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 -

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Back Again a Blog in (maybe) 6 Parts

You thought I was gone didn't you? You thought that even though I explicitly titled my last blog 'This Is Not My Last Blog Post' that I'd forget to continue writing after my travels and just let the blog fall by the wayside as I readjust to normal life. Well, don't worry. I'm not home yet. In fact I have about 6 last days (as of today) in Lima after all the backpacking. That's six whole days to reflect, pray, and catch up on Netflix. It's a great chance to write too. So, since I have next to nothing planned for the next six days expect 6 last blog posts. That's my goal.

I took a month to travel partly because I wanted to and partly because I thought some time in between my YAV year and going home might help me readjust. Maybe there would be time to process it all. Except I was traveling so there wasn't really time to process it all. Just enough time to take a picture and look at it later. Now that I'm on the home stretch I'm a whole jumble of emotions.

I'm excited to finally be home. The completion of a moment I've been waiting several months for. I'm sad to leave Peru behind me. I call this country my home and I feel a bit like I'm leaving family and friends behind even as I return to my family and friends. I'm anxious. America is a divided country. Especially now. Nobody comes back from a YAV year and doesn't have a polarizing opinion or two. Recently though I've been feeling nervous. Nervous for many things. I'm nervous to go home and answer the same questions over and over again. I'm nervous people will stop listening to me since all I can ever say is 'well when I was in Peru...' I'm nervous that some of the things I enjoyed back home won't carry the same satisfaction it used to. I'm mostly worried that when I get home, who I am (and I have changed over this last year significantly) will change my relationships with the people I treasure. I don't want to lose a friend but I can't rationally ignore a dissonance I feel for the sake of a friendship.

Granted it's unlikely to happen since my closest friends and I get along well. We agree on a great many things, but it's safe to say a YAV year changes everything. I guess really I should be excited since that means there will be whole new elements to my relationships to explore and discover.

I took a break between home and YAV so I could see my YAV year from a third person point of view. A warm up act to living back home you might say. Here are some highlights of what I saw:

- It sounds easy but it's not. My YAV year pushed me and challenged me in literally every way humanly possible. On paper it sounds professional. Out loud it sounds relaxing. Don't mistake either of those for what it really was (and what I intended it to be) incredibly hard.

- I've been gone from home for a year. It's a lot for any human to handle. I thought I would handle it better than most but I had plenty of days where I didn't want to get out of bed because then I couldn't day dream of being home.

- yes. I actually went into the rainforest. I hiked long trails, slept in hammocks, and ate local banana-leaf wrapped fish. It was an adventure at times!

- It was also a lot of office work. I learned a lot about just working a 9-5 and seeing what it takes.

- Climate change is real and we have to do something about it. We don't have a choice.

- even if you don't believe climate change is real you have to admit we should institute safer environmental protection laws. We can NOT be dumping waste back on to our world. That's equal parts ignorance and sloth.

- I didn't make a huge change on the large scale but on the small scale among my family, the children, and tribes I met.... I feel like I changed the world.

Yes these are all a few things I picked up along the way. Would I do it over again if I had to? Absolutely.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

This Is NOT My Last Blog Post

So, allow me to be clear on this because I think there's a little confusion. This blog isn't quite done yet. There is still one or two last things to write. I am, in fact, not done with South America. I have my last retreat in Paracas for the next five days and then starting July 24th I will strap on a single backpack and visit many exciting and wonderful places throughout Peru and South America.

Allow me to be clear: August 26th I fly home to Dallas. August 26th there will be one last blog post. I have been planning this post for quite some time and I almost have all the words I need to write it. The only thing I'm missing is the time. August 26th will be that time and I promise you that is when the blog retires for good!

Every YAV right now can tell you we all feel pretty similar. It's the end of the YAV year and things are wrapping up. We all want to talk about how much we've grown, the relationships we've made. I did that not too long ago. But for me now, after leaving Moyobamba and facing a rather large backpacking trip I have to face forward or risk getting a little lost. So, instead of looking back I want to look forward a bit.

Well, to start off with I have this big trip planned! I'm going to Peru, Bolivia, Buenos Aires, Iguazu, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. I've spent a year planning this trip and I've asked myself all the questions you might have. Here's what I will say about this trip: this is very certainly the last chance I will have to take 4 weeks out of my life and travel. Adult life, when it comes, is going to occupy my attention and everyone I have talked to says that you don't get a ton of time to yourself. Rio de Janeiro has been a place I've always wanted to visit ever since I was a little kid (and yes, I have my eyes on the news regularly - I know what's going on there.) My parents have whole-heartedly supported me in doing this trip. I'll also add that this is a good chance to change my scenery and I often reflect/meditate best when I travel. I'm hoping it might have the added effect of helping me process this experience.

Going home - I've seen part of a blank slate and part of a resuming my old life. I asked Jed what the biggest thing newly christened YAV alums have to deal with. He explained to me that recent YAVs will often find things that trigger their memories or emotions (days, weeks, or months down the line) and the person they turn to might be able to listen but not truly empathize. I can imagine hearing those words "When I was in Peru..." Can get very old. My plan is to find coping mechanisms for these moments and to explain to everyone that I may talk about Peru a LOT but I need them to be patient with me.

There is the prospect of being a grown adult as well. Job, apartment, career pursuits, dating, etc. all of that I can more than confidently deal with since my safety net of family and friends will always be there. The adult life actually doesn't worry me.

Church. I have so much respect and appreciation for my home church. Maybe it's nostalgia, but there's a folksy element that's honest and true about my church back home I miss. The slight Texas twangs and the ever-revolving slight congregational drama are just parts of it. I also miss the biscuits and gravy, sausage patty, and breakfast burrito breakfasts. I miss it all and I have to structure my life so I can satisfy this emotion without ruining the reverie or overextending myself. I also owe so much to Grace Presbytery and the Synod of the Sun that I am being 110% sincere when I say I would like to help however I can. I hope they recognize that I have learned a LOT about being a servant and would enjoy continuing that process with whatever work they have.

These are the things I look forward to the most. Sure, all the food and drinks I've been missing out on, but that can wait. It can wait 5 more weeks. On Auguzt 26th I will salivate. Until then I look forward to Train Graveyards on deserts of salt, tango dance halls after churrascaria skewers, Christ the Redeemer watching climb step after step to reach to the top. I have a few adventures left in me. You might not hear from me until August 26th but understand - this is not the end right here. That will come soon enough.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

(Semi) Final Thoughts

So first I need to apologize. The charger cable for my laptop burned out with maybe a week and a half left here at Moyobamba. There was too little time left to order a new one and yet still enough time to have plenty of work left to do. I was in a bit of a jam so pretty much anything computer related went to work. Thus I have not had the time to properly blog or notify anyone of what I have been up to. I am attempting to catch up today while I have a computer and the free time to write.

Its weird. Its wednesday today and on Saturday I leave Moyo for good. Ten months have passed since I left for Peru. Now, when I face the trials of leaving my new home, I confront felings that are very familiar. Whether I was prepared or not last weekend kicked off the farewell tour. My last Sunday at Lluyllucucha presbyterian church. My last visit to the Sulfur Baths. The last time I will see my cycling group friends. Im actually not a big ´last ___ ´guy. When everyone proclaimed ¨Last first day of classes¨ I just shrugged. Its still school.

To summarize my feeling of saying goodbye though I want to point to a previous blog post I wrote last May. Lots of what I feel now match how I felt after graduation (although maybe watered down a bit.) Check it out here:

In these last few days Ive been wrestling with a question that Ive been asking myself since I first got to Moyobamba,

¨Why did I choose to leave home?¨

The answer is complicated and Ive addressed it in personal writing several times for months now. 

First it has to do with the desire to leave home. I wasnt done traveling the world and this was my decision to leave home far behind. I wanted to see who I was without my safety net I grew up with. Some of that fervor for traveling is fueled by jealousy of my wealthier peers who vacation abroad like its normal and part of it is the understanding I will not have a chance in my life to do something like this ever again. Ive found the experience to be more valuable than a semester abroad or an extended backpacking trip.

I also knew I needed to mature. Lets be honest I knew next to nothing about social, political, economic, racial issues. I only read what Buzzfeed wrote out in a list. I think we can all agree Buzzfeed is not really a news source. I did not have opinions on much of anything that was not related to movies or tv shows or books or video games. Its not that I wanted to be this way I was just in a different context that did not always require such presence of mind. I also had a bad habit of apathy. I recognized all these things and decided I needed to change on a fundamental level. From prior experience nothing changes you more than leaving your country. I decided that, in order to evoke the change I desired, I should submit myself to the crucible of living abroad.

In order to defeat apathy I needed to practice empathy and what better way to do so than work as a volunteer. By dedicating myself to a cause I was unfamiliar with I would become familiar with processes of applied empathy that would change my world outlook. I learned about the work involved for advocacy. If I was gonna leave my country and try to grow as a person let it be in the service of others. Jesus transformed others by caring for them. He set the standard.

Lastly I found myself yearning for church. In college I took a dedicated break. My religious curiosity, while subdued, grew as I slept in on Sundays. Now, let me be clear: I needed the break. I was right by realizing my high school faith was irregular. ´Church Camp Faith´I liked to call it. I see now theres nothing wrong with that. I just personally craved for more interaction. That meant getting back into the Presbyterian Church (USA) and by doing so from an international perspective. I grew my faith while engaging with other parts of the Presbyterian church in Peru as well as understanding just what exactly is this international church Im a tiny part of.

So why do I keep asking myself this question? 

Because they are the goals I wanted to accomplish. Admittedly they are rather abstract goals: grow up, become politically conscious, grow in your faith, learn who you are when you are way far away from home. Broken down into concrete actions though I feel successful. I read the news daily (from  multiple sources.) I found things that I care about. I discovered my opinions on topics Im more than happy to discuss. I pray every night (or morning if its been a cazy day.) I have to say, my wanderlust has significantly decreased since coming to Peru. I know now that if I left home I do have the skills and personality to make friends, find a job, learn to live with others, and eventually thrive away from my safety net. Knowing Ive accomplished the many things I set out to do makes saying goodbye easier.

People often joke Im going to find a Peruvian bride in the last two days here and stay. To which I disagree vehemently. Its all in good fun, but the reality is Ive accomplished what I set out to do and thats more than enough for me. Its still hard to say ´adios´ to everyone. My host mother tears up when I mention leaving and I get a little misty-eyed from time to time. 

I dont know when Ill be back in Moyobamba, Its a little unnerving and Im not the first volunteer to have mixed feelings about leaving. I love this town and I love the people in it. They have shown me a different way of life. I also miss my home, my family, my friends. There are people back in Texas waiting patiently for my return. I also have a few more adventures left before I go home.

Ive started packing my bag early to help me get in the mentality of leaving. Still, all of this retrospection can only mitigate the incredible amount of feelings I have. Yeah, I have two more months to go, but those months are filled with new adventures. I can not wait for those adventuress sure, but I will always hold Moyobamba in my heart.

Para todos mis amig@s Peruan@s gracias por acompañarme en este aventura. Ha sido increïble y estaré pensando en como va a ser por muchos años despues. Espero que no me olviden y que nos vemos mas tarde- Recuerda - siempre estas bienvenida en Texas! Gracias. Nos vemos pronto.

 - Daniel Pappas - 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Letter For My Father

So, allow me to begin by saying I love my mother. In fact, my sister and dad both tend to think I'm much more like my mom by nature than my dad. Which, is probably a very good thing. But while my base nature I get from my mother my mannerisms, language, and thought process I get from my Dad. Lots of people freak out when someone says they're exactly like their Dad. I think it's a good thing. He is, after all, my hero.

My Dad was the son of a Greek immigrant from the town of Maroni. He spent an early childhood in St. Louis for a bit before traveling around and finally settling in Stillwater, Oklahoma. His father, a man I called Gurney (his real name was Pete), ran a Napa autoparts store. My Dad, his brother, and his sister helped their dad run the store. To this day my Dad uses all the car knowledge he gained to avoid doing any possible work on his car. It's honestly impressive how long dad's truck has lasted.

Not too much is known about his teenage years. He promised to tell me when I was well past my own. My Dad always liked to say his kids would not get away with anything because he knew all the tricks in the book. He never said how he knew them, but my sisters and I have our educated guesses. Rumor has it: my Dad was a hellion.

My Dad. Apparently we look and sound a LOT alike.
He took a full ride to SMU in Dallas to study history and economics for undergrad. He swam on the SMU men's swim team, but really mostly as a relay guy. He would continue to swim for the rest of his life. That's how he met my mother - who did her undergrad at SMU as well, only she was a competitive diver. They were a match made in heaven, except they didn't get together until college was over. My dad went on, after undergrad, to attend SMU Law school. He specialized in criminal defense.

His life after law school is filled with adventures: working for Burleson, Pate, and Gibson, cornering my mom at a party, traveling a little bit, working and swimming with the Masters swim program. He's been extremely lucky. You see, my dad does what he loves for a living. He has lived out the idea that if you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life. Sometimes he has good days and somedays he has bad days. When he has good days he likes to compare himself to an old gunslinger.

He's the rare kind of Dad, I realize, that I want to show off. It's kind of funny because he's still embarrassing and I don't know anyone else who can embarrass me as much as him, but I swear to all my friends that he's a cool dad. He never compromised to be cool either. He may have taken us out to restaurants, coached me in swimming, and heaped praise on me at his office but he was never afraid to have a stern conversation. I remember plenty of times I was reprimanded not only for doing something wrong, but for lying about it. It was the one thing he (and my mom!) would be really upset about. I could do wrong, but if I lied about it I was in way more trouble than the beginning.

Always keep a photo of my fam on the wall here. Sorry you're missing Alex!
He's eternally optimistic. Sometimes my sisters and I wonder if he's not dangerously optimistic. One of the best things he ever did, and one of the reasons me and all my friends love and respect him, was he treated us as equals. Even when I was an eleven year old he always treated me as his equal. He never talked down to me or thought I couldn't handle myself. He was like that with my friends too. When he taught Sunday school classes he would ask us hard questions that we teenagers wanted to be asked. He never pandered to us or tried to lecture us. He never tried to be cool, he just respected our tastes and opinions.

My dad reads an absurd amount. I mean, it's honestly impressive when I think about it. Rooms full of books and so many books my mom goes crazy from time to time. He instilled that love of reading with me and my sisters. At night, when we were young, he would read out loud classics like Frank Herbert's Dune or Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit or the BFG outloud to us. I used to get really mad cause after he finished reading outloud he would read the ending of the book and then just kinda get lost in the book itself. He's a science fiction NUT. He's read tons of Frank Herbert, Phillip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, and so much more. He says his only vice is books. You can't fault him for any major thing EXCEPT for his books. He always promised he'd try and keep up with us kids too. He'd read whatever we were reading.

I remember when I was in my senior year of high school. That winter had been especially brutal since there was a very tough breakup I went through. The kind of breakup I had to share with my parents through tears and who, without their love and support, might have affected my year as a whole. It was the State finals for swimming. I went over the events I was supposed to swim with my Dad. He explained to me that in order to get the time I needed for my 100 Back I was going to have to "do something crazy." What did I go do? I hopped in that water, I gave it everything I had. I got my time. When I came back you know what he said?

"I goofed up. Technically you didn't have to do something that crazy, but you did a helluva job!" Classic Dad.

Yeah. He's my idol. He knows a little bit about everything. He's always optimistic. He plays aloof a lot, but he's actually got a plan most of the time. He loves kids of almost all ages. He found his passion and has never stopped doing it. In fact, I've come to realize just how important it is to him that his children pursue their passions as well. Between my sister going to seminary and me serving abroad for a year you would think he'd be frustrated we didn't put our liberal arts degrees to better use but he couldn't be happier (at least I hope so.) He drives my mother and sisters crazy. He always forgets my friends' names and he only knows how to say 'muy abogado' in Spanish. Did you know a family friend of ours in Israel told all his friends: "If you get into trouble in the States, Tom can help you. You call Tom." My Dad's an international lawyer. How cool is that?

In honor of my father I'd like to share some of the things he's instilled in me after all these years:

1. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.
                  No matter what you're doing, at least do it consistently. That way nobody can say you weren't reliable.

2. If you laugh at your own jokes, you'll always have someone who thinks your funny. 

                   He's technically not wrong.

3. Everything is connected and everything has consequences.

4. Dad jokes will never go out of style.

5. It doesn't matter what you believe, a church community is a strong community to grow up in.

6. Honesty (and communication) is key. 

7. 90% of going to college is showing up to class and taking notes. That's all.

8. Stay in school for as long as humanly possible.

9. Some is good, more is better. - Okay, I don't always think this is a good idea. But you should see him come home with groceries.

10. Always invest in people.

He taught me all these things either by saying them out loud or showing me through example. I'll never forget the countless swim practices he's coached me through, all the screenplays he's read, and all the speeches he's given. He'd lecture me on American History the night before AP US History exams. I always like to get people in front of him to see what he thinks. He reads people particularly well (I call it applied empathy.) He's my Dad and I wouldn't be where I am without his guidance. I look back on the opportunities I have and I realize the true depth of my blessing. My Father somehow did just the right amount of work to raise some pretty decent kids, all things considered. Here's to you Dad! I'm sure we'll Skype soon so no need to worry about it.

I love you! I'll see you soon enough!

Your son,

P.S. Mom you're the saving grace for my goofball of a Dad so I owe you just as much as I owe him. Love you!
These are my parents when they were close to my age. Love you guys!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Advocates Efficacy

Like any good Texan I'm incredibly proud of where I'm from. I was born and raised in Dallas. I grew up in the Friday Night Lights football culture. The oversized-mums-sweet-tea-and-pecan-pie culture. We're home to Mathew McConaughey, Beyoncé, Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson, and 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin. We invented the margarita machine (you're welcome.) George Bush Jr. spoke at my college graduation ceremony. Whataburger is a State specialty and if you've never been to Bucee's then you've never really seen Texas at it's finest.

I'm proud enough of my heritage to claim ownership of it. By claiming ownership, however, I take responsibility for it's flaws as much as it's perks. That often means I have to explain when news stories pop up featuring discrimination, hate, aggression, or even violence. I have to explain to many people that Texas isn't only what you see in the news. Not all of Texas is represented by it's politicians or it’s businessmen. I have to apologize a lot, but I willingly accept this responsibility.

Michael Crichton once wrote “When we acknowledge a problem we accept responsibility for it.”

By denying a problem exists we aren’t required to address it. That’s exactly the same mindset major corporations prey upon. Climate change naysayers repeat over and over again: “The science is inconclusive.”

Nobody can say oil and gas companies ruin our environment because they never witness it. News may leak every now and then about a horrific spill, but the daily horrors never get noticed. Like Thomas, we have to touch the wounds with our own hands to believe.

Unlike Thomas, however, many of us have seen, but continue to disbelieve. What can we do about an issue as big as our planet? How can one person contribute to ‘defeating’ environmental degradation? That’s the American mindset.

Peruvians live amongst the catastrophic consequences of unchecked mining, oil, and gas operations. Entire tribes fall sick because of runoff into their water source. Major corporations buy up their land, evict them, and leave them with nothing and nowhere to go. I know. I’ve seen it firsthand. I witnessed the kind of desolation and destruction caused solely by these businesses. However bad I could imagine it; it was significantly worse.
This film mentions the Hunt Oil Co. based out of Dallas.

Make no mistake: climate change is real. Global warming is real. It affects all of us daily and even if we can’t see the effects let me assure you: Peru is feeling the heat, acutely. Peru is one of the top countries affected by climate change in the world. It’s fertile jungles, valleys, lakes, and general ecosystem is hurting. As if that wasn’t enough, major companies are exploiting everyone in this country to turn a profit.

Whether it’s the lead-polluted town of La Oroya, the Shawi San Jose’s water source, the mercury poisoning in the Madre de Dios mining area there are catastrophes taking place right under our nose. These aren’t just Peruvian state controlled companies, but businesses from Canada, New York, and even Dallas Texas. So very little of this news reaches American ears, but the legacy of exploitation in Peru goes back millennia and continues to this very day.

My work at Paz y Esperanza involves assisting pueblo leaders get communal land rights so that major companies don’t buy their property for mining or oil extraction. I record interviews with leaders and publish small videos showing their struggle. The Ankash Yaku at Achinamiza, the Shawi San Jose in Barranquitas, the Kopal Sacha in El Dorado, the list goes on and on. Damage is being done outside of the States away from prying eyes in the jungle, the mountains, and the coast.

How can someone who lives here work against something so big like an international oil conglomerate? How can they dedicate their lives to this cause without feeling the least bit pessimistic?

In America, I realized, we would measure our success. We value and weigh the work we’ve done by the projects we’ve finished. I reckon that if you were to tell an American they were going to advocate for more fair trade policies and they were not going to accomplish their goal that person would feel defeated. They might do the work, but there will never be a true sense of accomplishment to what they do. It could disenchant them to their mission and ultimately end their efforts because: “why bother?” When we decide that a cause is lost we give in to apathy. Apathy, then, is our greatest impediment.

Peruvians don’t see it that way. One of the great beauties of Peru is they’re lack of focus on a goal. Peruvians focus much more on the current day. They don’t worry about whether or not they’ll accomplish their goal. They work regardless. I call it ‘staying in the moment.’ It’s almost a childlike mentality (because what child can tell you what they’re going to do a month from now?) Is this not what Jesus taught us? Didn’t he invite the children to join him? He told us we must return to a childlike state if we hope to bring the kingdom of God to Earth.

Matthew 18:1-4New International Version (NIV)
The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven
18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said:“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

None of that is to say Peruvians are lazy or don’t have a goal they intend to accomplish. All I’m saying is that Peruvians don’t let the impracticalities of change diminish their optimism for the future. The odds may be severely stacked against them (I have many stories of such cases) but they are going to continue to work until the issue is resolved. They don’t fight to get rid of the darkness. Instead they bring light into this world.

So where do I fit into this battle of light and dark? I come home in two months and yet, just because my YAV year has ended doesn’t mean I stop advocating for reform. Actually, I think my job gets much harder when I go home. Texas isn’t exactly known for its willingness to change. Especially when it comes to Oil and Gas.

designed by I.M. Pei
Before I came to Peru I was fairly indifferent about environmental catastrophe. I once spent a summer working as a glorified secretary for an oil and gas consulting firm. I have family, in Houston, who make their living and provide for their families working for Big Oil. In a subtle twist of irony I went to high school where Exxon Mobil’s former Dallas headquarters is. Oil was not my concern unless the news announced yet another horrific spill in the Gulf Coast. As far as I was concerned it was a necessary evil and that was fine by me.

Now, having flipped my paradigm in ways I’m still trying to understand, I have come to realize several things:

1. Just because we don’t see the damage doesn’t mean it isn’t happening
2. Unchallenged companies will find any way possible to make a profit, and
3. Our planet is suffering from both of these.

How can I say otherwise when I’ve seen tainted rivers firsthand, when I’ve witnessed deforestation in front of me? Better yet: how do I explain that to everyone back home?

There’s a tendency back home to write off any young person with a slightly liberal agenda as ‘youthful naiveté.’ Having just spent a year in South America meeting native tribes in the rainforest is about as stereotypical post-college as it gets. I fear coming home and being written off because my experience conformed to such expectations.

I didn’t request this work. It was assigned to me. I didn’t know anything about pollution’s effects on Amazonian tribes before I came here. I was just a post-college kid looking to grow up a little bit. How do I communicate that to somebody who sees me as ‘just another naïve Millennial’? Did I not flash my credentials enough at the beginning of this piece?

It’s hard to communicate something particularly antithetical to people’s way of living. I understand. Like I said, I have family who make their living working for oil companies. I wouldn’t ask them to quit their jobs to support my cause. What I want to communicate, at the very least, is that the issues here are more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘red’ or ‘blue’ equation.
Of all the things I’ve learned in Peru one of the top things is: embrace complexity. I can’t stress that enough. Living in a cognitive dissonance can prove more fruitful than you imagine.

When we simplify an issue we run the risk of creating more problems. Our ‘solution’ is too simple and has a ripple effect felt in ways nobody can predict. It’s part of what turns Americans off to long-term crises. There’s no easy fix and dedicating our lives to something is no easy task. Thus we become apathetic. Apathy breeds lethargy and lethargy breeds ignorance. How can we truly say we ‘solved’ an issue if all we see are dead ends? We’re overwhelmed by the complexity of issues; especially Oil and Gas’ connections to pollution, climate change, and planet care in general. We simplify to survive.

It’s not comforting to live within a complicated issue. The cognitive dissonance involved with both needing a product and disapproving of the suppliers takes it’s toll on anyone. Except for Peruvians. Peruvians are content to live within this complex paradigm. The mission workers at Paz y Esperanza understand nothing is ever simple with the work they do. The United Hands Network is especially good at living in the complexity.

I don’t advocate a complete cessation of activities. That would be both extremely unlikely and completely unreasonable. The solution to this problem has many layers. Where Americans hope for the quicker answer, Peruvians are content to wait. They’re too busy occupying their immediate moment to choose the short-term band-aid over the long-term surgery. For them, the steps necessary are the steps necessary and to avoid any part of this process only hurts their efforts.

What may seem radical to you is normal to Peruvians. It’s a normal they should not have to occupy or endure, and if there is any help I can offer them then I will. I’ve given ten months of my life not so I could effect a change in this world, but so that I could understand it better. That alone, bears some merit. Peruvians see the merit in that more than most Americans I believe. I’m proud to say they’ve given me a similar vision. I can only hope and pray that I can share this vision with others.