Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's the Point?

       When I first started telling people I was doing a year of volunteer service with BVS as a workcamp coordinator for the Church of the Brethren I got the following questions:

“What’s BVS?”

“What’s the Church of the Brethren?”

“What are workcamps?”

“Where will you live? Why would you want to live in Illinois?”

“Do you get paid? How much? So you’ll be poor?”

“What are you going to do afterwards?”

“What’s the point?”

       Now multiply those questions by about 20 and by the time I was getting ready to leave home I was a master at answering most of those questions. But the first time someone asked, “What’s the point?” really stuck with me. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first I should explain the context: the person I was talking to was hardcore into academia and was getting ready to start grad school at a prestigious school and in 3-5 years will be making oodles of cash that they probably won’t know what to do with. We had just finished talking about their future when we got onto mine, which is definitely not a 10 year plan. It’s more of a 1 year plan since I still have no clue what I’ll be doing once I’m done in August/September 2012. But when I explained I was moving out to Illinois to do a year of volunteer service they asked: “oh, is it to help with grad school applications?” I replied ‘no’. “So it’s to put on your resume at least?” I again replied, ‘no’; and they quickly added, “What’s the point?”

       I panicked a little because I wasn’t expecting someone to ask me that. Then I became a little furious and questions starting streaming through my head as I sat staring at their face: ‘What’s the point?’ What’s the point of dedicating a year of my life to helping those in need? What’s the point of helping youth find a way to serve others in communities across the country and abroad? What’s the point in trying to make a difference in a world run by media and political craziness?

       To say I was frustrated is an understatement. I did a little smile and so badly wanted to say, “Well what’s the point of having your doctorate in a field that won’t help anyone or anything except your bank account?” but I held back. I quickly changed the subject, not wanting to offend the person, but at the same time to preserve my memory of them as the friendly classmate who helped me with Statistics.

       Since then I’ve been asking myself, “What’s the point?” I’ve decided that there’s no one right answer: I’m doing this because I can. I have been fortunate and blessed in life and grew up in a comfortable town, have a good family, have good friends, went to a good college, and have had many opportunities to pursue a variety of different passions. Now it’s time to give back. Being a Sociology major I learned a lot about other countries compared to our own and the statistics of HIV/AIDS, poverty, discrimination, wealth gaps, and many other staggering numbers that they don’t tell you about in the news. In fact, my last semester of college I took a class in which it was all statistics about different countries and cultural reasons that contribute to their fortunes or misfortunes: Poverty, fertility, mortality, aging populations, etc. After every class I would leave either saddened or sickened by the numbers my professor would tell us. Sometimes I would even doubt them and go straight to a computer lab to look myself. And sure enough it was all true.

       So what’s the point? The point is that there are those of us who believe that showing your faith is about doing: doing a year of volunteer service, doing a 5k run to raise money for a charity, or doing a food drive to help a local food bank. Taking the risks and having the courage to step out of our comfort zones and face the real world problems of today to see how others live.

“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” –Sarah Ban Breathnach


Friday, November 18, 2011

New BVSer

Hello, I am the new housemate. I am Denise from Germany, near Frankfurt, I am 19 years old and I like sports, crafts and music.  
On September 24, 2011 I came to America for orientation in New Windsor, MD. I really enjoyed orientation, but it was hard to find a good project. Since October 15, 2011 I have been living in the community house and working at the Church of the Brethren with Becky, Rachel, Cat and Carol. My position is “Administrative Assistant for Youth/Young Adult Ministries and Congregational Life Teams.” My job is to do mailings, help Cat, Rachel and Carol with their work, do some finance things (accounting), make reservations for the workcamps, and I am responsible for the applications for the workcamps. Hopefully I will go to three workcamps next year.
In my first week at the office I got a lot of information about what I should do. So I learned a lot about my work, the office, the community house and other important things. I really like my community house and how it is organized.
In my first weeks in the community house, we relaxed in the evening and watched DVDs. For the past 3 weeks, we have done a lot of things after work, so we were very busy. But we did nice things, for example we went out for dinner, we went to common meal, we made tiles, David Doudt lead devotions, we watched a football game, we played Wii, we did a lot for Halloween. Also, I had to do some important things, for example find out where I can get my driver’s license again (I got mine in Germany, but I have to do it again), if there is a cheaper contract for my cell phone, etc.
But now I will tell you, what happened this week:
This past weekend, Don, Cat and I went to Geneva, where we went into a spice house and bought really good spices, looked for Christmas Antiques and we ate Sushi. It was my first time eating sushi and I really liked it. Also we went by a store couple of times and it smelled very good, so we decided to go in and see what they had--they had popcorn with different toppings. Of course we bought one pack with caramel. It was a nice day, but sadly Rachel stayed at home, because she didn’t feel very well. On Tuesday, we (Cat, Rachel and I) helped Don with moving into his new apartment. It is sad, that he will not live in the community house any more, but the positive side is, that he lives about 5 blocks away but we all can still do something together.
On Friday, we went to the theater. It was my first time in an American movie theater.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Halloween of Doom

Happy belated Halloween everyone!

I hope you all had a splendidly scare-tacular Halloween weekend! We had two parties to attend. One where we were guests, and one that we hosted ourselves.

For our first Halloween party we all decided to go as different people. Our costumes weren’t coordinated, but we looked good! :-D Good times were had by all in Goodwill and Spirit Halloween as we searched high and low for our costume pieces!

Carol as Wanda (from “Where’s Waldo)…
Cat as a hippy…
Denise in a Hawaiin theme…
Jeremy as Elwood Blues
and Rachel (me) as a 50’s housewife (everyone thought I was June Cleaver, haha)…

Our costumes for our own Halloween party and the theme, “Indiana Jones and the Party of Doom,” was recently decided upon our watching “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” as a house on VHS. While we were enjoying our time, watching Dr. Jones, Willie, and Short Round, we started jokingly saying we were certain characters in the movie. Voila, our costumes were born. Let me take you through the line-up.

Carol as Marion Ravenwood (she’s the female lead from “Raiders” but we let it slide because Willie from “Temple” is very—blonde)…

Cat as Short Round…

Denise as the Maharaja…

Don as Indiana Jones…

Jeremy as Mola Ram…

and Rachel (me) as a combination between a Thuggee Guard and a Thuggee Acolyte…

Then most of us dressed up for work on Monday (on the actual day of Halloween!)

Tell us what you did/who you were for Halloween! :-D

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's the Great Pumpkin...

Greetings Friends!

I know that each of you have been on the edge of your seat waiting for another great blog from the Elgin BVS House. Well here is my confession, I have been really busy and totally forgot that last week was my turn to blog, and well we don't believe in okay blogs, so I have been trying to come up with something extra special for our wonderful fans, I hope that you enjoy. Love, Carol.

So in the wonderful theme of pumpkins I am no going to tell you a story.
Once upon a time there were 6 BVSers that lived in the Elgin BVS community house. Three of them decided to go out on adventure. They went to a huge garden where pumpkins were growing. The one young man, instantly got to work finding just the right pumpkin. While the other three took their time examining each and every pumpkin. In the time that it took the young man to find three pumpkins the oldest girl still hadn't found a single one that was up to her standards. She then decided to sit amongst the pumpkins until one spoke to her, and asked her to take it home. But still she had no pumpkin to take home. It was quickly getting late and she knew that it would be getting dark and she would no longer be able to see the pumpkins. But what should she do? She knew that soon the Great Pumpkin would arrive...

As a tribute to my favorite Halloween story, here are some of the best quotes from The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.

Linus - "What did you get from that house Charlie Brown?"
Charlie Brown - "a rock"

Linus - "What is that?"
Charlie Brown - "I had a little trouble with the scissors..."
Linus - "Well, that's nothing compared to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of trick-or-treats."

Lucy - "'Alright alright! Let's bob for apples! This is the way you do it.'"
Schroeder -"'Yeah Lucy! You should be good at this! You got the perfect mouth for it!'"

Linus - "I've learned there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin."

Our house these last couple of weeks have been filled with people coming in and out so things have been a little crazy. We have had some friends from Cat and Rachel's orientation come through as well as a friend from my orientation. When we have visitors in the house we usually try and do at least one fun thing with them, just our way to welcome them. So when Mike was here Jeremy and I decided that we needed to welcome fall with pumpkins. So that is exactly what we did, we went to the pumpkin patch (which was really just a vegetable stand at the side of the road). We also wanted to help Denise experience her first Halloween in the United States, so we also made her come along to the pumpkin patch. The four of us had a great time walking around and picking the perfect pumpkin (which takes some of us a little longer than others, right Jeremy?).

In closing here is a reminder from Linus. "Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Hello all! Well it’s been a while since I’ve written (this is Cat by the way). It has been a week since we returned from New Windsor, MD after 3 weeks of BVS orientation. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that those 3 weeks are over and that yes, I am sitting at my desk in the office writing this blog post about the 28 wonderful people I met and who are a part of the gemeinschaft (community) of Unit 295. We had a lot of laughs as we learned and weaved through each other’s lives to understand all the differences and similarities among us that made our group unique and beautiful. And of course there were the moments where we would all get down in the dirt and work together to prepare for our year, or years for some, of service.

On one particularly fine sunny day we were leaving the Arlington Church of the Brethren to spend a day on Clagett Farm. Clagett Farm is responsible for growing produce for DC inner city projects such as the Capital Area Food Bank. When we arrived at the farm we all did some stretching as we awaited instruction on what we’d be doing. We then walked to arrive at a field and learned that we would in fact be harvesting sweet potatoes.

A word about harvesting sweet potatoes: it ain’t easy. First you find the vine that could be sometimes 5 ft in length; trace it back to the plant; use a pitchfork to loosen the dirt without spearing the potatoes; and then yank those potatoes right out of the ground. We all broke into teams of about 2 or 3: one person to ‘hunt’ for potatoes, one person to pitchfork it, and one person to carry the very heavy containers filled with the finds. As we worked it was obvious some were better at jobs than others. For example, I found myself on my hands and knees in the dirt trying to distinguish between the vines and weeds without much luck. And then there was Rachel who was like the potato whisperer and found potato clusters every few minutes. I eventually became pitchfork girl: when someone needed some dirt dug they called me over and I dug till I hit potato.

While we worked, one of the German volunteers kept saying, “Awesome!” every time we found potatoes. He asked us what other expressions he could say in addition to ‘awesome’ and being a fan of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, I taught him to say ‘cowabunga’. So for the rest of our digging time together if we found potatoes, he would yell, “Cowabunga!” with a German accent that made it sound so much cooler.

We finished off the day and as we walked back to the vans covered in dirt and some rotten potato parts, I couldn’t help but feel that our community had grown even closer. Because, really there’s no way to bond better than by sweating together and learning a valuable lesson for our time in BVS: just as there are good potatoes and rotten potatoes, there will be the good days and the bad days. But as long as we remember that we have each other to help ‘dig’, we will have a more than bountiful harvest.



Monday, October 10, 2011

When the cat is away... the mice will play.

Jeremy, Don, Cat and Rachel are all at Orientation which leaves Virginia (an honorary house member) and I to hold down the fort. I know that they are all having a great time in Maryland as they work and grow.

So things back in Elgin are a little slower paced. I am still having a hard time being in the same place, and not living out of a suitcase is just weird to me. I have been working the same amount, but this week it just seemed like longer, harder days but that was for a variety of reasons.

With all my free time I have been doing a variety of things; including watching movies, hanging out with friends, baking, and going out to help colleagues. Friends and colleagues have been great about inviting me over for various activities, which has also been really great. This past weekend I was also able to go home and help my younger sister purchase a dress for the upcoming homecoming dance.

Apple Muffins
Saute your apples with some liquid, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then once the apples are soft, mix into your favorite muffin mixture. 

Raspberry-Pear Tart
Find your favorite Sugar Cookie Recipe and make as instructed.
Rather than making individual cookies, make one big cookie on a round cookie sheet, bake for about 20 minutes.

While this is baking, in a skillet saute sliced pears and whole raspberries with vanilla, apple juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

When the cookie has baked for 20 minutes, then add the berry mixture onto the top. Put it back in the oven and let it bake another 5 or 10 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream :)  

  • No Impact Man - Carbon Book for CCS
  • Farewell my Subaru - Carbon Book for CCS
  • Counseling Troubled Youth - book for the future :) 
  • Harry Potter (1) - I have not read it yet, don't judge
  • Take This Bread - reading this with the Sunday School Class

(I am not making a recommendation by any means, this is just what I have been watching.)

  • No Impact Man - I actually watched this for work. Our CCS theme is about how we can help with the carbon problem. 
  • New in Town
  • Becoming Jane
  • 500 Days of Summer
  • The Curse of the Pink Panther 
  • Remember the Titans
  • A Very Potter Musical 

Thursday, September 22, 2011



I write this sitting at my desk at the General Offices. In five days, BVS Unit 295 will commence with a meal shared among 33 individuals from everywhere in the US and even Europe. If there's one skill I've gained in this routine, it's the ability to ignore the natural tendency to panic the heck out while waiting for the coming storm. Orientation is a beautiful whirlwind, a cacophony of faiths, deeply personal beliefs forced to reconcile, lay down their arms and pick up frying pans, abandon the typical urge to prove oneself right by convincing others of your views and learn to accept the role of a pillar: We are all vital to the life of our community, but not because of who we think we are. We are vital because of who we are when we don't want to be around each other anymore. I think you truly discover who you are when you don't want to be here anymore. For me, that means when I become weary of the crowd, when I want to be alone.

Orientation is a transcendental experience for someone who has never relied on anyone else since their mother cared for their every need. A group of independent souls can be a sad-looking thing. Everyone has their own wants, their own perceived needs, and their own cultural norms. It would be easy enough to hold a conference or a seminar series for orientation. We could have a cook prepare all of the meals, and everyone would have more free time to relax, contemplate their service, and get to know each other.

But what exactly does it mean to get to know someone? Does it come from talking about music? Movies? Celebrities? Can you know someone by sharing funny youtube videos? What else do we do with our friends? These are all fine ways to relax during some free time. Left to our own devices, I believe we would follow the path of least resistance - find the people we are most comfortable with and shoot the breeze or play a game. Orientation is hard because it doesn't let you glide by doing the same things you've always done. The strangest contrast is preparing food alongside two people you just met and eating with a handful of complete strangers. Sometimes you answer deeply personal questions in front of these people - whether the question is "What is God to you?" or "How hard is it to sit still and contemplate the divine for five minutes in silence when the lights are buzzing loudly and you really have to fart?"

The strange miracle of orientation, though, is that these complete strangers become family. I've made friends in those three weeks that I could not have made in the 'real world.' Flying to your project, you feel like you've known these people for years. I used to think it was just because of how many sessions we put in the schedule - being around people twelve hours a day is uncommon. Those sessions are a shared experience, but I've shared years with classmates without feeling compelled to call them brothers and sisters. The miracle happens in the dirty work - not in discussing pop stars, but in doing dishes together. It's what happens when you have to be around people in your normally private moments - your morning prayers, your afternoon naps, your emotional trials and your frustrations. There is something of God present when you share these minutes with someone else.

You could spend your whole life serving the homeless in the shelter downtown. You could serve them lunch every day for years, sort clothing to give them, and hand them bags with every toiletry they need, and still not see them the way you see someone you eat lunch with. I dare you to buy two sandwiches in Chicago, hand one to the first homeless man you see, and eat with him, standing up, on a street corner. Do you see the thousands of people walking past you? Or do you see the man? The only words I have are: Jesus Christ, people! We spend so much time talking about what people need, how we can "fix" things - I know I do. If I've learned one thing from orientation, it is the value - the blessed ordinance of being.

Community Life

When I first joined BVS three years ago, I survived people because I lived in a trailer down the street from the weekly volunteers I worked with. As long as I could retreat to my private space, I had the solace I needed to face people, whether they were cheerful or disgruntled. Peace was only a locked door away.

Today, I live in a house with four other people, with whom I share two and a half meals each day. I work with them, share weekly devotions and a meeting with them, and unwind in the evenings with them. We often have group outings to Chicago, Wisconsin, or, sometimes, Target. For not having television, we watch a respectable number of shows together. We have also been known to play tennis. These are probably not exciting news bits for any of our friends. It's true that we spend more time together than would have been comfortable years ago. But I have to say that the most interesting parts of life in the BVS house have been the commutes to work and house meetings.

In the morning, I am not awake. When my body rises at 7:15 am, I am closer to zombie than human. I want nothing of the world but to return under my sweet blanket, and anyone else can shove off, thank you. But I get up, because I have a job to do, and God help me if I don't do it. Any of my housemates from the last two years will gladly tell the story of that one time when I actually was perky - when I offered Clara a glass of orange juice, or when I was the first one awake and in the kitchen this Monday. Normally, though, I'm disgruntled. I hate the world because it exists and it's bright. This is something I'd rather keep private, because I know that soon enough I'll wake up and be capable of polite interaction with others. Driving to work, though, feels like being shaken awake, thrown into a hamster cage with four others and having a child carry it around a room excitedly pretending to be an astronaut or something. What I mean to say is that we don't have a choice, this is life for us. It takes a week, at most, to realize that you can't survive by falling back asleep on the drive because the roads suck! So, here you are, uncomfortable, and unable to return to the comfortable life you knew before. You can a) quit or b) get over yourself. Mornings still aren't 'fun' by any means, but we know how to get by: how to prepare lunch together speaking only in grunts, when to change the radio station, when you've been asked to drive ,without words, but simply by the fact that the keys are still on the table. These mornings aren't particularly memorable, but living them out together is just one more strange thing about living in the Elgin house that doesn't translate well to the outside world.

House meetings are fun because we all sit down and gripe at each other about everything that bothers us - whether that's the drippy faucet that we want fixed, or how years of long-haired volunteers have clogged the shower drains like a McDonald's addict's arteries, or how someone drove to Target without conferring with the group first. Some people say don't sweat the small stuff, some people say focus on the big picture. But the truth is, when you spend so much time together, the small stuff becomes big stuff.

These things become huge when they happen consistently, and I think their weight is magnified by the nature of the community. Your patience is slowly worn away like a rock in a stream, smoothed bit by bit. It will survive a rainy season, but eons of a current will polish it until there is nothing left. With no power to deal with our frustrations, we lash out and hurt each other, distancing the people that are closest to us.

We can't escape each other, so we can't bottle up our discontent for another time. The only "another time" we have is the end of our year together, and that's a long time away! That's why we felt so refreshed after Christmas break last year- because we had some time apart to let out the frustration and realize that, aside from the fact that we hated each other sometimes, we actually liked each other. Just like being forced to get to know each other at orientation, living through the crises of community life can form bonds that are not easily broken.

Crisis creates change, it opens the door for us to consider how we ought to act - and if we actually do, we can change our character. When things get stressful at home, I can shut off, hole myself up, and drown everything out in music and books. At orientation, you have to actually solve the crisis. It isn't fun, no one wants to do it, and you might hate each other while you work it out. But afterwards, when you are only left with the memory of how unpleasant it was, the shared experience creates a bond that is stronger than any immature disaffection. This is where true friendship is made - by sweating through the struggle and suffering together.

In community life, you can't solve all of the small problems - you will never "fix" your housemates so that everyone becomes best friends. We aren't friends, we are family; you don't get to choose your family, but you can choose how to treat them. Instead of retreating to my room to let the storm pass over, I want to say I can weather it. I have to be able to ignore my ego and the feeling of wrong that bubbles up whenever my stupid pride is hurt, I have to forgive my family as much as they forgive my shortcomings.

I've seen the Henry Nouwen video enough to know: "Being is more important than doing, the heart is more important than the mind, and being together is more important than being alone."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Handicap Friendly Guide to Chicago

Hello, hello all you lovely, blog reading people!

Have you ever wanted to tour around Chicago but stopped every time because you were afraid of too many attractions being inaccessible to wheelchairs? Have you wanted to see the beautiful architecture and magnificent museums that are spread throughout the Windy City but instead stayed home because you were terrified that there wouldn't be ramps leading to the front door? Well, I used to have the same fears. I thought, "I truly am blessed to have the use of both of my legs every time I take a trip into the city." But then, tragedy struck!

During a particularly heated tennis match against Don and Cat, I rolled my ankle and became dependent on crutches for mobility. Sadly, this was a mere 4 days before our planned outing into Chicago as a house. Not wanting to have to walk around all day on crutches in such a big city, we began asking around and luckily the Brethren offices happened to have a wheelchair that they were willing to let us use for the day. And so, we ended up touring the handicap friendly parts of Chicago.

Tested and approved by a real person in a wheelchair!

We began our trip by catching the blue line train into Chicago and then getting on a bus and riding over to the Museum of Science and Industry. At first I was afraid the public transportation would be an issue with the wheelchair but a good number of train stops have elevators to get from the ticketing area to the platform. Getting onto the train there is a bit of a bump up but nothing too bad. The bus was even better since the buses in Chicago can actually lower the door to the same level as the sidewalk you are getting off of. 

CTA handicap friendliness rating = 4 out of 5 stars

Upon arriving at the museum, Don and I had to go a different route from our housemates so that I could get down to the main entrance. We eventually found our way over and met up with everyone again and entered into the museum free of charge for being Illinois residents!

Where science comes to be cool and terrify!

Inside the museum, we met up with our friend Jonas, who is a BVSer in Chicago, and explored the wonders the museum had to offer us which were conveniently placed at a level at which a person sitting down could appreciate them. We got to do things like:

 Create tornadoes
Like playing God but smaller and a lot easier

 Have crazy raves in front of red walls
Imagine a solid pounding bass beat right now

Have relaxation battles
He with the most inactive brain wins!

And stand in a tube with 80 mph winds
And then the tube takes a picture of you

Museum of Science and Industry handicap friendliness rating = 4.5 out of 5 stars

After the Museum of Science and Industry, we waited outside for a bus that to this day I'm pretty sure is just an urban legend before walking to a different bus stop and heading to Lake Michigan.

Where you can charter a water taxi for only $7 per person!

Then we took a short hike over to one of my personal favorites, Millennium Park. During our last visit to Chicago, Carol and I splashed around in the Giant Faces Fountain. 

First time you see this, don't be surprised when the faces start spitting at you

I tried to do that this time but was told by some lady in a neon green vest to keep objects out of the fountain. Evidently, a wheelchair counts as an object but peoples' shoes don't. 

This was taken just before "The Man" told me "No."

So we headed off to go visit the big reflective bean thing. You know the one I mean.

This one

There are three steps to get up to the area where the bean is but the only wheelchair ramps are way on the outskirts so we opted to just lift the wheelchair as I hopped up. We met up with one of Rachel's friends in the area, Jordan, and proceeded to take wacky pictures in the bean's reflective surface just like the tourists we are.

We then enjoyed a nice dinner in the park and some socializing. Carol and I decided to go for a walk and just as we were getting back, all of the spokes on the front left wheel on my chair completely disintegrated!

You aren't doing your job right!

Millennium Park handicap friendliness rating = 1 out 5 stars
Seriously, this place hates wheelchairs!

Luckily, I've got some terrific housemates who pushed me all the way back to the train station to head home, even though it is pretty tough to make a three-wheeled wheelchair work properly. Seriously, it took three of us all working in unison to do it right. Despite all the problems in the park, it was a good day. The sidewalks are in piss poor condition for wheelchairs but this city itself caters to a handicap person's needs.

Chicago's overall handicap friendliness rating = 4 out 5 stars

All in all, Chicago is a great city to explore whether your mode of transport be bipedal in nature or you more prefer to roll along. Plus you get some awesome pictures out of it.

Thanks Cat for letting me use your pictures!


Friday, September 9, 2011

Long Weekend Fun!

Hello blog reading friends!

Please, take a seat. Have a little listen and I’ll tell you the tale of our week in the BVS house! Grab yourself a warm drink and relax as I tell my story. (That is, you may only want a hot beverage if it’s getting colder where you are like it is here in Elgin.) But I’m not complaining, I prefer slightly cold to very warm!

Anyway, let me begin my story before your drink gets cold.

Once upon a time, there were five BVSers. These BVSers were friends and living together. One day, as they all chatted over a delicious dinner, they discovered they had something in common. A love for all things cheesy—okay, that was pretty cheesy itself, sorry.
On Saturday, we went to a lovely lunch cook-out at Christy W's and had a blast!  We had good food and good times!

After church we went to Monroe, Wisconsin, at Carol’s suggestion. We wanted to see the bountiful harvest provided by Brennan’s Market and the delicious chocolatey-ness of The Swiss Colony. We bought at least five amazing hunks of cheese which are already half eaten!

On our way home, we saw a miniature golf course. On the fly, we decided to stop. We found out that it was rather expensive, however, so we didn’t stay to play. The stop was not wasted, though, since we met a wonderful goat that I promptly named Josiah.

Continuing on toward home, we stopped in New Glarus where there just happened to be a festival going on! It was winding down, but the town itself was a treat to see and so was the fudge that some of us got.

The last stop we made was in Freeport, IL to eat dinner at Pizza Hut with Carol’s mom and little sister. It was nice was way to wrap up a fun, satisfying and successful day!
It was Labor Day, and we had the day off so we ventured out to do some apple picking. We (Cat, Carol, Jeremy, Anna, and Virginia) headed to The Homestead Orchard for some delicious Macintosh and Early Blaze apples that we picked ourselves.

Seeing that they had raspberry bushes, we asked if we could pick some of those as well. They said they were pretty much picked out, but suggested we go head down the road a bit. We did as they said and found a whole field of raspberries where they let us pick for ourselves.

On the way home we stopped at Borders for their “10 Days Left – Going Out of Business” sale while Cat, Carol, and Anna went to get some groceries.
That evening, we made a list of all the apple dishes we wanted to make and Don started right in by making apple sauce, yum! He also made pink rice crispy treats (he tried adding strawberry syrup to give them flavor) and apple cider by mistake ;-D. Cat made delicious egg rolls for dinner, Carol and I made fresh squeazed and squashed raspberry lemonade! Carol also made us some sweet tea!

All week we’ve been feasting on apples, raspberries, lemonade, tea, rice crispy treats, cheese, egg rolls, and happiness! Okay, sorry, I had to throw it in. At least I didn’t add rainbows and smiles to the list!
Peace and Hugs,

P.S. Pics were taken by Cat! More pics on her Facebook!

Where in the world is Carol??

The Elgin BVS House has been bustling with activities since I last wrote. The summer was a time for each of us to grow spiritually in very different ways. I spent my summer traveling around the world (mostly within the states) to spread a deep compassion for others, and following the examples that Jesus gave us to serve one another. It is a spin off of "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiago?" My cousin would occassionally text me and say "Where in the world is Carol," because with the schedule I was keeping, one never knew.

I hope that this doesn’t get to boring but I will give you a quick overview of the week and maybe tell you about a story or a favorite memory (I hope you don’t think that this is boring).
Taize – I started out my summer in France and Switzerland, and I honestly can’t think of a better way to start my summer than this. We spent a week worshiping with the brothers of Taize. It was a time of prayer, silence, simple meals, bible study, sharing with the community and work. It was a time to calm myself, and get centered before I was in charge of 19 – 30 youth each week.
John Kline Homestead – For those of you that know me know that this was an interesting week. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong this week, including a car accident that sent two of my workcampers to the hospital. However, in the end because of all of these challenges my kids really did come together and create a beautiful loving community that brought tears to many eyes when it was time to depart.
Greenville – One thing that made this workcamp so great was being close to my family. I was able to see my brand new cousin (who celebrated her 2 weeks) at a potluck that my workcampers were able to host. It was also a great week in the fact that we had some great youth that were passionate about their faith and were willing to talk about what was going on in their walks with Christ. It was also great because Rachel came and did her training week with me.
Kalamazoo – The Kalamazoo community truly gave us the red carpet treatment. They gave us all such a warm welcome that it makes you feel like you belong in a place like that. Early on in the planning of the workcamp I jokingly told the pastor that I wanted to meet the mayor, well needless to say she arranged that. Not only did we meet the mayor, but he signed our Kalamazoo books that we got for free, gave us Kazoo pins, and signed posters about the city. We also went to the best free museum in the entire world, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. My workcampers and I had a ton of fun including dressing up as characters from the Wizard of Oz to Historical Clothing. We were also able to get “Yes, There is a Kalamazoo” T-Shirts and Kazoos, which my workcampers decided to play on Sunday for the entire church.
Lancaster – We spent our week with our Hispanic Brothers and Sisters in Christ. This was a great opportunity for us to help the Lancaster Community as well as helping out the church, by doing a lot of painting. Oh and as you might guess, we ate extremely well.
St. Croix – What is better than spending a week in the Virgin Islands? Umm, maybe going to the beach every day, hanging out with a great group of youth and advisors, helping baby sea turtles, oh and serving all people on the island.
Roanoke – People from all over the east, when they become in need, migrate to Roanoke because they know that they will be taken care of there. We got to be flies on the wall and hang out with kids, and help the community in need.
Brooklyn – During this week, we all left our comfort zone a little bit and went to the big city: using public transportation, and our own two legs to get anywhere that we needed to go. During our time together we were able to put together a Vacation Bible School for the neighborhood kids, to re-energize and tell them how cool it is to be on God’s team.
Well I hope that you enjoyed hearing about my whirlwind summer. Now I am going to take it easy for a while and try and stay in Elgin for a little while. I have switched positions now, I am no longer planning workcamps (that is now Cat and Rachel), now I am planning a mountain top experience for 300 young adults.
Ready, Set, Go!

Carol :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And So It Begins.

Hello all! My name is Cat and as Rachel has already mentioned, I'm working with her setting up workcamps for summer 2012. Woo! AND I am also from Central Pennsylvania. Woo! I'm a recent graduate from Penn State and looking forward to a great and productive year here in Elgin, Il and at the BVS house here.

Since it is the beginning of a new and exciting journey I thought I had titled this post justly and so far it has been just that. My first night in the house I played 2 hours of darts with the new roommates, unpacked all my stuff (that took a while), helped cook a dinner, and watched a movie. Since then its been going by so fast that I can't believe I'm already into my second week of work at the office. So it would seem that this beginning is moving faster than I am able to process, and as a result I've had my loopy moments when random songs are sung aloud, random quotes are said, and incoherent sentences that somehow end up making sense are uttered.

And within that loopiness I opted to watch a string of scary movies with the roommates and the various guests at our house over the past week. 'House on Haunted Hill', 'Evil Dead', 'Night of the Living Dead', and 'Return of the Living Dead'. Don't ask me why, because I'm still trying to figure out that part as well. It really doesn't make sense because to be honest, the Nickolodeon show 'Are you Afraid of the Dark' gave me and still gives me nightmares. And now after watching all those movies I listed above, I'm resorting to carrying a tennis racket throughout the house with me just in case I encounter a zombie and/or a ghoul. Because we all know how scary a tennis racket can be. Oh yes, its been an exciting beginning. 

All scary movies aside, I've already found my time here in Elgin to be beneficial to my peace of mind. After 5 years of constant 24 hours on the go with piles of  homework, many shifts at work, and life in general; it's nice to finally have this time to envelope myself into something new and something that I am passionate about.

As my parting until next time, here is a quote that I have always loved and promote with every fiber of my being:

"Today you are YOU, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is YOUER than you."  -Dr. Seuss


Monday, August 29, 2011

ELGIN: The Musical

Coming into Elgin directly from a summer in theatre has me making musical theatre references left and right. Sometimes in my head and, unfortunately for those around me, often out loud.

Let me officially introduce myself as one of the newest family members of the Elgin BVS house. My name is Rachel and I am here as one of the workcamp coordinators for the summer of 2012! It’s great to be in Elgin after almost three months in New Hampshire.

I am originally from central Pennsylvania and I grew up in the Church of the Brethren. I am in the same position that Carol was in this past year and my co-coordinator :-D is Cat who will be/has already added her two cents to the blog. Thanks for having me, Elgin! I look forward to a great year!

Peace and Hugs,


Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 3rd Update

We are all still very much alive, but very gone. I had hoped to update everyone during orientation, but alas, it was quite busy with BVSy things. I promise to give a full report about it when I return.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sometimes Summer Sings Sweet Songs

Well, it's Don's turn again to write to you all, and I'm fresh out of guides and tours to share. I guess it's time to share what I've been up to recently. Which is not too much, actually. The spring is a quiet time for us in the BVS office - no orientations, no conferences, and no phone calls to make. From the middle of March until the middle of June, I was a regular 9 to 5 office guy, except it was more like 8 to 4:30.

There were a few things that happened that kept me from going crazy with boredom, though! We updated our website, played softball, prepared for annual conference, hung out, watched some old television, and did a little bible study.

The Internets

I have been lucky enough to help BVS keep our website up-to-date as part of my volunteer position. Recently, all of underwent a transition that I helped out with. That means if you can't find something, blame me! check out to see what's new - it doesn't look very different, but I think browsing our site is a bit more intuitive.

Sporting Events

The softball season is in full swing. And one of these days, we'll win a game, I'm sure of it!

Word Search

I've found Jesus, but I can't find peace. And I don't know if there's room for Europe. Right now you're thinking "this man is speaking gibberish!" To which I reply, "Nonsense! I'm talking about a wordsearch!" As part of the children's activity packet for Annual Conference, I got to design a BVS wordsearch. I would show it to you, but that would spoil the fun! Look for it at Annual Conference! Right now, the words I've left to find say "friends give homeless human peace"!


Our house is without any sort of live television programming - which I have to say I'm proud of us for. I can count on one hand the number of times I wished I was able to watch something on TV, and I didn't feel that way for long. These days we get by watching movies from Carol and Clara's DVD collections, with supplements from the Gail Borden Public Library. This spring, I introduced the house to Twin Peaks, which is just about the weirdest thing I've ever encountered.

The Simpsons did a take on Twin Peaks, which I could only assume
was a fictional show at the time. This is pretty much dead on, though.
Some of our favorite quotes from the show, which make no sense to anyone, even us:
  • I think she's hot to trot for you herself. - Shelly Johnson to Bobby 
  • You are witnessing a front three-quarter view of two adults sharing a tender moment - Gordon Cole to Bobby
  • Waste no time arguing what a good man should be. Be one. - Marcus Aurelius, as quoted by Andrew Packard.
  • "What do you call the lady with the log?" - Dale Cooper. "We call her the 'log lady.'" - Harry
  • There was a fish in the percolator! - Pete
This show is a veritable cultural goldmine. It's blessed
us with not one but two memorable dances that
can be witnessed at random times in our house

Bible Time

Well, I'd better redeem this bumbling post with a little bible reading.In one of those rare, as-you-fall-asleep reflective moments, I was thinking about what the central goal of a Christian should be - I know plenty of people who would claim it is making peace, as many who would say living to serve, and others who say we should focus on becoming perfectly Christ-like. This range of choices has bothered me for a while, and I have been unable to put it into words.

Monday night, in bed, my epiphany was in recalling the parable of the talents - Matthew 25. In my interpretation, Jesus warns us that we ought to be sure to use what we have been given in order to increase God's bounty, and not hide our riches out of fear of our master. It's easy for me to co-opt this as an argument against making one's purpose in life discipline and self-restraint. Aside from the point that becoming truly Christ-like demands one to be selfless and seeking peace, it strikes me as selfish and missing the point that, given Christ's sacrifice, we should spend our days trying to simultaneously prove we are worth it by living up to higher standards and render our salvation unnecessary thanks to our holier lives.

However, in searching my Bible for the parable of the talents, I read Luke chapter 7, which makes for a great chorus in a mewithoutYou song.
 "To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.'"
" For john the baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say 'he has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'"

I never really got it until I read the footnotes of my Bible (NIV). It says that "People rejected both John and Jesus ... They would not associate with John when he followed the strictest of rules or with Jesus when he freely associated with all kinds of people."

Basically, what the heck do you want, then, people? I gave you rules, and you won't follow them, I can without rules and you scoff at me. What does this have to do with my point, though? Read the next verse

"But wisdom is proved right by all her children."
 This puzzles me, but if you let your guard down and listen to the Bible commentary again (with a grain of salt, it comes from the great land of ZONDERVAN) it makes some sense. "In contrast to the rejection by foolish critics, spiritually wise persons could see that the ministries of both John and Jesus were godly, despite their differences."

Well, crap, there goes my argument against any other Christian in the world. As long as it does not produce evil, who am I to tell another how to worship? If your heart tells you to work day and night to discipline your body, go for it. I don't understand, but I won't stop you. I've read Romans 14,and heaven forbid if I cause a friend to doubt their conviction that meat is murder or the Sabbath is actually Saturday.I hope there is a happy medium between inward and outward Christianity.

Maybe we're all just searching in the dark, all of us everywhere, walking towards the same light.

Good night, and happy summer!