Transcript from a talk 2011 HNGR Intern Sara Robinson gave on campus at Wheaton College, April 2012.
Good afternoon, my name is Sara Robinson and I am a Senior. I have had the blessing of participating in the HNGR Program, an experience which culminates in a six-month internship. I spent June to December of this past year with Paz y Esperanza, a Christian human rights organization, in Ayacucho, Peru, a small city in the Andes mountains.
I remember thinking before my internship that I would likely return to the US unrecognizable, because I would be so changed. I envisioned the six months to be full of crashing waves: a roaring intensity of external circumstances and internal storms within me. In actuality, though, my experience in Peru was more like a trip down the course of a river: slowly winding along its way, encountering boulders, gradual shifts in direction, perhaps cascading down a few waterfalls. When I returned home, I wondered if I had done something wrong: should I have been more changed? But I am realizing more and more the profound impact of my experience. While it may not have been the roaring intensity I expected, it has produced subtle shifts and prods that have altered my trajectory. The opportunity to travel down the slow-paced river of life for just a stretch with my Ayacucho community has turned me in a new direction.
I spent the six months doing life with a large, complicated, and loving host family; attending weddings and funerals and baptisms; dancing with my coworkers; cooking with my host mother. These experiences encompassed all of life: stripping awawy my previously held simplistic and glorified understanding of development in the Global South, as the people I encountered became friends and family rather than “the poor.” While HNGR is so much of simply doing life in a new community, the transformation that comes from these seemingly small daily activities is profound. I unlearned many things on HNGR, which made room for new questions, new doubts, and new complexities which I pour out before our triune God: where else can I go?
Many of those internal struggles came from my internship work, as I assisted in workshops to help protect children from sexual abuse and domestic violence; and witnessed the painful and difficult work of reconciliation and healing among rural populations devastated by the conflict of the 80s and 90s. Yet proximity to places of pain creates a lament that also clings to a true Christian hope, one that is committed to working for transformation. HNGR has given me a desire to participate in the work of the Church as we commit to work against darkness on personal, communal, and systemic levels. Working towards the physical, emotional, and spiritual wholeness of a person. Working towards renewed relationships in families and churches. Working for justice in the legal and political realms, and constructing right relations between different genders, classes, races, etc.
HNGR thus taught me that development is much more than economic alleviation but a holistic vision for the flourishing of all creation and a healed relationship with their creator. As God is reconciling all things to himself and renewing this world, all barriers to shalom are being broken down, ushering each individual, community, and system into the process towards wholeness and reconciliation. The signs of this transformation are small, but there: the firstfruits of the Spirit in a groaning creation.
Therefore, despite the doubts and questions and complexities I now have—or perhaps because of them—I am so grateful for my HNGR experience. The opportunity to be invited into the life of another community, to learn from their joys and pains, and to be commissioned by them to continue in the participation of transformation has permanently altered my trajectory. Thank you.