoughts were not the only sounds that sloshed the earth.

I viewed that night of not sleeping as a fluke that would certainly not happen again because I’d be more diligent in making sure I got to bed earlier at a consistent time each night. However, even with my efforts to apply better sleep hygiene to my life, I continued struggling with anxiety and insomnia multiple times a week. Lying in bed exhausted in the middle of the night, feeling betrayed by and unfamiliar to your own body is one of the worst feelings I have come to know in my life. Insomnia descended me into a pit of loneliness, fashioned by anxiety and I was so unaware of how to plow myself out of it. Many activities that I used to enjoy became lackluster and I dreaded having things to do that would require a lot of energy/thinking. I felt like a walking silhouette of who I knew I was.

Desperately wanting to improve my compromised mental health and not wanting to turn to my parents for help (who come from a culture that struggles with legitimizing mental health issues), I began trying to think of ways to fix myself. I visited CAPs, looked up organic remedies to insomnia, sought prayer from my housemates, bought religious self-help books for sleeping disorders, and had my sister stay on the phone with me some nights in hopes that it would help me sleep better. Nothing seemed to be working long term. With my frustration towards myself and God mounting, I resolved to accept the fact that insomnia had woven it’s way into my life and I’d just have to make room for it on my bed most nights.

The night before my biggest final that semester, I began hearing strongly from God. I was on the floor in the room of one of my housemates who had struggled with insomnia one summer and told me I could stay in her room, so I wouldn’t feel as lonely, while she played worship instrumental music to see if that would help me sleep better. After she had fallen asleep and I was still wide-awake ready for the sun to sprout in a bit, I felt the Lord drop this poem in my spirit based on Psalm 23.

It is well with my soul

For the Lord is so faithful and gracious

He makes me lie down in still pastures

And allows my joy to overflow in abundance

He gives me reasons to sing

He calms my spirit

He gives me strength

He is my strength

After I received those words, I felt lighter. It’s interesting how easily we make room for our struggles to ingest more and more of our lives until something - an epiphany or encouraging word- reminds us that those struggles do not have to permanently suffocate who we are as people. God is our reminder of this fact. And He does it so well. He meets us right where we are, just like He met me in that moment, and tells us that there is hope. He is hope.

I’d be lying if I said that night was the last time I experienced sleeplessness. But, it was the last night I viewed insomnia as some insurmountable entity that characterized all of me. That poem God deposited into my soul made me realize two things:

  1. God is always faithful and his faithfulness is noticeable if we actually open our eyes to see it

  2. God wanted me to stop being so close-fisted with my studies/ future and to relinquish those parts of my life to Him

After I made these realizations, I felt a peace that I had not felt in months. I allowed myself to indulge in the kindness and graciousness of God unrestrainedly. Experiencing a semester racked with sleeplessness and anxiety made me notice how God is a high tower for those who seek Him. His hands are strong enough to carry all of our burdens and His love is deep enough for Him to actually want to carry them. Nights can still be difficult for me, but not as often anymore because of my confidence in God’s faithfulness and his desire to give me rest. I had to go through one of the most difficult seasons in my life for God to revive who I am in him and for him to truly make me a new creation.

John 14:27, Philippians 4:7, John 1:5, 1Peter 5:7-10


The call to Lament | Reflections by Fellow Robert Cross '19

Last year the church that I attend in Charlottesville, Trinity Presbyterian, had a sermon series on the book of Lamentations. At first I was curious and a bit skeptical — isn’t “lament” just a biblical word for being sad? Will studying this Old Testament book be fruitful? Of course, I was wrong. Lament is integral to healing and is present throughout the Bible. After a semester of orienting our worship toward lamentation, I began to see the beauty and difficulty of lamenting.

One of my favorite parts of this process was a song I was introduced to, “How Long?” by Bifrost Arts. It's on an album of lamentation which cries out for wholeness in a broken world.  

How long? Will you turn your face away?

This is the first line of “How Long?” and it honestly and unapologetically calls out to God, mirroring the Psalms of lament. God wants our honest and open hearts.

Over the past year, I've encountered brokenness, sadness, and injustice in the world and have felt hopeless in its face. I’ve learned that lamentation requires that we name the hurt and cry to God for help. For me, this often means listening to others and learning from people around me, so I can join in their struggles for justice.

I took a class this past semester about the history of race and real estate in the United States, and it exposed me to a part of our nation's past I haven't encountered before, one of racism and quiet, insidious exclusion. My after-class conversations with another Fellow, Lindsay, lamented the remnants of past injustice and the reality of our broken world. We ended each conversation with more questions than answers, but in this small way we began to lament.  

This wasn't easy, but we continually tried to understand our place in this pain and in its healing.

Amen, Jesus, come! 

“How Long?” ends with the repeated refrain, “Amen, Jesus, come!” When we sing it at Trinity, we start quietly and end with powerful drums and bright tambourines. It gives me chills every time we sing it, because this movement reflects how we must lament. We may begin in fear and sadness, but we end with hope and faith.

As I approach the pain and brokenness in this world, it’s easy to become hopeless. The relationships we’re in, the families we love, and the systems we’re a part of are all broken and we see this -- and feel this -- deeply. After some conversations with Lindsay after class, I could only say, “Amen, Jesus, come!”

I don't know how to approach all the pain in our world. There’s too much of it for one person to bear (like Ms. May in The Secret Life of Bees), but it’s our job to enter into our own and otherss’ suffering as we cry for Jesus’ will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, while I begin this lifetime of joyful and hopeful lamenting, I can work to return His creation to wholeness with the hope that Jesus will one day wipe every tear from our eye. He is making all things new. In Him alone is our hope.

Vulnerability & Community in the Whirlwinds | Reflections by Zach Balcomb '19

Recently, I find myself using the word whirlwind a lot... And by a lot I mean probably too much. I use it to describe the feeling of being a fourth year at UVa (i.e., a person with little time remaining in a place they’ve come to know and love) but also the feeling of trying to hang plants in my room. Obviously, these scenarios do not share the same emotional gravity, but I think my liberal usage of the term is significant to the state of my heart over the past few months.

In stressful moments, even those of an undeniably fleeting or trivial nature, anxiety has quietly crept in and occupied empty spaces in my heart. On the one hand, it’s easy to attribute this anxiety to the harsh reality that looms over all of us fourth years who have yet to figure out the next step. On the other hand, I would say that under the surface of the things that worry me, such as an unforeseeable post-grad life, anxiety arises from a sinful tendency that is often overlooked: resistance to vulnerability. It is from this resistance which anxiety has found a foothold in my life and “whirlwind” has become my new buzzword.

At the Horizons Fellows Retreat a few weeks ago, however, I experienced the beginning of a reset—I was reminded of my capacity and desire for spiritual vulnerability with others. I found joy in being in a transparent community, and I learned that when honesty has a place at the table in religious spaces, those spaces become more Holy. During the retreat, held at a Christian retreat center called Corhaven Farm, Fellows broke bread and laughed together. We snuggled up in blankets and sipped freshly-steeped tea. We pet docile, little donkeys and big, amiable cows (many of us, like me, admired them from afar). And finally, with crackling firewood and the sweet smell of s’mores as our backdrop, we took turns sharing our stories.

Our stories did not have to conform to a specific length or format, which I found so freeing. Growing up, I thought my story had to mirror what I had come to know as the archetype for a Christian testimony: a rip-roaring turn of events eclipsed by the earth shattering aha moment where “everything clicked.” Instead, I heard beautifully honest impressions on life and how people have come into relationship with their Creator over time. I heard people share things they have never before shared for fear of being judged or written off. More importantly, I saw people respond to these stories with kindness and an openness to learn.

In between storytelling, Fellows got to hear from Rev. Bill Haley, who taught us that we are to “cultivate relationship with the One who calls, so that when we are called we can respond efficiently.” We discussed the meaning of vocation, or more appropriately vocations, uncovering how they may not manifest in a paid position after graduation, but rather in how we bring God’s presence to the world. We listened and learned about the history behind the land upon which Corhaven is situated, which happens to include a cemetery where at least 25 black people who died as enslaved laborers now rest. As we explored the cemetery, which is now a memorial honoring the brothers and sisters who lay there, we grieved and prayed for an end to the 375-year reign of racial oppression in our country that still exists today.

In each of the aforementioned experiences, I felt our little cohort of Fellows displayed a level of transparency and celebration of difference that I have never before witnessed in a Christian circle. As interactions and conversations unfolded in this way, I felt spaces in my heart—once paralyzed with anxious energy—begin to breathe again.

Reflections on being a Perkins Fellow & a Perkins House Resident | Sade Akinbayo '19

It is difficult for me to summarize my reflections as a Perkins Fellow and a member of the Perkins House as I enjoy allotting myself an ample amount of time to reflect, time I do not currently have. So much has happened this academic year and I know if I event attempt to list a few events that occurred within the past eight months, I would end up producing a 15-page report. It's best for me to allow two brief essays I recently wrote to speak to my experiences as a Fellow and member of the Perkins House. I was asked to describe my most meaningful leadership experience and my greatest contribution to the Charlottesville community in 250 words or less for each essay. Without a doubt, I wrote about my experience as a Perkins Fellow and Perkins House member despite the word limit restricting the transformative events to which I could attest.

Essay 1: In 250 words or less, describe your most meaningful leadership experience. 

"As a college student, it is difficult not to conflate leadership with the number of executive positions one holds throughout their years as an undergraduate student. Leadership, certainly, includes assuming a role within an organization or group that demonstrates one’s ability to guide individuals to the completion of a task. Yet, I believe that leaders are most impacted, cultivated, and strengthened through the act of service: whether that be through volunteering or simply being one who dedicates time to support and engage others. 

My third year at the University of Virginia has been defined by collective and individual service to the Charlottesville community through two programs supported by Theological Horizons: The Perkins House (located in the Venable neighborhood on Grady Avenue), an intentional community of university students honoring civil rights activist John M. Perkins by building bridges between the UVa and Charlottesville community; and The Perkins Fellowship, a Fellows program centered on vocational discernment through community engagement and training by community service innovators in cross-cultural engagement and community development. I can wholeheartedly say that my experience as an inaugural member of both The Perkins House and The Perkins Fellowship has proven to mark a transformative point in my personal growth. 

Through my participation in these programs, I have a greater understanding about how to utilize the roles I assume during my time at the University to best contribute and pour into the communities I so dearly love and to which I belong. "

Essay 2: In 250 words or less, describe your greatest contribution to the Charlottesville community. 

"Though I have spent most my time contributing to the establishment of The Perkins House, my most significant service to the Charlottesville community has been supporting and investing love and time into some of Charlottesville’s youth.

As a tutor and mentor at Friendship Court’s Community Center, I assist students with mathematics and language arts and also aid the Community Center’s Coordinator with the Girls’ Mentoring Program. One of my favorite memories as a tutor occurred last year when I helped Naylia, a kindergartener at the time, solve math problems from a deck of addition flash cards. She was, at first, unenthusiastic to solve the problems and became frustrated as she perceived them to be too difficult for her to solve. However, the more problems we worked on together, the greater her desire was to solve more equations. She even wanted to solve equations she previously thought were too hard for her! The moment I saw Naylia’s face beam with a beautiful smile after I told her she solved the equations correctly, I made a commitment to do whatever I could to help her, and her peers, excel in school.

Knowledge is power and we all are well aware of the power the youth yield in challenging and changing societal norms. I know these students will have a large impact in their communities and I will continue assisting them in their growth, one equation at a time, one conversation at a time, throughout the rest of my time here in Charlottesville."

There are a couple things I must add in addition to what I expressed in these essays. First, I felt quite indifferent when asked to write about "my greatest contribution" to the Charlottesville community. The language used in this prompt certainly implies that certain "contributions" are more valued and praised than others (but that is another conversation to be had). I decided to rather describe an activity, conducted outside the UVa bubble, that rejuvenates my spirit day-in and day-out: tutoring and mentoring the youngens at Friendship Court. Words cannot describe how much I LOVE the kids I spend time with throughout the week. I can wholeheartedly say that my experience as a Perkins Fellow and Perkins House member has given me a desire to incorporate the same intentionality we honor within theses programs to my time spent with the kids at Friendship Court.

I am excited to spend at least another year with them... If only they knew that they had me at hello.

Worry, Maslow's pyramid and resting in Christ | Reflections from Fellow Sam Kesting, '18

As I continue to move through life, I have found that there are quite a few areas which lack consistency.  Relationships, academic performance, athletic skill, and even housing situations all seem to be in flux, for better or for worse.  With all of these facets of life on a roller coaster, often times the only thing that seems to be constant is worry and ironically, it is the uncertainties of life that feed the ever-present nagging in the back of one’s mind.

Just like a love of sunsets or a fear of deep, dark water, worry is one of those things that is uniquely human and just comes naturally to us.  It is impossible to fully escape its clutches and can even be incapacitating at times.  I often think about worry as it corresponds to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: a pyramid of what are considered to be necessities to an enriched and fulfilling human life.  While the pyramid is by no means a perfect illustration of needs for all cultures and societies, it is helpful when conceptualizing and compartmentalizing worry.

Principally, our existence is predicated on being able to anticipate answers to questions of survival such as when we will have our next meal, where we be able to find water, and how we will stay warm, dry and out of harms way.  From these physiological needs, the tiers of the pyramid ascend up through needs of safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization at the top.  While I certainly cannot speak for everyone, I would posit that most of the individuals reading this post do not live with daily worry regarding food and shelter, especially those of us reading this on the screen of an electronic device.  Many of us are blessed to be well-fed and sheltered regularly.  However, the upper four tiers on Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid are where things begin to fall apart.  Worry quickly descends into our minds and begins to grow dark, cold roots around our hearts.

First, we struggle with needs of safety.  Financial woes, abuse, and poor health (both mental and physical) plague our society.  Everyone is touched by these ills on a daily basis in some way and they can cripple the mind and soul with fear and worry.  Next, we are confronted by a yearning to belong.  Anywhere.  Spousal relationships, church groups, sports teams, book clubs, yoga class, or even a night out with a group of friends are all manifestations of attempts to meet this need.  On many occasions throughout life, it can feel like we are each one of the least wanted in our respective communities.  We also wrestle with problems of esteem.  We fail at work, in school, or in a relationship.  Our capacity for “success” as the world would define it crumbles and we see ourselves as worthless and with nothing to show for the years of life behind us.  Finally, we face challenges to self-actualization.  Work is often not fulfilling, our potential seems stifled, and we still do not have the slightest clue what we want to be when we grow up.  It is clear to see these upper four needs going unmet in those around us and even clearer still within our own persons.  Universities are environments replete with worry regarding these necessities and having been at one for the last four years, I can tell you it is ubiquitous.

The obvious question that follows these unmet needs asks how we fix them.  Do we not have seminars and counselors?  Medicines and therapies?  Clubs, dating websites, and self-help books?  Why do all of them fail us?  What are we missing?  Why do we continue to worry?

I have been blessed to have grown up in a family of faith and many wise voices have poured into my life over the last 22 years.  From them, I have identified two methods for combating debilitating worry: resting in Christ and practicing thankfulness to learn to give generously.

Being a young kid dealing with worry and fear, I memorized 1 Peter 3:5 and Matthew 11:28.  These verses speak of casting anxiety and burdens on Christ and receiving rest and care in return.  As a child, this brought some comfort but in growing older these words become far easier said than done.  It can be difficult to see the Lord’s plan come to fruition in a tangible way, especially on His timeline.  Ultimately for me, resting in Christ has meant prayerfully laying plans, expectations, and worry at his feet and trusting that He knows what he is doing with them.  There have been many occasions in which I was filled with strife about the future and Christ has revealed His better way for my life.  Although there is and will be plenty of uncertainty, I can be free from trying to have it all figured out.

Thankfulness is like a muscle: left alone, it decays into nothing but when exercised, it flourishes.  It is far easier to dwell on what we do not have than what we do, especially in a state of constant comparison with those around us.  We will always be able to see the bigger, better, and more successful and our circumstances are rarely exactly to our liking.  I once had a director at a camp I worked at tell me that he was thankful for rainy days.  When I first heard this, I was a bit taken aback.  As a counselor, rainy days were usually the toughest.  It was always colder, kids got wet and frustrated, and activities were cancelled.  The director went on to explain how the rain watered the earth, reminded you that you were alive through discomfort, and led to more time indoors where important conversations could be had with the campers.  This taught me to find opportunity to be thankful in all things.  Much like thankfulness, generosity does not come easy.  We are selfish creatures and any extra time, money, or other resources that we have tend to immediately be used on our favorite person (ourselves).  However, in thankfulness, the seeds of generosity are sown.  Being thankful for our circumstances surely leads to the realization of the abundance that has already been given to us.  From this abundance, we are called to be open-handed and freely distribute what we have to others.

The worry that corresponds to the tiers of Maslow’s pyramid is countered through Christ and His church.  Safety, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization are found through prayer, study of scripture, and community with likeminded Christians.  Resting in Christ provides safety and belonging, thankfulness builds esteem, and generosity provides purpose.  Although a perfect and complete picture of needs being met will never occur on this fallen earth, glimpses can be realized through a relationship with Christ and interactions with those who love Him.  I have been blessed to be able to see these glimpses through others and in my own life at school and will hopefully continue to see them as I move on from this place.  While worry will never fully be dispelled, this perspective has helped to keep it in its place.

 

 

On Bread & Roses by Perkins Fellow Isabella Hall '19

From sweat, dirt, and enduring swarms of mosquitoes comparable to the army of locusts depicted in the book of Joel, to traveling to Princeton Theological Seminary for a conference on race and food, my partnership with Bread & Roses through the Perkins Fellowship has been an adventure. Bread & Roses, a ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church, is a non-profit which focuses on nutritional outreach. Some of the ways this is accomplished is through the community garden and cooking clinics which are hosted at the church as well as collaboration with other organizations working toward food justice in Charlottesville. One of the reasons I was attracted to Bread & Roses at Trinity Episcopal is its rich heritage as an intentional multiracial community of reconciliation. The Church is located on Preston Avenue, a stone’s throw away from my home, the Perkins House. I am grateful to be partnering with a ministry that serves, and is situated within, my neighborhood.

My time at Bread & Roses has primarily been in the garden alongside the volunteers, most of whom are Trinity Episcopal members, who gather weekly to tend to the garden. Beginning in June, I started attending garden work days and quickly realized how little I knew and how much there was to learn! I was always asking questions, taking directions, attempting to soak up the extensive knowledge of the more seasoned garden workers, like Sally and Martha. I was shown so much patience and overtime, a vibrant little community had formed as we planted, weeded, and watered. We began to share meals on a monthly basis. After we completed the garden work, we’d gather over fresh food, often prepared using produce from the Bread & Roses garden or the personal gardens of the volunteers. These meals were never lacking in laughter and gradually, the various quirks and idiosyncrasies of each volunteer became remarkably endearing. It was, and continues to be, a dynamic group with a wide range of ages, occupations, ethnicities. Our once monthly meals transitioned into a biweekly event and suddenly, there was never a gathering without fresh food and a time of fellowship. I really cannot find the words to describe my gratitude for these relationships, none of which I would have had I remained within the narrow boundaries of the University community. Seeing these friends and working alongside one another in the heat and the dirt became a rhythmic occurrence each week, an essential piece of my lived liturgy.

Another component of my involvement with Bread & Roses has been thinking deeply about our food systems—the mechanisms by which we produce, acquire, and consume our food. Bread & Roses was generous enough to send me to Princeton Theological Seminary’s “Just Food” conference on race and food where I learned a tremendous amount about our centralized, mass-producing food industry known as the Food Regime. Some of the problems of the Food Regime include the exploitation of migrant and farm workers, the degradation of the land and natural resources, gentrification which displaces the poor, unequal access to healthy and affordable food options, and an increasingly centralized system which depletes local production and small-scale, sustainable farming. What’s more, these macro problems inordinately affect women and people of color, such as Latino/a migrant workers to inner-city African-Americans. While these problems are systemic and cannot be rectified with individual actions, confronting the reality of the situation certainly gave me pause and caused me to reflect upon my role within these systems. How am I to eat justly, sustainably, in a way that is honoring of my body, my neighbors, and the land? This is where “alternative food orders” become so vitally important. What’s an alternative food order? Think operations or organizations which connect people more closely with the production of their food—locally owned supermarkets like Reid’s, buying from local farms, community gardens and other forms of community supported agriculture (CSA) like farmers markets. These operations nurture local economies and social networks, thereby strengthening communities, in addition to reducing the environmental impact of agriculture. At first blush, a plot of land upon which neighbors get together and grow vegetables may not seem a revolutionary endeavor, but in fact, it is! Think of how countercultural this act is in light of the way most people obtain their food—purchasing foods that have traveled thousands of miles, grown in lands we have little connection to, by people we don’t know, who may or may not have been fairly compensated.

It’s important to recognize that not everyone has the time, money, or luxury to be so conscientious about the origins of their food. Particularly in the case of working class individuals and families, such concerns seem remote in the face of combatting hunger and food insecurity for oneself or their children. However, as a University student, I feel that I have a responsibility, in the wake of the privilege I have been afforded, to be thoughtful about where and how I consume. Another challenge to the work of food justice, and community development more broadly, is a lack of time. As University students are acutely aware, we operate under serious time constraints. Many people who would perhaps like to participate in one of the many community gardens Charlottesville has to offer, are simply unable to because of lack of time. I feel this challenge quite poignantly because in the garden, in my scholastic work, in the spheres of racial, economic, food, and housing justice—the work is never finished. I sympathize with the exasperation of the disciples commanded to feed five thousand men, “Well Jesus, that’s a really sweet sentiment but we only have a few loaves of bread and two fish!” (Matt 14:17, IZH translation). Seemingly, I do not have enough time or money or the social capital required to be impactful. At this point, I must reckon with my own insufficiency. My doing or being “enough” is not the point. Jesus is enough. Perhaps Jesus will multiple my time and efforts like the fishes and loaves, but even if he does not, I am intimately acquainted with the heart of God through pressing into these seemingly insurmountable issues. In fact, the reality of our individual limitations is an invitation into relationship with others. I recently attended the Christian Community Development Association annual conference and was struck by the following statement, “Kingdom sized vision requires Kingdom sized collaboration.” Rather than become exhausted and embittered by our finitude, might these limits instead remind us that we are members of a larger body, working together toward a Kingdom that is both now and not yet.

As we quickly move through the fall season and pull the last of the sweet potatoes out of their beds, my role at Bread & Roses has shifted, but the community has not. In fact, the garden crew has now entered into a book study together in which we read and discuss “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today.” This book has yielded countless insights on what it means to live in community as well as what it means to monastically approach the daily grind. The author, Joan Chittister, writes, “The monastic looks for holiness in the here and now, unburdened by strange diets or esoteric devotions or damaging denials of self. The real monastic walks through life with a barefooted soul, alert, aware, grateful, and only partially at home” (10). Engaging with the practical wisdom of the Rule of St. Benedictine has been an invaluable resource for life as a resident within the Perkins House. As an eclectic Evangelical and a student of religion, I have really enjoyed exploring the Episcopal tradition, through Trinity Episcopal, and its unique expression of worship which is an integral piece of the body of Christ. As the winter season approaches, we turn toward grant writing, researching food policy, and the administrative tasks which make Bread & Roses possible.

Perhaps the greatest gift of my time at Bread & Roses, has been my relationship with Maria. Maria is the director of Bread & Roses, runs breakfast at the Haven a couple days a week, lives in Charis community, and shares my affinity for dark, caffeinated beverages. Her mentorship and friendship has been a tremendous blessing. Maria is a paragon of steadfastness and hopefulness, two virtues which are indispensable to the cause of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. My conversations with Maria remind me that it is Christ and not I who has been tasked with carrying the weight of humanity’s sin. Her very presence reminds me to be thankful and from here, I know more about what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

For more information about the Perkins Fellows program, click here

Reflections on the Perkins Fellows program by Evan Heitman '19

“And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” - Mark 10:51-52

Like many (all?) of the stories of Jesus, this one about Bartimaeus the blind beggar is remarkable. It is actually one of my favorite ones in the whole Bible. I think Bartimaeus has much to teach us about what faith is, what faith takes, and where faith leads, especially for college-aged Christians like myself. Asides from being a profound example of the kind of faith that Jesus loves and expects, this story speaks to a major theme of my coming to Christ my first year of college, and, by the grace of God, I hope it characterizes far more than just my experience in college and my experience putting my faith in Jesus for the first time. I hope that the example I find in Bartimaeus is the example I will make of myself and I pray that I would never falter in seeking new ways to carry my cross so that this hope may become reality. In a way, my work volunteering with Abundant Life through the Perkins Fellows program this year has been a means to that end and an extension of this greater theme in my life. So, without further adieu, let me explain what exactly I’m making this whole fuss about (feel free to read along in scripture as I go into further detail).

The story of Bartimaeus opens with him sitting by the roadside as the great crowd following Jesus passes by. Mark says that when Bartimaeus heard that is was Jesus who was going by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” After which, many rebuked him and told him to be silent. Far from being discouraged, the text says that  “...he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!'” I find this part of the story alone to be so incredible. Bartimaeus had never met Jesus, and being blind, he had no way of knowing that Jesus could even hear him or that it was really Jesus at all. Even though he was already an outcast and looked down upon, he fearlessly shouted out for the Son of David, the promised king, that he might look upon him and have mercy. Not only did he get no response from Jesus then, but those around him pressured him to stop asking and to just be silent and accept his lot in life. Showing incredible strength of faith and character, Bartimaeus cried out even more than he had before. I find this story to be so powerful because in my first year, I felt a hopelessness that I imagine is of a similar kind, if not degree, to what Bartimaeus must have felt at that point in his life. I felt utterly blind and lost about who I really was. I felt like everyone around me had a life they were truly living while I was just merely existing. I felt like a puppet dancing along the stage of my years but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to grab hold of my own strings. I wanted to have faith in God and I tried to believe, but my doubts rebuked me and told me to stop asking. With no small amount of stumbling along the way, I tried my best to cry out all the more for God to do something, anything, in me, despite what I saw to be slim odds of that really happening. 

Jesus stopped. That's what the text says in Bartimaeus’ story. Jesus, the King of Kings, God of the universe, heard Bartimaeus’ plea and altogether stopped what he was doing. And then he called to him. And just as Jesus changed Bartimaeus’ life forever, he changed my life forever. He showed me that He is living water and the bread of life. He called to me that I might have life and have it to the fullest. He took my heart in his hands and taught me to cry at the beauty of who He is and how wonderfully, perfectly real life with Him really is. This is the first chapter of the story God started writing in me and for reasons I don’t fully understand, He has asked me to coauthor the whole thing with Him. I believe that God has reasons for writing our early chapters the way that He does. I think that He uses our experiences as young children in His eternal family, so to speak, to shape and set the stage for the spiritually mature adults He calls us to be. The lesson I began to learn as a new Christian and the one I saw reflected in Bartimaeus’ life two thousand years ago is one that I think will be an important motif throughout my life and I think it's one that Jesus is trying to teach me a little more about this year through my participation in the Perkins Fellow Program.

One part of the chapter I currently find myself in is my wrestling with empathy. Really, I think this is just picking up where my previous struggle left off. God has brought me so far in learning to love being alive with Him, but often times, I feel as though I have an impossible distance left to travel when it comes to loving that life in others. I have a hard time entering into the pain of others. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t think I do it particularly well when I try. Even when I am able to provide comfort to others, I fear that it is shallow, that I lack the ability for my comfort to come from a place of radical, selfless love. And then, for every time that I find my attempt at empathy lacking, there is a time when I reject the desire to empathize at all. I find myself making my own thoughts and my own experiences my god and resisting the call to humility. I commit the sin of partiality and become a judge with evil thoughts. I haven’t yet found the magic button for letting go of my pride, but too often I’d rather not let go of it at all. I see the degree to which I love my neighbor as a manifestation of how deeply I understand the steep price Jesus paid to win them for Himself and I don’t understand it even close to how much I wish to. As a Perkins Fellow, I have been provided an opportunity to cry out to Jesus to have mercy on me in this. If I’m being honest, I don't even know which direction to shout in, but I have to hope that Jesus hears me anyway. I have been given a chance to learn from Jesus how to love those who are growing up and have grown up as a minority, how to love those who are growing up poorer than I did, how to love kids whose childhoods have been more fraught with violence and evil than I can wrap my head around, and how to love fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who hold political ideas with which I fundamentally disagree. I hear the difficulty of all this (and it is hard) pressuring me to stay silent, to simply put in my required service hours and be done with it, but I pray for the strength and faith to cry out all the more.

Directionally Challenged | Horizons Fellow Ellie Wood '18

“Arrive at Christy’s house by 8pm” -- a simple direction, with a not so simple destination. As a Horizons Fellow, I have the unique opportunity to meet with the other Fellows every month to discuss theology, chat about life, and learn how to live a life for Jesus.  Christy, our fearless leader, has been gracious enough to open up her beautiful home out in the countryside for our monthly meetings. On this particular night, Margaret Draper (another Fellow) and I decided to carpool out to Christy’s house. Now, for those of you who don’t know me, you should know one thing: I am perpetually late.  I have always been and most likely always will be at least 10 minutes late to the party.  Following this pattern, Margaret and I were already running late to our Fellows meeting when we lost cell phone service and as a result lost our sense of direction.

Snaking down unknown, curvy roads, we quickly realized we had missed our turn. As we drove aimlessly, we discussed our post-grad plans and realized neither of us had any concrete ideas. We both had joined in on the typical UVa business consulting career frenzy but through our conversation, I realized I had no idea why I “wanted” to go into consulting. Within my major at the Batten School, everyone feels the unsaid pressure to have the best job in the best city while singlehandedly changing the world through policy. Somewhere along the way, consulting became the route to achieving all of this and more, so I wanted to get in on it.  I didn’t consider whether or not I would actually enjoy consulting nor did I even attempt to ask God about it. I was captivated by the world’s definition of success but deaf to the Lord’s voice in my life. God calls us to a much higher purpose than to simply “be the best.” In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter addresses this calling by saying, “his divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” The key to this verse for me is ‘our knowledge of him’—and I realized that night that through my pursuit of knowledge in my major and in my job search, I’d forgotten first and foremost to seek knowledge of the Lord.

Despite arriving 30 minutes late, Margaret and I eventually made it to Christy’s house, and everyone welcomed us in with cookies and laughter. Although we may have taken the longer route to get there, the conversation was well worth it. As a 4th year, life often feels like a journey with a not-so-simple destination. But, since that car ride, the Lord has gently reminded me that He is the one holding the directions.