A letter from Jed Koball in Peru
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free¨ Luke 4:18.
Beads of sweat formed on my brow. My left leg was bouncing up and down underneath the table. As the light shown in my eyes, I could feel it sucking the moisture out of my mouth. I didn't know if I would even be able to get a word out.
Three…two…one… and the cameras rolled. I was speaking live at my very first press conference ever. I was all of 23 years old and serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in the Philippines. A community of squatters, seen as an ¨eyesore¨ by the government, was being threatened with demolition as the government prepared to host an international conference on trade. I had been chosen by the Church to speak on behalf of the squatters in the name of God´s love that sees beauty in all of creation, most especially with the poor.
Flash forward 17 years. I am now a mission co-worker in Peru, serving as the Companionship Facilitator of the Joining Hands Against Hunger program. As of this year, my wife Jenny will be serving as the coordinator of the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program in Peru, and I have the distinct privilege of getting to assist her and support her in that role. In late August we will receive our very first group of volunteers: Mary Kate Bevel, Blake Collins, Spencer May, Abby Miller, and Emma WestRasmus, all of them coming to Peru for ¨a year of service and a lifetime of change.¨
I can speak from experience when I say that the change it will bring will often be the most unexpected of changes. Seventeen years ago I was terrified of public speaking. When in college, if I had the choice of giving a 10-minute oral presentation or writing a 20-page paper, I would have gladly chosen the paper in a heartbeat, thanked my professor for the opportunity to write instead of speak, all while my classmates would have looked at me quizzically for taking on so much work.
Perhaps it was the overwhelming poverty in the streets of Manila that made me re-evaluate what is really worth worrying about in life. Perhaps it was seeing community leaders, who had risen out of such poverty, taking a stand and speaking out for their rights that inspired me, too, to want to speak out for justice. Perhaps it was my community of fellow YAVs that supported me, guided me, and made me feel loved unconditionally that empowered me to face those cameras that day, not alone but as part of one body. Whatever the reason, I found my voice that day in the Philippines. Rather, God gave me voice that day in the Philippines. The Holy Spirit touched me and filled me and renewed me that day…and every day since.
Today, in Peru, I strive to walk alongside our partners, joining my voice with theirs in the struggle for justice, peace and reconciliation. While I wouldn't say I am on the constant search for a microphone, camera or podium, I can say that I certainly don´t shy away from them! An opportunity to speak is an opportunity to share the story of God´s grace being lived out in partnership. How could I possibly deny that? And now, together with Jenny, I am humbled by this opportunity to welcome a group of YAVs to join with us in this journey, that they too may be touched by the Spirit…find their voice…be filled…renewed…changed!
I invite you to join us in the year ahead. Follow me through my mission newsletters. Follow Jenny, the Peru YAVs and myself on Facebook, or search for the YAV blogs on the PC(USA) website.
I also invite you to accompany us through prayer, support us financially, and join us where you are in this gospel ministry of justice, peace and reconciliation.
Lastly, I want to remind you that you can hear more about our ministry in person in March of 2014. I will be on interpretation assignment for one month in the United States, and I would love the opportunity to share with you, your presbytery, or your congregation! Please be in touch as soon as possible to coordinate a trip up your way!