I'm happily settling into a lovely house in Houston right now. We don't have internet access at our house, so I'm sitting in a nearby cafe using wireless. I should have regular access at work, but be aware that my internet time will be much more limited than it used to be, and I may be slow to respond.
Here's an entry I wrote a few days ago:
Saturday, August 16, 2008
As I write this, I'm at a retreat center in Pinehurst, TX, a.k.a. in the middle of the woods about an hour away from Houston. There's no internet here, so I'm typing this on my computer and posting it when I get the chance.
I arrived successfully at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Tuesday. When I was flying in, looking out the window, I was amazed at how green it was and how many trees there were. When we landed, I quickly found the other JVC people. As soon as I stepped out of the air conditioned airport, I knew I was facing my first challenge of the year: heat and humidity. We rode together in a school bus (not air conditioned) to the Circle Lake Retreat Center, which is far more beautiful and amazing than I ever would have expected. With the humidity, it feels like we're in the rainforest. We were warned not to swim in the lake because there are water moccasins (for ignorant people like me, those are snakes), and I discovered some large and colorful varieties of bugs. We've had sporadic rain and thunder (fun!).
During our orientation we focused on the four pillars of JVC: social justice, simple living, spirituality, and community. Each day we focused on one. Someone gave a presentation in the morning, we had a chance for reflection, and in the afternoons we had meetings with our community members to discuss how we'll carry out these principles in our communities.
I'll be living with six lovely young women this year: Stephanie (from Knoxville, Tennessee), Katie (from Cleveland, Ohio), Robin (from New Orleans), Emily (from Santa Cruz, CA), Mary (from St. Louis, Missouri), and Vicky (from near Dallas, TX). We're getting along very well, and I'm excited about spending the year with them. We have a mix of personalities, but a lot of similarities as well (including Catholicism, a dislike of cockroaches, and a desire for clean common areas), and we're all committed to making the community work.
The JVC program is based on the four pillars I mentioned above. When we signed up to do JVC, we signed the JVC South Covenant, which we've revisited throughout the orientation. To give you a better sense of the program, here are sections from the covenant:
Social Justice: In order to work for justice we must become aware of our role in society. We are called to change the attitudes and structures, both personal and societal, which create poverty and oppression.
Simplicity of Lifestyle: Honoring simplicity allows us to value relationships over objects. Living simply brings us closer to awareness of God and Creation, our humanity, and our lifestyle's effects on others.
Community: Communal life allows for mutual support and encouragement in the difficult work we choose to do as volunteers. It challenges us to be open, compassionate and willing to grow. We learn that our lives are interconnected and we have responsibility towards all members, as they do to us.
Spirituality: Spirituality is both the awareness of and our reaction to God's presence in the world. It is in realizing God's love for us that we can then turn to others with love. As Christians, we recognize the responsibility we have to each other and follow the Ignatian tradition of reflection and action.