Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Picking Back Up

I'm back. As in settled. As in home, happy, and filled with purpose. I admit: the journey took much longer than I thought I would. In fact, sometimes I look around me and conceive of a different time and place where I still exist. I often feel like I'll wake up from some elaborate day dream I'm having. My eyes will snap to and there I'll be: on the cliff-side in Lima, feet dangerously close to the edge, peering past the ocean towards the skyline. What have I been doing? You might have heard some of it, but nowhere near enough to tell the full story.

Let's see, I came home at the end of August. I was home three short weeks. Long enough to move into a new house, greet all my old friends, tell everyone how much I missed them, and play some frisbee. Then I left for Ghost Ranch to debrief about my experience as a YAV. Through copious worksheets I came to understand my experience was only the tip of the iceberg. Hiking through box canyons surrounded by my fellow YAVs talking about what we felt we learned to cope just a little bit more. During the debriefing I experienced my very own prejudices and realized just how deeply my own privilege ran. I felt extremely defeated. How do you complain about privilege when that is, in and of itself, a privilege? I'm glad my YAV friends were there. They helped pick me up, and I returned home with a new outlook on life.

Then, after twelve hours back in Dallas I hit the road again. I served as a translator for Pastor Luis Miguel Fernando. He's a Colombian pastor for the Presbyterian church in Bogota. He helped broker a peace deal between the guerilla army (the FARC) and the government. We toured Phoenix, AZ as well as Knoxville, TN and finishing in Wausau, WI. It was a fantastic job! I learned so much about the country I returned to. I learned about the armed conflict in Colombia. I made a new life-long friend in the Pastor. It was a fantastic way to taste the Presbyterian church outside of Texas. While I generally enjoyed myself the work of translating proved exhausting and by the end of the trip I missed my home.

Following the adventures around the US I settled back home. That's when the real existential crisis set in. I now had to find employment. I had to purchase a car. I moved into this new house with several roommates and no plan on paying rent or utilities or groceries. Well, I found work as a server at The Rustic. It's this country bar and grill. I've been serving there for four months now. After I found employment I managed to get a car loan to purchase a car. I did that for several months and attempted to normalize my life.

It's only just now, after being home for seven months can I say I feel remotely at home. Things are different for me. I'm not a college student like my roommates so we run on different schedules. I prioritize my career over many things. I can't quite seem to get a date. More importantly my outlook has equalized a bit. Allow me to explain.

In YAV we talk about privilege. How deep it runs. How we can utilize it to our advantage. How the work we do isn't impactful on anyone other than ourselves. We explain the value of the experience. After a year of learning the true boundaries of my privilege (and a painful reminder one time at Ghost Ranch) I see all the privileges everyone me exploits on a day-to-day basis. I found myself retracting from friends who have no idea the damage they're doing. I could feel the microagressions. I could see all the little things happening around me that demonstrated a power dynamic. What could I say? It was an oddly helpless feeling. Instead I felt myself sinking into the old traps of life-before-YAV. Especially after working in a restaurant. A LOT of filters I had thoughtfully created were slowly removed while I worked there. So now I'm a bit lost.

This time, I'm okay with being lost. I just worked my first professional film set. I actually kinda knew what I was doing. I'm a generally functioning adult. I've got aspirations and plans. I find ways to feel fulfilled. I still haven't exactly scored the date I was looking for, but there's still time.

Don't expect much from this blog anymore. I intend to write, but I don't intend to edit. It's just- I still have stories to tell. Often they relate back to my YAV year. Sometimes they don't. Read on, if you like. The adventures get much more exciting and equally mundane from here on out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


People want to be reassured. I felt this lesson strongly everywhere I went. Whether it was Phoenix, Arizona or Knoxville, Tennessee or Wausau, Wisconsin everybody I talked to wanted to feel reassured. Often they wanted to feel reassured that the world wasn't going in a dark direction. They would say they have a question, phrase it as a question, but what they really wanted was for us to reaffirm whatever they had just said.

"The Colombian government and the FARC insurgents signed these peace accords. Whether the people voted or not they can still implement them, right?"

"But both sides are coming to an agreement. They did it before, surely they can do it again."

My job, not just as a translator but as an ambassador of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, was to field these questions to Pastor Luis in the best way. I conveyed his responses with as much aplomb and tact as I could because the reality was: We couldn't offer reassurance. As much as we'd like to say with a certainty that Colombia is going towards peace we also have to admit things could go horribly wrong.

We visited these churches, presbyteries, and universities to share whatever positive news we had. While we avoided discouraging statistics and horrendous stories of death, pain, and anger we couldn't completely evict them from our story. (I say we because, after speaking together for so long, I know the story very well.) The reality we presented, as much as we wanted to present something optimistic, is plagued with incredible violence. It's a reality that's developed over 68 years, and it's one Colombians have to face every day. Pastor Luis and I often remarked to his audience that he wanted to show some photos of mass graves to illustrate the sadness, but he didn't want to dwell on sadness. I think this discomforted some. What we saw, however, wasn't just the effect of our words. The people were discomforted to begin with.

It's fair to say we're at an incredible moment in our history and at the same time in something older generations are familiar with. It's election season. I'm only twenty-three but I get the feeling Americans have been arguing over presidential candidates to varying degrees of intensity ever since George Washington stepped down. We argue now, and more ferociously than we ever did. Video archives show former candidates trying to out-nice each other. We don't get that anymore. The election cycle has shown us Americans a dark side to our society.

Plenty of us knew there existed bastions of racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and all the other 'ism's that create exclusion. Some of us were educated about them. Some of us learned the hard way just how backwards we still are. It felt like a conspiracy theory to explain to people that damage is being done in our country and we don't ever acknowledge it, but the cover's been blown. As of this past year we have seen that lingering darkness revealed and given the chance to step into the limelight (and no, I'm not indirectly talking about Donald Trump. I'm indirectly talking about everything that he's a part of and more.) For those of us who might have buried their heads in the sand they can no longer ignore it.

It's scary to see your home as something other than warm and inviting. If you invited a friend to your house for dinner you would hope your family can impress them. Instead we've found ourselves angrier and eager to fight over the food on the table.

People want to be reassured. What they see is a time of great change. Change is naturally intimidating and when reassurance is in short supply you take what you can get. Even if it means choosing a side you wouldn't normally. The people we see as our angry, hateful neighbors are really nothing more than intimidated people looking for a way out. If things have to change, let it be for their benefit at least. That's not unfair to ask.

The Colombian people voted 'No' in a referendum to approve the formal peace accords. There's a lot of reasons why: the Catholic Church stayed silent, the Evangelical church promoted 'No', the government used the vote as a political game. I've heard the answers millions of times. The Colombian people voted 'No' to peace and the great irony is the people who were most affected by this war were the ones who voted 'Yes.' The people most likely to have hate and anger in their hearts collectively voted to reconcile themselves with their brothers and sisters. We could learn a thing or two from that.

That's why I'm writing. Not to denounce anybody or declare my allegiance to any one party. I, like the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, want to work for the betterment of mankind. I want to be on the side of peace. What does that mean? Reconciling ourselves with our brothers and sisters, and as the Pastor often says "The way to reconciliation is through love." Radical love. The Jesus kind of love. It sounds crazy, but that's what makes it so radical. To reconcile ourselves with these people is asking a lot. What we have to understand is: they're just like us. Maybe they're scared or afraid. Maybe they're embarrassed. Maybe they're proud of these faults. Maybe they want to go back to the way things were. It doesn't matter. They are my brother and my sister. Just like the Colombian people we have to love each other or we will never find peace.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Si Creo En La Paz

I'm sure you all thought I was done. I did. As it so turns out I've found myself working alongside a Man of God and his story needs to be told.

In July I accepted an invitation by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
to follow one of their Peacemakers: Pastor Luis Fernando San Miguel, a Colombian Presbyterian, who participated in the peace negotiations between the FARC Insurgents and the Colombian government. Pastor Luis is traveling around three different presbyteries (Presbytery of Grand Canyon, Presbytery of East Tennessee, and another Presbytery in Wisconsin.) They asked me to travel with him and translate his presentations at the various churches, presbyteries, and universities we're visiting with. At the time I was in Uyuni, Bolivia so I accepted the call. It was work when I had no work planned.

We've been on the road a week and a half now. I've translated his presentation (in all it's various forms) over fifty times now. I can give you all the whole lecture, but let's do the basics.

1948 - Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (Liberal party political leader) is assassinated, kicking off Civil War and 68 years of violence.
1953 - The Civil War between the Liberal party and the Conservative party comes to an end. Many guerrilla groups reside in Colombia at the time.
1964 - The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) form.

2011 - FARC enters peace talks with the Colombian government.

26 September 2016 - Both FARC leader Timochenko and the Colombian President sign the 297 page peace treaty.

02 October 2016 - The people of Colombia vote to ratify the accords. In a Plebiscite vote the Colombian people vote No.
Pastor Luis shaking hands with President Santos

Pastor Luis had been sent on behalf of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia to accompany these peace dialogues. He spoke with the guerrilla leaders. They asked him to go to their encampments deep in the mountains and talk to their infantry about peace and reconciliation (which is especially unique if you acknowledge that FARC is an anti-religious group.) So he went. So he spoke. So he made many friends.

Well, the Colombian people voted no. Then the President announced he would honor the ceasefire agreement until the 31st of October. Pastor Luis says that it's highly likely that on November 1st (All Saints Day) the Colombian army will attack the Insurgents. The Insurgents will respond and war will open again.

President Santos and Guerrilla Leader Nobel Awards
Just yesterday the Nobel Peace prize was awarded to President Santos partly to honor those who died in this horrible 52 years of guerrilla war, and partly to motivate President Santos to continue seeking peace. Between myself and Pastor Luis we both feel reasonably hopeful that an accord can be reached before the deadline.

Just in case, however, FARC has asked for leaders of Civil and Religious groups to come to their encampments and offer their protection for the FARC soldiers. FARC is committed to peace now. They are asking for these men and women to shield them with their bodies. Pastor Luis got the call. If he has the chance, on the 30th of October, he will be deep in the mountains offering his pastoral care for their 500 years of reformation service. I've traveled with the man for a week and a half now. I can read his moods fairly well (we think a lot alike) and I can tell he's worried about it too.

Speaking at a church in Phoenix, AZ
Here's a man who believes in radical love. A shining example of God's love on this Earth. He has this passionate way of speaking in superlatives. 'We HAVE to do something.' 'We DON'T have a choice.' He's not exaggerating his work. If anything I think he's playing it down. He always shares these beautiful moments and he hates talking about the sad statistics of the never-ending violence in Colombia. He always finishes his speeches by saying Colombians are happy, spirited people who love to dance. 

Entire generations of Colombians have grown up not knowing peace. There was a point (according to Pastor Luis) that they were unfazed by news of massacres. I can understand why they would consider voting 'No.' After all, the leaders of this guerrilla group massacred innocent civilians. These leaders would be pardoned if they confessed to a special tribunal. Make no mistake the government proved equally as violent at times with over 2,500 people kidnapped from their homes, killed, and buried away forever hidden. I can see how you would not want to forgive someone who killed your mom or dad and took your lands from you.

At the same time Pastor Luis makes a good point: Who doesn't want peace? Colombia might be the only country that gets the luxury of asking itself if it wants peace. Jesus preached radical love. That's why he was always with the tax collectors, lepers, and exiled. He never maintained the social order. He preached for peace, but a peace by social justice. That's exactly the sort of work Pastor Luis does. He does it on behalf of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and in partnership with many other faith traditions. The church he so lovingly talks about is the church I'm incredibly proud of. A church that's inclusive for everyone - guerrilla fighters and government employees. A church that shares it's services amongst other faith communities. A church that preaches a radical kind of love. It's this kind of message that makes me proud to say I'm presbyterian.

There's a lot of concern going forward surrounding Colombia. The No vote is still so fresh that each day brings it's own wonders. We never know, and not even Pastor Luis (who has had such an integral role in these peace talks) knows what exactly is going to happen. But as Pastor Luis likes to say: we live every day as children of God in the best way we can. That means he spreads his message and shares the stories of Colombia while I translate as best I can. Tomorrow we'll be in a church. Monday we're in Wisconsin. Our mission takes us all over, but it's work we're called to do. We don't get much of a choice. We have to do it.

Friday, August 26, 2016


I have a secret to share. I can share it with you now that I'm about to go home. Here's my secret: Every single day that I've been away I thought about home. Every single day in Peru I've had at least one moment a day where I grow melancholic and miss my home. Maybe it was a food I missed or a person I hadn't spoken to in awhile. I'd always have one moment (maybe longer) where I'd think about home and miss it intensely.

Which is fair. Dallas is incredibly valuable to me. I was born and raised there. My family's there. My friends are all there. Every time I think I know Dallas it surprises me. From the new Arts District to White Rock Lake I missed that place, my home.

At first I thought I was being ungrateful for missing home. I thought that part of me would much rather be home than here in Peru. I wasn't wrong. But it's not wrong to feel that way. Part of leaving a loving home is missing it when you're gone. Once I accepted this feeling of loss home became some sort of end goal. At the end of everything I would come home. I would return triumphant and change the world. Which.... is a little grandiose. I day dreamed too often this year of coming back. When I read the news sometimes I felt like I needed to be back. I needed to mourn with my country, my state, my city, my home, my friends. Other times I felt like I'd done enough and seen enough. There was no further purpose to being in Peru. I could go home and call my YAV year a success. That was in January. When I traveled I often thought about how close I was to going home. I had to shut that thought out of my mind or else I would never enjoy myself on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. 

Home occupies a strange place in my head: a weird amalgam of daydreams, memories, and sensations. Home is where the State Fair and their fried twinkles are. Home is where my dog Loki rests. Home is where chlorinated pools are the best way to cool off on a hot day. Home is where the tacos are fresh, margaritas can't be compared, and some of the best sunsets are. Now, at the end of everything home is... well, it's home. 

But I have another home now too. A home in Moyo. A home where movies cost 3 soles on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. A home where soccer games on Friday end in 2 soles bets. A home where Mama might cook every meal but at least once a month I get to try something new (and shrivel under her watchful gaze as I potentially ruined her kitchen.) I have a second home. Truthfully I consider many places home: the USA, the State of Texas, Dallas, Marl Germany, Moyobamba Peru. 

Home then, as we all probably know, is where you feel loved. We have people who surround us and show us they love us. We feel at home. Safe. Logic follows that if God loves us then God is home. The semantics are so vague though there's plenty of room to argue. I think it's better to say: Home can be made anywhere on this world, so long as you have love. 

I have lots of love for Moyobamba. I'd even say in the most cliched way possible "I left a bit of myself there." But now it's time to return to my first home. It's time to go back. I have had the greatest adventure of my young life (thus far) and am unlikely to forget it. I hope you have enjoyed reading about the adventures. I've enjoyed living them. I have to go now. I have a plane to catch. If you see me around feel free to ask me about my YAV year! I'd be happy to tell you. To all my friends and family who have patiently waited for me: I'll see you all soon!

Thanks to everyone for reading! Have a good life! 

- Daniel -

A Broken World

When I left for Peru it was summer. A robust and hot August I made the most of by enjoying cool drinks late into the evenings with my closest friends. I had just come back from a backpacking trip. The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage while I was gone and I thought that was pretty great news to come home too. The distant murmurs of political candidates, their demagoguish appeals to middle America, and the steadying drum beats of war were far off. Very few young people I knew were taking this presidential candidacy seriously this early in its game. There were bigger problems to worry about: Trayvon Martin, ISIS, an Oscar season full of white people. The rumblings I ignored as I flew down to Lima, Peru only grew though to the point where I couldn't help but listen.

I've been gone one year. In that year America's suffered through more than 5 high profile mass shootings (not counting the ones we don't get to hear about.) France was attacked not once, but twice. Several black men died at the hands of police officers in questionable circumstances. A presidential candidate, on a nationally televised debate, made lewd comments about the size of his hand and proceeded to bully other gentleman (and not so gentleman) politicians into a candidacy run. Great Britain decided to pull out of the EU on false promises of restricting immigration and maintaining a new national identity. There was a failed coup in Turkey, Syria's still in the middle of a civil war, a Yale swimmer raped a woman and received probation, and the Oscars were still full of too many white people. I know because I watched it. I watched it all happen. I saw painful videos of these events taking place. I felt like my world was being torn apart slowly around me as I watched from a million miles away.

The last straw was Dallas. Last last straw really I should say. My own hometown. Rocked by a shooting motivated by vengeance against a corrupt system. Did you know Dallas police were trained in de-escalation? They were one of the model police forces across the United States when it comes to NOT putting a bullet in an arrested person*. Then three men got together, picked a peaceful protest, and fired at Dallas police officers. I skyped my parents right when the standoff was happening. They were a little wide-eyed like me, but calm since the police now had control over the situation and we're doing their best to prevent anyone else from getting hurt. I remember feeling completely impotent. I wanted to be there, to be home. It's not like I could contribute anything but just being back home amongst my friends and family I could express my rage better, my grief better. I wanted to punch my way through the walls of my Peruvian home. I was numb the next morning. There was little I could say to my Peruvian family or coworker's that they could fully empathize with. That was one of the most powerful times I truly felt alone.

The world feels broken, now more than ever. Part of that is exposure. I started reading a lot of news. The more I read the more I became aware of all that's going on around the world. In fact, everyone's more aware. When the Dallas attack happened I watched a man stream video of the stand off live via Facebook. We're all more aware of violence, fraudulence, corruption, and danger. It's part and parcel of having this connected world. Another part of this is: it's that time of the political cycle. A presidential election always divides the people. Because we are so connected opinions become ubiquitous and everyone trades on cheap political memes. I've seen more than enough stated opinions on social media to drive a wedge between myself and that person. I know not to engage online. It's a forum designed for people to feel affirmed, not challenged. If I can't voice my concern where can I go to? Whom can I speak to?

A British man I met in Arequipa explained the Brexit vote to me. He said, very simply: "the people felt like they were working for their government and it should be the other way around. The outsiders voted to leave just as a screw you to the government. They didn't think they'd actually leave. They thought London would vote enough to keep them in." They didn't feel like they had a voice. They chose to scream in outrage and vote Leave.** 

It's scary. What we say and do might not affect the world we live in. A carpenter in New Jersey might vote for anti-gun laws but he might ultimately feel powerless as gun lobbies prevent the legislation from passing by convincing Texas or Arizona to vote against. That carpenter feels helpless. He did his civic duty. What more can he say? If you think that's bad imagine being African American or Latino or Asian American where your words don't matter at all or imagine being a woman where your words are worth 78 cents on the dollar and more if you look good.

Looking at my country from the outside in creates a sense of helplessness. It's the time for it I suppose. But I didn't leave my home and spend a year in Peru just to return home and feel hopeless. If there's anything I've learned in my YAV year it's that good reform takes time. Make no mistake I advocate for reforms all over the place. I want justice for the black communities who have been criminalized and who are being exploited for profit (once again.) I want no more mass shootings. I want the world to be safer and I want to go to movie theaters or night clubs without the fear of being fired upon. I want women to be treated as equals and for the institutions that deny them that privilege to understand what it feels like to be valued at less than your full price. I want stricter environmental protection laws to save our planet. We have no idea the trouble were in for if we don't do something. I want all these things and more because I want the world to be filled with more love. I want less brokenness. But it's going to take time.

Jed said something I don't think I'll ever forget. Advocacy work is daunting. He explained to me that many advocacy workers work "not so much to defeat the darkness but to show the light everyday." You can't think about it in terms of wins or losses. You have to think about it in terms of love. How much of God's love have I shown today? In what ways does God's love manifest itself in these tangled issues? It calms me down and helps me realize one key lesson from my YAV year: you're not always going to effect a powerful change, but your presence has much more value than you can ever know. It means a lot not just to work towards change, but to exist inside these conflicts. Who knows? Simply by interacting with others engaged in this problem (people who may be on opposing sides to you) you can effect a change.

I was scared to go home. I was scared I'd say something I advocate for and lose a friend or upset somebody. I was scared my country might change into a warped, twisted version of itself. I was scared the world is a much more dangerous place. As anyone can tell you: acting on your fear is partially how America got to where it is now. Instead I choose love. Advocate through love and never expect to create a tidal shift. I understand not just the state of the world around me, but also how I can act to change it. I'm a part of something bigger. I can contribute to these causes little by little, a voice of one amongst many.

- Daniel

*im not saying Dallas PD are perfect. My dad gets plenty of cases (as a lawyer) where he might disagree. What I'm saying is that, compared to the rest of the other 49 states, Dallas was exemplary.

** I'm not here to comment on the Brexit vote other than the sentiments behind the Brexit vote are extremely similar to the feelings of middle America today.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Last YAV

Somebody fact check me, but I think I'm the last YAV of the 2015-16 class to go home. All the international YAVs have seen their families. All the national YAVs have wrapped up their years and moved on. Everyone's moved on except me.

It's kinda cool! Like calling yourself the last gunslinger. Except I don't wander anymore and I don't mete out justice by the hammer of my colt .45 revolver. It just means I'm the last of my class to go home. I don't doubt the YAV office has their eyes on me. Like Mark Watney from the Martian. I survived my time. Now all I have to do is get home.

If you think that's crazy get this: three days after I leave the new YAVs arrive. I like to consider it an example of real life dramatic symmetry. I get a weird sense of closure from it. The wheel keeps on turning and a new set of YAVs begin work where I once was.

Having survived my own YAV year I can tell you I'm not worried about being forgotten. My first few months in the office my coworker's confused me with previous YAVs. They kept calling me Spencer and Andres until I asked them not to. I'm not worried about my memory fading into obscurity. Instead I take solace that another YAV will be picking up work I once did. Currently, Paz y Esperanza is working to build a school specifically for deaf-mute children. When I was there they had just bought the land and gained their land title. When Emily gets there they will have a groundbreaking ceremony. Little by little the work continues.

I now get to join another group of individuals: the YAV alumni. I belong to those "seasoned generals" of service years and help future volunteers the way they guided me to where I am now. YAV alumni. It has a pleasant ring to it. A network of people who understand what I went through. People I can directly relate to. Not just young people! Richard, the YAV program coordinator, was a YAV. Jed, my site coordinator's husband, served a YAV year roughly around the time I was born.

Please don't confuse what I just described with a fraternity. Trust me, Greek life has nothing to do with YAV life. What I mean is that a YAV year isn't something you just do and come home. It changes you. It's fair to say any time spent abroad changes you, but a YAV year is different. It's a year of service not just learning. It's a year of intense immersion. It's a year of trial and challenge as much as celebration and joy.

My YAV year led me to deeper understanding of my faith and a more refined sense of self. I can't describe to you all the ways I've changed. I'd have to be home, back in my regular context, to find out. I'm not home. Not yet. Soon though, I can start the next phase of my life. It's time to move on. I will always remember the change I've experienced through my YAV year. Once a YAV always a YAV I think. I can't wait to no longer be the Last YAV and join my friends in the States as a YAV Alumni!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What It Means To Be A YAV

Serving a YAV year has been one of the singularly most intense things I've ever done in my life. I was challenged physically, mentally, spiritually, and any other way you can think of. I love that aspect. I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's taught me a LOT about who I am and what I believe. It's put me in a place to be able to finally express my thoughts and opinions at the grown up dinner table without feeling childish.

Being a YAV you live on the edge more often than not. You sit there on a line between the privileged populace and those who lack the very privileges you enjoy. You undergo a lot of paradigm-changing. You join new cultures, new families. You see the world from a completely different perspective. You learn just how deep those privileges really run and that can be a wonderful moment. YAV's pretty great!

What you also have to understand is that being a YAV means giving up your time. Being an international YAV means you sacrifice things from your home. Maybe I'm not being quite clear. So let me put it to you this way.

In my 1 year of service I missed: 4 funerals (1 was unexpected), 3 weddings, 3 Graduations, 2 children being born, and 1 well, year. Don't get me wrong, I knew what I was signing up for when I said yes. Shaina can tell you how her older sister had to reschedule her wedding because Shaina accepted the position. It's not like anyone neglected to tell us. We made a conscious decision knowing we would be missing out on these events.

I remember when my best friends wedding happened in the States I was bummed out. I couldn't say why until I saw the photos on Facebook and realized I missed the wedding. I had squared away all these problems with my friend long before I left, it just sucked that all my friends were at this wonderful moment and I was abroad, in Peru. But that's the deal. That's part of what you get when you sign up. If you're lucky you get to see friends or family the second half of your year. I haven't seen my family since they visited me in March and my friends since I left for Peru. I miss them a lot and I miss the events that happened. It's easy to feel like the world has passed you by.

But there's a second part the YAV year teaches you. By being gone and having to vacate your friends daily living the value of their/your presence is made painfully apparent. You get the chance to see which people keep up with you. Despite the world turning your friends won't leave you behind. That's where the value is in being gone.

A YAV year is not an easy thing. It is not something you casually do. It can show you a lot and one thing it's shown me is just how much everyone matters to me. And I mean everyone. When a friend drops out of touch it's difficult. There's no way to know what they're up to or how their feeling. It's scary. I take solace in the fact that God put me here as part of his plan. I may not know entirely what I'm doing but he does. Better than most. The best I can do is find the value in each moment He brings me to. Especially when the world turns.

To my best friend Alexander Fine and his lovely bride Victoria - you guys are a wonderful pair. Complimenting each other in all the best ways. I've seen a lot and learned a lot and I can't wait to share it with you two. I wish you both eternal bliss and good fortune. I owe you guys a drink. I'll see you in ~5 days!

- Daniel Pappas -