01 November 2010

A Reason to Be

In the YAV world we talk a lot about the balance of ‘being’ and ‘doing.’ For most of us coming from America, what you ‘do’ is paramount to how we relate to one another. The first question after being introduced to someone is so often, “What do you do?” The implication is that we value achievement, often at the cost of quality relationships. Imagine the difficulty of being extracted from this achievement-based culture and, with little ceremony, being implanted into cultures with different values. This is when we as YAV must first ‘be’ and contextualize our desire to ‘do.’

One of my favorite quotations, one that helps me make decisions in daily life, comes from Garrison Keillor. He ends every installment of The Writer's Almanac (on your local NPR station) with the words "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch." I am finding new ways to understanding this advice, and its depth continues to surprise me.  

Most of you know that I arrived in Kenya two months ago knowing I would be a teacher in Tanzania. The previous statement seems innocent enough, right? But it shows how the conversation about and understanding of my year of service focused on my occupation. It also shows that I had a plan. I was wrong to hold those positions. 

You have read before of my passive struggle to obtain a work visa for Tanzania. I say passive because all I could contribute was a photo and resume. The rest was up to my coordinator, our ministry of education contact in Tanzania, and the visa committees in Dar es Salaam. My coordinator and I agreed this weekend that the visa process would not be resolved in time for my placement in Tanzania to be worthwhile. We decided that an alternative placement in Kenya is the best option for me, the YAV program, and those whom I have the opportunity to serve. By the end of this week, I hope to know where I will be working, and I will share updates here.

However, I do not want to continue my entrapment in the same occupation-based value system. I am starting to appreciate the revolutionary nature of being. Today at work (Across) I tried to take advantage of opportunities to be. I shared in laughter about a colleague’s recent wedding and enjoyed a conversation about those customs (in the Netherlands). At lunch, all the staff members were present to review pictures from last week’s team building retreat. Today’s do consisted of listening to an IT consultant help my boss with the website, and only because two sets of eyes and ears are better than one. While there is not much to “show” for today’s work, it has been productive and sustaining.

The being versus doing discussion may be best encapsulated by my experience with the Africa Israel Nineveh church two weeks ago. Long story short, we met in Kangemi, jogged 3 hours to Kawangware, and had a short service. The jog was not about moving from point A to B, although that was achieved in time. The jog was an act of community, an act of worship, an expression of being. I leave you with a picture from that day. (I am wearing a blue shirt.)


  1. Best picture ever. Not just 1,000, but 1,000,000 words there.

  2. Keep it up Steven. Enjoying your blog.