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Date posted: Monday 04 June 2018
It was an honor and privilege to be able to speak at the Saint Paul Area Synod Assembly, Friday, May 18, at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi. There, I highlighted the theme: Restless and Resolute, and what that means as a young adult both in the church and in the world. Below are some of the thoughts and feelings I shared, excerpted from my speech.
Restless and Resolute. What better words to describe young people right? Restless, to be in constant motion or activity, unable to rest and relax. Resolute, admirably purposeful, and marked by firm determination. That’s so me.
But first, who am I? Well… I am a young adult. I know it doesn’t look like it, but I am. I turned 24 years old last month, and I am pretty excited about it. Even though I know I look like I could still be confirmation. I am the youngest of five kids. My parents are refugees from Cambodia and came to the United States during the Khmer Rouge. They started a new life and had five kids and gave us the education that they couldn’t receive. They are my heroes.
They were welcomed with open arms, along with many other Cambodian refugees and immigrants, to Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill in Saint Paul. This is where I was baptized and still attend today. I graduated from Luther College two years ago, where I studied English and French. At Luther, I had the opportunity to study abroad, which sparked my interest in the world and my place in it. After I graduated, I had the amazing opportunity to serve abroad as a volunteer with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) through the ELCA. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life… besides this, speaking to you all right now.
Through YAGM, I was a volunteer in Palestine. I lived in a small town called Beit Sahour, just east of the city of Bethlehem. There, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, I taught English to middle and high school students at the Lutheran school. I also ran the English Club at the Lutheran school in Beit Sahour, which was one of the highlights of my year. At English Club, I was able to really interact with my students and get to know them in a more relaxed setting, and ask them about their families, their favorite activities, and what they did for fun. We met twice a week for an hour after school and it was stressful...but also so much fun. I loved my students, even though they looked older than me.
I miss them. I truly loved my students, and I’m so thankful that they would always check up on me, help me with my Arabic, ask me how I was doing, ask if I was happy, and ask if I needed anything.
Along with the joys, I also had some struggles and challenges. It was difficult. Being a woman, being Asian, being American, being an Asian American. Those were very real struggles that I had throughout my year. And because of the way I looked had such an impact on how others treated me, it was hard always having to prove myself in a way or maybe act a certain way. Having to prove my competency of the English language, needing to articulate myself maybe a little more than I probably have to, all in order to be taken a little bit more seriously. Or, maybe I’m not being Asian enough? Or am I not American enough? What does that even mean? Can I just be me? And my whole self?
And being a young person in the world is weird. It’s exciting, and fruitful, but it’s also kinda interesting… at least for me. It’s kind of escaping responsibility of “real adult” stuff, but also experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about a new culture and way of life. I know I am still very much in my “still figuring things out” stage in life. And I know some of you that aren’t young adults might be saying that you’re still figuring things out too because aren’t we all always trying to figure things out. One day at a time, I like to say. But… it’s different. I know for me and for some other young adults, it’s just a never ending cycle of transitions, changes, and the constant questioning of it you’re making the right decision. And that’s what that restlessness is really about. A constant state of fear. It’s true, but it’s also okay. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me. It’s okay if you don’t have everything figured out, you will. And I will. And I think that’s where being resolute comes in. Knowing that I will figure it out, and I’m determined to, and it really is going to be okay.
I came back last July from my year in Palestine…a hot mess. I essentially came back broken. And while I probably had the best year of my life, it was also the hardest year of my life. Even though I wasn’t living under military occupation in the West Bank, my Palestinian community and host family are, and so many others.
I was a witness. I saw the injustice, I saw the occupation. Military occupation means so much more than checkpoints, a separation wall, illegal settlements, and limited resources. It means so much more. Imagine trying to go to somewhere, maybe Washington DC, our nation’s capital. But there’s a wall around it, and a building structure that resembles an outdoor jail, and you have to go through a TSA security-like procedure, with a line full of people, and around you are soldiers with guns. That’s a checkpoint, but that also doesn’t even describe what a checkpoint really is for Palestinians living with this every day. And that’s just one part of it all. And it’s a lot to try to explain because words only go so far compared to the in-person experience.
When I came back home to Minnesota, I didn’t know what to do – with my life, but also everything that I experienced and learned from my YAGM year in Palestine. I cried a lot and didn’t know who to talk to that could understand what I was going through. And all I wanted to do was talk about my time in Palestine. But I didn’t know how to and I still today struggle talking about the complexities of the Holy Land. It’s… a lot. So I understand if you didn’t get any of that.
I knew when I came back from my YAGM year, there would be a community of people that wanted to hear about my time in Palestine – and that community was my church. Christ on Capitol Hill has heard me fumble my words with open ears and open hearts, and I am so thankful. Because it’s still not easy for me. And I think it will always be hard because I’m still grieving. I’m still sad. I wasn’t ready to leave. I miss my host family, my students, and Palestine. It’s hard for me to check the news these days. The deaths in Gaza. The US. embassy’s move to Jerusalem. The world’s eyes are all on this issue, and it’s… a lot. And while I hope for peace and justice, I know I can do more and be more. And that’s by using my voice. Like right now. And sometimes that’s the most powerful tool.
I’ve experienced a lot of uncomfortable and difficult conversations since I’ve been back, conversations about Israel and Palestine. But even so, I’m glad that they’re happening. Because I'd rather have a hard conversation than none at all. And I think that’s the most important part of me being back in the States. To be more restless and resolute in hard and difficult conversations. And I think that’s important to take away. We’re here at the assembly to talk about some important topics. It’s important to go into these conversations, open and willing to listen and share. Channel your inner or current young adult. Be restless, be resolute. And leave room for understanding and growth. There doesn’t need to be an agreement, but an open understanding. And let’s lift up the young adults in our church. They’re doing some great things, both in the church and in the world, and it’s amazing to see. So, again, my name is Samantha. I am a young adult, and I am restless and resolute.
Featured speaker at 2018 Synod Assembly