My first MCC retreat was also the first time I ate a Jet chocolate bar. Even sandwiched between a burnt marshmallow and a graham cracker, the waxy-sweet chocolate flavour stood out just enough to make Jet bars my go-to cheap Colombian treat.
I ate around 15 at this last retreat, the taste as familiar as home. In fact, everything was familiar, from the smell of the contaminated river on the way, to the arepas with breakfast, to the soccer field where Leonel dislocated his knee, to the retreat schedule of activities, to explaining to the new people that collecting the stickers inside the packaging is another part of the Jet chocolate bar experience. I don’t know why feelings of melancholy and uncertainty take me by surprise- this too has been part of my experience each time we return to this retreat centre in Bochica.
The first time we travelled down the windy road was my very first retreat ever. I arrived in Colombia a month and a half beforehand and had no idea what to expect. I spent a lot of time napping because sleeping was easier that trying to constantly interact with new people and figure out who I was among them. During talent shows and bonfires, I constantly analyzed my actions and reactions. I was unsure of everything expect for all the changes that had taken place in my life and would continue to take place as I left the relative safety of Bogota for the coast.
My second retreat in Bochica, I had a long cry beside the bonfire. The majority of my Seed group had left, I had moved to Bogota, Jorge was arrested, my visa was in question, and everything felt uncertain. I had no idea who I was after the intensity of two years in Mampujan. I only knew in that moment that I was overwhelmed by life and my place within it, as I prepared to adjust all over again.
During the retreat this weekend, members of the organizing committee passed out blank sheets of paper. They instructed us to draw a tree and use it to describe ourselves, our roots, our sustenance, our characteristics, our dreams. Once again, the room was full of new people; we would use our tree to get to know each other. I almost burst into tears as I stared at the paper. I had no idea what to draw. After living here for almost five years, I don’t know what my roots are and don’t even ask me about my dreams!
People come and go, but I seem to end up staying, constantly re-inventing myself as things change around me, both in Canada and Colombia. I may be a senior member of this MCC team, but I am in the same process of reinvention I was in five years ago.
Nothing is constant, but change itself.
I am so glad, however, that life is not static. Things may be uncertain, but that uncertainty means opening up to a world of possibilities. My experiences have been privileges that I would not trade. I am not the same Anna I was when I arrived. I have changed. I am changing. I will change. There is so much grace and freedom to be found within the transition and the recognition that life will continue to provide opportunities for change.
Nelson talked to us about the Colombian context during the retreat. Instead of a post-conflict period, he prefers the term transition to describe everything that will happen after a peace accord is signed. I am drawn towards the term because it does not express finality. It is not the end of conflict, but nor is it the end of working for peace. It is a world of possibilities, some negative and some positive, but all of it uncertain. Within the transition, there is room for the work of peacebuilding, for advocacy and for creativity.
Transition also helps us to take the long view, as this blessing, read during the retreat, states:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
-Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw
While the long view is important, tangible things also provide grounding. When I think about why I stay, amidst all the transition, it would be easy to provide a long list of communities and the importance of the work being done around the country. Those are true things that I love, but equally true for other parts of the world, including Canada.
This week at least, I think I stay because every time I fly on LAN, the airline shows Just for Laughs videos and everyone on the plane laughs uproariously and pokes their seat companions so that they can also enjoy the moment. And that laughter feels like home, just like a Jet bar.
Visiting farm animals at a wacky castle also really helps.