Sunday, August 30, 2015

Presbyterian Mission at the United Nations

Greetings all!

I write to you all from the beautiful Stony Point Center in New York. Out here the leaves are green, the Hudson river is blue, and the weather is a balmy 85 degrees on a hot day. Nothing like home whatsoever.
This is my home for Orientation. It's beautiful!
Orientation (or training as I like to call it) has been going on for the past seven days and it's managed to encompass all manner of subjects. Here's a short breakdown:

Monday - arrival/travel day
Tuesday - Cultural Competency (Recognizing Privilege and the lack thereof)
Wednesday - Sexual Misconduct, Setting Healthy Boundaries, What Advocacy Work is
Thursday - DAY AWAY! Everyone go out and see stuff! (more on that in a second.)
Friday - The Presbyterian/YAV Theology of Mission
Saturday - How to tell people (mostly via social media) about your experience
Sunday - Commissioning ceremonies, relax

While I could write pages about what I've learned and how my eyes have been opened to see a system that's already fairly broken I want to focus on just one day.


So imagine you have 193 friends together and you all decide to get lunch. Everyone debates and argues over what to eat, but at the end of the day you still have to vote on what to eat. If two-thirds of you agree on somewhere to eat then you're going there. Then, if such event happens, you vote on how you're going to get their, who's car you're going to take, who's going to call ahead, etc. It's gridlock diplomacy. But that's the best way to metaphorize how the UN functions.

I learned this from our two hosts at the offices right across from the UN Building in New York. Presbyterians have worked alongside the UN almost from the get-go. What we do is meet with UN delegations and talk to them about issues important to our church and convince them to help us out. Sounds simple enough right?

Except being there... Life is crazy. We attended a vigil to recognize the 500th day that 219 young women in Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram. An Imam, Cantor, parishioner, and city councilwoman all spoke in this red-velvet lined chapel about an issue I had not known about.

For more info read: Wall Street Journal - Chibok Women interview

We had to duck out early (I was dying a slow death from hunger and feared my stomach rumbles would interrupt the service) to grab food and meet with some hosts.

Three different people: A Middle Eastern Policymaker for the UN, an NGO Food Justice Advocate, and a Middle East Foreign Analyst all sat in a room with twenty 20-something presbyterians and discussed how they arrived to where they are today. Stories of starting as a volunteer and seeking a more meaningful impact through direct work with the UN or with other NGO's brought them here. I was a little disappointed that they had little to say about how their faith influenced the work they did, but when all you do is try to make justice in the world I imagine it can be hard to step back and focus on your spirituality.

After that we took a short tour around the area before hopping on a schoolbus to sit through two hours of traffic to make it back to beautiful Stony Point.


It's rewarding to know the church I grew up in has been an international figure and done so in what feels like an appropriate manner. We believe it is best to walk WITH people in Mission instead of just telling them what to do. Our work at the United Nations centers around bringing awareness to others and spreading the word. It's a comfort to see that a volunteer year can lead you to unexpected places. I couldn't say if that's a life I'm leaning towards, but I know the option exists. That's more than enough for me.

Meet the 2015-16 Young Adult Volunteer Class!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


So you know how big weight loss programs show the before and after? Right. Same deal here.

I want to write a post real quickly that highlights my expectations and thoughts about this upcoming year so that, months later, I can look back and realize how wrong they were.

Language: I'm jumping headfirst into a language that I speak conversationally. I'm barely fluent in Spanish and know enough to get through a conversation at a bar or over dinner. Ask me about politics and I will struggle a bit. That's okay though! Basically, I expect to dive into the spanish language and start speaking as much as humanly possible. My reading comprehension is much better (now that I've been practicing). My listening is going to need work and my writing is going to take up a good portion of my time. Suffice to say: I'm going to be asking people to repeat what they said and missing a ton of accent marks on my letters.

Culture: This one's a little tricky. I've generally found that reading about a culture and experiencing it are two completely different things. I'll be in the northern part so I'm exposed to more Quechua. I expect to encounter more of the traditional Quechuan culture, but also the Peruvian world. Weddings are a big, big deal. Funerals too. The family stays together well after the children are adult-age. Sports are common throughout and most people walk or take taxis everywhere. In fact, buses are common to travel long distances.

A traditional Pisco Sour
Food: This one I'm most excited for. Peru has been known to some of the most diverse cuisine in the world! Peruvian dishes include Anticuchos, Alpaca, Ceviche, and my personal interest: Cuy. Peru is home to the almighty Potato (Americans worship that plan in its many forms.) I love eating and trying new things so I can't say how excited I am to see a new palate. Now, I will be in the northern part so I'm much less likely to eat Alpaca or ceviche (since I am not even close to the coast or the mountains). I can tell you I can't wait to try a Pisco sour. 

Weather: I gotta admit: I'm also super stoked for this one. Generally throughout Peru the highs are like 85 degrees (Farenheit of course). The lows are like mid-60's? That's the kind of weather Californians won't stop bragging about to me. It's paradise. The seasons up north are rainy and less-rainy. So, I'm bringing a rain jacket. Here's my (rather narrow minded) assumption: being closer to the rainforest makes me assume it will be way more humid there. I don't think I'll be bringing any winter jackets with me on this trip.

Home sweet home for the next eleven months of my life.

Church: This one is the most comforting to me. We all worship for the same reasons: to give thanks, remind ourselves of the power of God, ask for prayers. Some denominations confess their sins and feel relieved, others have to work for their forgiveness. Either way we're all worshipping together. I'm excited to be worshipping in Spanish. I'm hoping to hear more spanish melodies and flamenco-influenced music (another assumption is that flamenco is a huge thing all over the Latin world. I could be wrong.) I'll admit, I'm not entirely sure what denomination my host family is. I assumed they are Presbyterian since they're hosting a Presbyterian but that's a pretty big assumption. Either way, I'm okay with that. They are choosing to host me, so I abide by their rules.

Daily Living: This one is the most up in the air. It's also the one I'm least concerned with. I trust myself, my site coordinator (the lovely Jenny Valles, more on her later), and my host family to help us all reach homeostasis this year. I don't honestly know if there is internet at the house (something I was warned is not always common). I don't know (or assume) their will be air conditioning. Both of those things I've lived without so it doesn't matter too much to me. I read that breakfast is usually small, lunch is a packed meal (nothing big), and dinner is the big meal. Okay! I'm in! I read that eating out is uncommon during the weekdays, but on the weekends the whole family will get together and eat a meal. My main concern now is working out. I'm sure I can figure it all out, I'm just curious how that's going to change. I workout like 5 or 6 times a week so there will be a major adjustment regarding my physical activity.
I can't wait to eat one of these rascals

These are all things that I spend my nights googling to research and discover. I read books about life there constantly and prepare myself as best I can. Thankfully I know I can adapt and figure it out. None of these things are deal breakers. I'm going to love it in Peru. That's my major assumption. One I know will come true. So in roughly four weeks when I've moved in with my host family and settled in to work I can look back and laugh at how wrong I was.

For all of you interested in visiting the country here are some helpful websites I used during my research:
Moyobamba Home Site
National Geographic - Top 10 things to Eat in Peru
Wikipedia Moyobamba Page
      ^ (Cause what college research would be complete without a Wikipedia search)
Lonely Planet Moyobamba Peru Guide
The CIA's factbook on the country of Peru

 - Daniel Pappas -

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The 4th of July

Some people go on trips to find themselves. Some people choose to leave their comfortable place of residence and venture out to see what the world has in store for them. My generation is not the first one to pursue a life abroad.

I started my six weeks backpacking trip in Europe about three weeks ago. Which means, I'm writing this at 3:30 a.m. in Prague from a hostel while I wait to board a train to Budapest.

I've been on two backpacking trips before. One I went to Madrid, Paris, Berlin, and Cologne with my best friend brother. The second trip I visited Greece, Israel, and Pisa. Both of these trips changed my life in ways I don't think I'll be able to fully express. They initiated an unmooring. Whatever sense of permanence I created for myself at home slowly dissipated as I came to realize the world was out my front door.

Now I still call Dallas my home and I look forward to returning from this six week trip. My sense of self might have changed but I'm strongly rooted in my sense of identity. I mean, I've spent countless hours exploring "who I am" and pondering other existential questions. I'm not quite through, but I feel that I know who I am and what I want from this world.

Some people go on trips to find themselves. I already know who I am. So why did I go on this trip? What is there to learn about myself?

The world is at your fingertips.
      - I don't mean the internet. Simply that he world is out there and parts of it are accessible. The wonders of the world aren't meant to be enjoyed in the pages of coffee table books. I know, I used to marvel at those pages.

Who I am now is significantly different and particularly similar to who I was in the past.
      - It's a cop out. The answer is too vague. I've been working to delineate the exact changes and I can graph them out for you or make some bad illustration. That's not the point. That's a post for later.

The point (and I have one here) is no matter how developed or underdeveloped your sense of self is travel helps. Travel outside of your city, zip code, state, country, continent. It pushes you in ways you didn't expect and will make you grasp at truths you didn't before. You will come to accept a reality that's different from the one before as sunrise is different from sunset. Life changes. Travelling can help you make sense of it. (Provided you aren't running away from change.)