Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/30/10

Almost two weeks of our five week stay here are done. Today we did some sightseeing in the Eastern part of Sakartvello. It's a very beautiful part of the country that I had not seen before. The Georgians call it desert because it is very dry in the months of July, August and September but right now it is lush and green rolling pastureland. There are no fences and large herds of both sheep and cattle roam free over the land. I asked who owned the land and found that it is owned by the government and so everyone is free to use it. The end of our journey took us to David Gareja Monastery which was started in the third century. It is very close to Georgia's border with Armenia. It has been attacked,burned and rebuilt several times. The Turks and Mongols in the earliest times. The last interruption was during soviet days but today this incredible monastery, carved into the rock, is once again inhabited by Georgian Orthodox monks.

Tomorrow, Sunday here, is the election of the mayor of Tbilisi. This will mark the first democratic election of a mayor of Tbilisi and there is much excitement. The last week has seen pamphletting on the sidewalks as we normally see in the US. Misha is a member of a political party and so has committed to working at the polls so we will not see him tomorrow.

A thunder and lightning storm is starting and likely to take out our electricity so I'll sign off. Utilities in Tiblisi are rather tentative at best. In our flat we never have water between 3:00pm and 6:00 pm.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/27/10

Maia and Shirley and I have just completed the first AVP workshop to take place in the Republic of Georgia in more than eight years. This was a mixed gender workshop which, in this culture proved to be very difficult. The woman's place is taking care of her husband and her children and to be obedient. There were a couple of men in the workshop who were very gracious and courtly in their behavior and also, without realizing it, quite belittling. I feel that I need to provide balance between one facilitator who immediately falls into the Georgian woman's role and another who is a strong feminist and would like to see this change NOW. I think that sometimes it is hard, when we want something so badly for someone else, to accept that they are the ones who must determine what is right and wrong themselves. They are the ones who must want the change before they can move toward change. Nonetheless, we do have several good prospects in this group to invite to be trained as AVP facilitators.

Things in Sakartvelo have changed for the better since my last visit in the winter of 2009. I can see that some buildings have been painted and some roads paved. The parking lot at the airport no longer has gaping holes. In some places I can see and hear new construction. At the same time some of the big building that were started ground to a halt during the financial crisis. Many of those have not recommenced building since there are no more funds available. On my last visit here I was warned not to go out alone. Now, it feels safe to walk on the street alone during the day, although we have been warned that we should not go out at night, even together. It is so clear that we are not from Sakartvelo! Women here almost always wear black slacks or black skirts and almost never wear blue jeans. Their blouses are usually dark colors with a sweater on even when it's really too warm for one. Men seem much freer to wear whatever colors they please! Our skin is fairer and we are taller so it's really very easy to pick us out in the crowd!

Tomorrow we will go sightseeing with Misha and Maia as well as trying to accomplish all of the household things that have been left undone. We'll buy a wash basin on the way home from the internet cafe so that we can wash our clothes, do some cleaning, and try to prepare for our next workshop. The next AVP workshop will begin on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week with an organization of refugee women. We are very much looking forward to working with them.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/24/10

The last couple of days have been filled with preparations for our first Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops. We've been to market to buy food & supplies for our AVP participants. Yesterday Shirley & Maia and I met with two former AVP facilitators that Maia knows. Both were shocked by the thought of facilitating an AVP workshop without receiving a stipend for doing the work of AVP. We shared our understanding that AVP is a volunteer program for both facilitators and participants, explaining why that is important including that is it one way in which we maintain equality. We lifted up our own experiences that when the work comes from a place of love for and belief in the work and those we are working with that it is very different than when it is driven by a need or desire for money. I don't know if these two women will return.

Today we spent the day planning for our first workshop and meeting with our translator, Natalie. Natalie seems very excited and enthusiastic not only to be working with us but about our process. Tomorrow we begin. Our first workshop will run from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm for the next three days with facilitators beginning a half hour earlier and staying a half hour later. They will take place in the flat where we are staying. We will begin with some of the Friends from Tbilisi Worship Group and two refugees for a total of ten participants. The first workshop will be in Russian with the remaining four in Georgian. The second workshop will be an all female workshop with refugees. Then we'll do a training for facilitators (T for F) followed by two more workshops, one with refugees and another with orphans. This feels very exciting and challenging and I believe good work will be done by all.

Shirley and I share a flat that has one main room aproximately 12" X 20" (The space we're using for the first three workshops as well.) with a tiny kitchen and bathroom attached. We are doing a rather intricate dance of learning to be in this very small space together: not an easy thing for two strong willed women who are used to living along. It is good that we are both dedicated to using AVP skills in our lives and to actively work as peacemakers! Our skills are being tested.

I find myself reminded that each of us carries a measure of the Truth and that for me, there is only that which I think I know, for only God holds all Truth and the Truth as I understand it shifts as the tide of my journey ebbs and flows. I know that when I look for; listen for the truth in another that I will find it and that when I set my expectation; my belief so that I will see negative that probably is what I will find.

Toltec wisdom says that we lie to ourselves each time that we say "I'm only human, I'm not perfect." They say that each time we say this that is simply an excuse that lets us off the hook. I believe that we are made in God's image and therefore, at our core, we are perfect if only at that place where we find "that of God within". And so, we are called to work our hardest to reach our full potential: to reach perfection - to be at one with God.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sakartvelo 5/20/10

The journey to Sakartvelo (as Georgians call their country) has been both a blessing and filled with continued challenges. After delays leaving the airport in Syracuse, holding patterns over the airport in New York, an hour delay in the flight to Istanbul and finally, lost bags, we arrived in Tbilisi. We were met at the airport by Misha (Member of Tbilisi Friends Worship Group and former clerk) and Maia (the AVP facilitator that Shirley Way and I will be working with here in Tbilisi). What a warm welcome! We spent a couple of hours talking about AVP and how we will plan and do workshops and with whom and settling into the flat where we will be staying during our five week sojourn. Many members of the Worship Group hope to become AVP facilitators and so they will be part of our first workshop. Others, including some members of the refugee communities, one of Maia's daughters, and possibly Kety's (who translated our manual and who lives in Florida) sister are hoping to become facilitators as well. We will meet with members of the worship group on Sunday before meeting for worship (6:00 pm) to talk about workshops. I am very excited about seeing all my friends from last trip and to meet attenders who have started attending since my last trip. Since January of 2009 the numbers of members approved by FWCC have doubled (now eight) while more attenders come. We will spend time this afternoon with Misha shopping for food and supplies in the major market in Tbilisi.

For me, despite the challenges of the trip, I feel bouyed up and carried forward on a current of pure and Holy energy. I am clear that that energy is a response of Spirit generated by all who hold Shirley and me and our work in Sakartvelo in the Light: in prayer. I know that network reaches far beyond people that Shirley and I have had direct contact with to those who have simply heard of the work that we are here to do and of the plight of the people of Sakartvelo and so are holding us. I am so grateful for that!

As I traveled yesterday I found myself amazed at the level of courage that learning to trust in God (a continuing process) has brought me. I am such a new AVP facilitator that, even with Shirley (a very experienced facilitator) at my side, there is some wonderment that I am called to be in the midst of this work and yet, the Call seems clear - it has been tested again and again. Some might call it pure, brash hutzpah but it is not that. There is trembling within. My only response is to consistently turn it over to God. My constant prayer: Let my words be Thy Words. Let my will be Thy Will. Help me to be your Love.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

God is good

A couple of years ago a Friend doing missionary work in Kenya spoke at yearly meeting. She taught us a call and response The call: "God is Good!". The response: "All the time". As I sit here looking over the last weeks of preparation for the trip to the Republic of Georgia (Sakartvelo as she's known to her people) I am filled with immense gratitude to God and to those who walk with me and allow God to be known through their words and actions. They help me to know the strength to be faithful. When I gave notice to my employer I knew that action would leave me without an income upon my return from The Republic of Georgia. I was willing to accept that and trust that way would open upon my return. I have been amazed and joyful as, over the last two weeks, way has opened and, on June 24 I will return to my job. I am filled with gratitude! I will still be many weeks without pay but I know way will open.

There is an inscrutable dichotomy of incredible simplicity and difficulty. The simplicity is learning to simply say "Yes". Trusting that when Spirit asks us to carry His/Her work that we will be taken care of - that we are not asked to carry more than we can bear. The difficulty is in letting go of the teachings of the world: in letting go of the fear that God will not catch us, will not provide, will not walk beside us each step of the way. My faith is experiential. I know that each time that I trust; Each time that I move in faith, I am rewarded with incredible Joy and a Peace that passes all understanding and so with each new call I am ready to trust more - to say "Yes" with less and less hesitation.

As I pack and prepare translations and make arrangements for Max (my cat)and think of the sixteen hours of travel over nine time zones to reach Sakartvelo I am filled with hope and excitement for the work to come. I am grateful to all of you who hold me in prayer and make this work possible.

God is Good all the time!