FTE Conference

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In August, after I finished up my YAV year, I had the honor of going to a conference in Dacatur, GA for a conference with the Fund for Theological Education. I am so blessed to have received one of the Volunteers Exploring Vocation fellowships they offer for my time in seminary.  This fellowship opens up the opportunity for a group of young leaders in the church to meet together each year while we are in seminary. It was incredible to be in a room full of like-minded, a.k.a. service-minder, individuals.  We all came from different backgrounds and belief systems, but we all shared one main goal in our ministry: service.

We discussed during the 5 day-conference the changing Church, and how we are going to do ministry amongst the change.  We heard some incredible speakers throughout the week, had life-changing conversations, and laughed a lot. The final preacher, the Bishop Rev. Dr. Yvette Flounder, was by far one of the most inspiring speakers I have ever heard.  She discussed the biggest problem in the church: that on the one hand there are churches that have a lot of soul, but no truth. And on the other hand there are churches that have truth but no soul.  How do we bridge this divide? As a black, lesbian, gospel-singing Bishop in the UCC, she has found a way to do so.  Church can be boring without soul, but, like in her Pentecostal upbringing, there also may not be truth.

So that is our mission in this world: to find the balance between truth and soul in the greater Church. We are called by God to be innovative leaders that do social justice in this world. This is a community of people who I will cherish all throughout seminary and beyond. They inspire me each and everyday. I am so grateful for this fellowship and for my fellow fellows!

The final stretch…

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Hi folks!

I know this is long overdue, as it has been an insane couple of months, but I figure better late than never….

My last few weeks at WDP were wonderful.  It was a lot of finishing up paperwork, saying farewells, and getting them ready for their new YAV. It was extremely bittersweet, as I am so excited to start the next phase of my life, but it was very hard to leave and say goodbye. Luckily I will still be in Austin! If I’d had to completely say goodbye, it would have been that much harder.

Workers Defense Project has changed my life for the better. I learned how to organize, how to work with people different than myself, improved my Spanish skills, and was able to make a real difference in the lives of Austinites, particularly those who are non-native born.  We worked to create change in the Texas construction industry, and recovered wages for those who have been stolen from.  We informed government officials as well as citizens about our issues, and have made a great name for ourselves. It was an honor to be a part of such a justice-seeking, life-changing, and morally-driven organization. They may not have been a faith-based institution, but they certainly were doing God’s work, and it was wonderful to be a part of it!

Thank you WDP for all you’ve taught me. Thank you to each of you for all your support. I so appreciate the prayers and support! I am now headed to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary to start a new journey, and I hope you all will continue to be there supporting me in this as well. My YAV year had a huge influence in this decision, as I lived on campus and met much of the community. I am so grateful for God’s guidance and presence in this last year, leading me to this school. I also am officially under the care of Lake Michigan Presbytery as an Inquirer, working towards ordination in the PC(USA). This fall I will be taking Hebrew, Intro to Old Testament, Systematic Theology, and Intro to Christian History. A pretty standard first semester, but I know I will learn a lot! APTS is a great school, with a wonderful community. I will continue to try to keep you informed as I can throughout seminary.

God Bless,

Sarah

May/June Update

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So I’m honing in on the last two months of my year of service–my, how time does fly! It is incredible to me that in less than two months I will no longer be working at Workers Defense Project… Seems unreal! Though I will miss my work at WDP greatly,  I’m excited for my next steps. I’m ready to g0 home to Holland for a few weeks to visit my family and friends, and I’m so excited to start my Junior year at Austin Seminary! I started working at Stitt Library here on campus for just a few hours a week so that I can hopefully have my foot in the door for a job there in the fall. I really like it because its a little more relaxed than my work at WDP ;).

I am so blessed to have learned this past month that I was selected to receive the Fund for Theological Education’s Volunteers Exploring Vocation Fellowship. God sure has provided for seminary for me! Everyday I am in awe at how blessed I am and how gracious God as been. Having received this fellowship and the one from APTS has made me that much more excited to start in fall. Its all so much better when I don’t have to stress as much about finances! This week I’ve also started to figure out which classes I should be taking in the fall, though I won’t know for sure until I register in August, and have received my housing assignment. Yay for a bigger dorm room! I am ready =).

As for my current life in Austin, things are good! I’ve been working on a couple of big projects at WDP including the Rest Break Enforcement Campaign and preparing for Labor in the Pulpits. With the enforcement campaign we are hoping to increase the number of construction workers who receive rest breaks this summer in Austin. Its the law in Austin for construction workers to receive rest breaks every 4 hours, but its not the same for the rest of state. Many people die of heat exhaustion, but we’re working to prevent that. Labor in the Pulpits is an event I’ve been planning that will be held over Labor Day weekend. We will participate in 10 church/synagogue services to inform those congregations about our issues and ask for support for our Build a Better Texas Campaign and donations. I will actually be participating in one of those services as a volunteer! I may not be working there full time after August 2nd, but I still will be sure to keep connected with that organization. Its one of the best in Austin. I’ve learned so much this past year working with them, about TRUE organizing work, about myself, and about working with others. They are so passionate about their work at WDP that sometimes its hard to keep up, but its also one of the most inspiring environments I’ve ever been involved in. Thank you so much WDP! You’ve been an incredible first “real” job!

Last weekend the AYAVA House, my intentional community, went a retreat to the Barden Ranch (the director of admission’s family’s). It was such a great weekend! We were able to celebrate my housemate, Gaila’s, birthday, eat incredible lamb and potatoes prepared by Jack’s mother, and even head out into the ranch and feed Longhorns! They are such cool animals. It was a very Texas-filled weekend, and it was so fun to see what life is like outside of Austin. I definitely needed to get out of the city and into some fresh hill-country air. It was absolutely beautiful out there =).

I’ll plan to post at least one more time before my year of service is over, but thanks so much for keeping up with me over this past year. Its been an incredible adventure! God Bless, Sarah

April Update

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My have things been busy lately at Workers Defense Project! We’ve been preparing for a protest that will happen on April 19 against a developer building University of Texas campus housing. A group of 30 workers were not paid on their construction site, equaling around $25,000 in back wages, and we are demanding that they get paid! I’ve also been working diligently with one of our interns to plan Workers Memorial Day, an international day of remembrance for those who have lost their lives on the job. We will be holding an event at the Texas State Capitol on April 25 to honor those who have died and have been injured. We will have a musical performance and then visit a few of our legislators, informing them about our safety bills. We are asking for provided workers compensation (Texas is the only state that doesn’t require workers comp), OSHA 10 hour safety trainings for all construction workers, and rest breaks every four hours for those who are working in the hot Texas sun. Texas is the deadliest state in America for construction, but many of these deaths could have been prevented. If we can implement these safety laws to protect workers, we will be able to save lives. The Texas legislature is very hard to pass bills through, but we’re working hard to do so, which is why we’re going to visit our legislators on Workers Memorial Day.

My intentional community has been going great as well! Last weekend we had a “stay-cation” retreat here in Austin. We spent the weekend doing very Austin-y things, like kite-flying in Zilker park, eating out of food trucks on South Congress, and going to Women’s Roller Derby! It was a lot of fun, and a great way to spend time with my housemates. I’ve also been busy preparing for school in the fall, as I have officially decided to attend Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. By the grace of God, I was provided a full-ride scholarship to attend there for three years, and I could not be more excited to start my seminary journey. I’ve been working towards this goal since high school, and I’m so blessed that God has opened this door for me!

Thank you all for your love, support, and prayers!

What’s been happening in 2013?!

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**I’m officially going to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary this fall of 2013!!**

So as promised, I’m finally taking the time to update you since the beginning of 2013–it has been a WHIRLWIND of a few months. For Christmas and the New Year I was able to spend some time at home, catching up with folks that I hadn’t seen since I moved to Austin. But once 2013 started and I came back to Austin, I hit the ground running! It has been an incredible, yet trying, adventure. On January 29th we had a press conference releasing our Build a Better Texas report, which highlights the dangerous and deadly working conditions in the Texas construction industry. I planned and implemented the majority of the logistics of that event, though not the actual press release portion (I’ve had no prior experience with that). Though it was difficult to coordinate not only our press conference, but helping our affiliates from around the state to plan theirs as well, it ended up working out really well! After the press conference was over, we then started work on our next big event.

On February 27th, 2013 Workers Defense Project had their “Day of the Fallen” day of action and advocacy, of which I was one of the main planners. Since the beginning of my YAV year, almost everything I’ve done in regards to work had something to do with the Day of the Fallen (DoF)–and on February 27th I got to see the fruits of all my very hard labor.  Once January hit, I started working most weekends, mostly making giant puppets that we used for the march and rally. (I spent the entire weekend before the march finishing them!) In the end, they turned out amazing and everyone was very impressed! Thank goodness we had an actual artist help us with them, otherwise they would not have turned out nearly as cool. I also was helping with outreach for the event, by giving presentations and having meetings with different groups around Austin to promote our Build a Better Texas Campaign, and by extension the DoF. One of those was my Faith in Action Night event on Feb. 7th that I held at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I invited people of faith from different backgrounds to hear about what we do at Workers Defense, in hopes of cultivating a relationship with them. It had a small turn out, and a few quirks, but overall the event went well. I have definitely learned a lot about organizing/event planning in the last couple of months. As we neared Feb. 27th, things just got crazier and crazier. We were coordinating folks coming in from 5 different cities, 170 different legislative visits, 2 legislative trainings, and a march and rally. Emily and I with our 4 interns made it happen–barely. I may or may not have been at the office until 2:30am the night before the event, but in the end it turned out great! Everyone gave us nothing but raves!

The legislative visits were of course a little wonky, just because people would show up who hadn’t signed up or folks didn’t show up who said they’d be there. And because we were trying to coordinate 170 different visits for 150 different people, things were crazy. Overall we visited and/or dropped off materials at almost all of the offices at the state Capitol! We are so excited to know that our work is getting well known around the state. We are making a difference for workers in the construction industry! After the legislative visits, we held the march and rally, which was essentially my baby. I had put an insane amount of work into coordinating the logistics and making the props (the puppets mostly), that I was praying it would end up going well. Apparently it did–even Emily, my supervisor, said it was the most fun march she’d ever been to and she’s been doing this for 10 years! It was so exciting to be a part of something so lively–we had the Reagan High School Marching Band lead the march, and they are one of the top marching bands in the state. They were perfect for keeping the energy high! We also had the four puppets we spent the last 4 months building–one that represented not being paid, one that was injured, one with a “paid” check representing his payment, and another strong and healthy one. We also had a “stop” sign in between them representing “stop the injustices!” Cristina, our executive director, even announced a grand “thank you!” to Emily and I for planning and implementing all of this, and had union guys PICK ME UP ON THEIR SHOULDERS!!!! (She would have had Emily as well, but she was talking to Senator Rodriguez, our keynote speaker.) I’ve never been held in the air like that, or as mortified as I was, before then, but it was definitely fun!!

Since that day I’ve mostly been resting and recuperating after all the craziness, writing scholarship applications for school next year, catching up on all the things I didn’t have time for during February (like blogging), as well as finishing up all the follow up from legislative visits. We took notes on all the visits to make sure we answered any questions legislators had. It took awhile, but we finally contacted all of them! We also had an exhibit up for a week after the DoF in the basement of the Capitol Rotunda, which had to be taken down and stored as well. It has been a whirlwind of a 2013, but a really great one as well! Workers Defense Project has tried me in ways I never imagined, but it has also been an incredibly rewarding experience. I have learned more in the last 6 months working there about organizing efforts than I ever thought I would in my life. I will definitely be taking this knowledge to seminary with me, and will continue to use it for the rest of my life, in any and every capacity God wills.

January/February update….TBD

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Sorry that I’ve failed to update my blog these past couple of months, y’all! I definitely haven’t forgotten about it. Work at Workers Defense has been so crazy busy with planning for the Day of the Fallen day of action and advocacy, plus with applying for APTS/scholarships, my time has been completely consumed! I will give a full update the beginning of March of all the crazy, but cool, things I’ve been blessed enough to participate in the past couple of months.

Thanks for understanding and God Bless!
Sarah

December Update

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In Austin, I live in an intentional community on the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary campus, and that means that 9 of us live in three different apartments living, serving, and growing together. We have weekly dinners and meetings, checking in twice a week and having spiritual guidance. Last weekend we had our first retreat together, and it was marvelous! We started our day with our Secret Santa exchange and a delicious breakfast. After we headed to an adorable town, all decorated for Christmas, called Fredericksburg where we ate lunch. We then hiked Enchanted Rock (which looked a lot like a mini-Mars from the top), and enjoyed the beautiful view of the rolling hills. After getting milkshakes, we made it to Liz’s lake house where we went for a boat ride, hung out, played games, and shared stories and our pieces we were to memorize. It was a perfect Saturday, which led into a perfect Sunday. We got to sleep in and have breakfast, then went SWIMMING IN THE LAKE! I couldn’t believe I was swimming outdoors in lake water in DECEMBER. I definitely wasn’t in Michigan anymore! We also went tubbing, which was an absolute blast, and then I got to relax in the hammock by the water. It truly was a perfect weekend =).

I can’t believe its December already! My how time flies!! The Christmas season is my favorite time of year, and this year has been no different =). Downtown Austin is all decorated with holiday cheer, and Christmas lights throughout the city make me oh so happy. Listening to Christmas songs and attending worship services focused on Advent music is so enriching for me. But the best thing of all is that I get to return to Holland (Michigan that is… though I’d love to go to the Netherlands someday!) in just 5 days!!! This fall, though parts of it have been wonderful, overall has been a challenging one. I had a tough transition into full time work as well as faced some culture shock from being in China, to home for 10 days, to Austin. If I could do it over, I don’t think I’d change anything (except for making my time at home just a little longer…), but it still made for a difficult few months. But difficult only means growth right? God never gives you more than you can handle.

And this whole season has been even more fulfilling for me because I have made my official decision for what I plan to do next year: I am in the process of applying to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary! Though I haven’t been accepted yet, there has been an underlying tone of peace within me that hasn’t been there for a very long time. After spending a great day as a part of the APTS community, I knew that I was meant to attend here. (The great day I’m referring to was actually the weekend prior to our retreat–there was the big Rivalry flag football game with the Episcopal Seminary, a ball after, and then we went out dancing downtown. It truly was so much fun being a part of the greater Seminary community.) I have wanted to go to Seminary for so long, that I have decided I don’t want to put it off any longer. So that’s my news, and I thank God everyday for giving me this opportunity to serve, grow, and discern.

Have a VERY Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Happy Holidays to all!!!