Shalomie Feature: Melissa Betancur

[By Kaitlin Abrahams, Shalom Project alumna] The other day I opened the back door of the Shalom House and was welcomed by a rich, savory aroma. I found Shalom participant  Melissa Betancur frying vegan empanadas in the kitchen. A recent graduate from the nearby Eastern University, Melissa brings a passion for restorative justice and a desire to build community to the Shalom Project. She heard about the program from her counselor last year and she was drawn to exploring what Shalom means for her. So far, Shalom has meant both taking care of her mental health and building relationships. Since Melissa studied youth ministry in college, it is important to her to connect with children and young people. This translates well into her internship, where she occasionally deals with juvenile offenders. 

Melissa’s internship is with Advoz, a center for conflict resolution that emphasizes face-to-face mediation. On the average day, Melissa spends a lot of time in the office, answering phone calls. However, since she has been trained in conferencing and mediation, Melissa started taking some cases. She says, “I call a lot of victims…to see if they want to hear an update from a facilitator because they will meet with the young person [who caused them harm]…I’m learning that a lot of them [victims] we don’t get in touch with, so when we do I want to not take it for granted.” Some victims even share their story and that can open up meaningful discussions. 

Her other duties include running the Advoz table at various events and meeting with teachers and professors to discuss how to incorporate restorative justice into their lesson plans. Melissa enjoys the balance of work at Advoz between office time and working with people. She is also enjoying her research project, an activity new to Shalom Project this year. Her theme is marriage because she wanted to dive deeper into something so relevant to her work at Advoz―divorce and custody are the most common issues leading to the need for mediation. On February third, she will start a second internship with the New Holland Early Learning Center. Melissa is looking forward to a chance to work with young kids. 

So far in her Shalom year, Melissa has also enjoyed building community with our neighbors on High Street. “Getting connected and affiliated, walking around and actually knowing their names and saying hi was really cool because at first I didn’t know what to expect but…now it’s like coming into a setting where everyone is family and it’s cool because you don’t encounter that on every street.” The house is another source of community for her and she says it is a good center to keep her grounded. She has also found community among her coworkers, both at staff meetings and in going out to eat to celebrate birthdays. Yet another source of community for Melissa is church. She attends Puerta de Refugio, also known as Place of Refuge, a bilingual church in walking distance from the Shalom House. 

When not at work or church, Melissa makes the most of her free time to read poetry, cook, and explore Lancaster.  She is also looking forward to taking some piano lessons. These activities are a part of her search for Shalom by becoming better at self-care. Overall, Melissa describes her experience with the Shalom Project thus far as a season of growth, both growing in self-awareness and growing in relationship with others. Mellissa describes this as “being honest with yourself about how yourself about number one how you want to spend time, and number two how you will go about doing what you need to do so the time you spend on things actually reflects the goals that you have for the year. And through the year getting close to other people…[by] knowing when you need to pray for someone and when you need to reach out.” 

Wat’s For Supper

[Kaitlin Abrahams, 2018-19 participant] The tang of injera, the pungent spice of lentils, the bittersweet aroma of Ethiopian coffee—last weekend we enjoyed our community meal along with coworkers, church acquaintances, and various Shalom Project supporters. The meal had been prepared by an Ethiopian chef at the local Grape Leaf Cafe & was waiting for us to take inside in giant aluminum containers when we arrived at The Mix, an after school program who was letting us rent their gym & kitchen for the event.

Once we had carried the food inside, we draped the linen tablecloths, donated by Nathan Grieser (The Shalom Project director)’s brother-in-law over tables donated by a local Mennonite church that we had set up the night before. As rich smells began to waft from the kitchen where the food was being reheated, we folded napkins, set out silverware, and arranged centerpieces made by a former Shalomie. They were Shalom Project mugs each filled with coffee beans and an air plant. We also set up table stations for our guests to peruse, including an informational table about Ethiopia with free recipes and a kids’ table with coloring pages of the Shalomies’ faces and a scavenger hunt. Once everything was set up, we rushed to a backroom to eat, already beginning to hear to voices of guests arriving early.

During the meal I was stationed at a kids’ table where I handed crayons to toddlers and helped their older siblings pick out a free book after completing our scavenger hunt. There were more than a few kids as large gymnasium was filled with twenty-one tables, each seating at least five guests. Two of the kids to visit our table were well known to me—Ivy and Juniper, Nathan Grieser’s two and four-year-old daughters who, while sometimes shy and quiet around me and the other Shalomies, have apparently told Nathan that we are their best friends.

When the last biscuit had been dipped in its coffee and the last take-out container of leftovers had been sold, we tackled the task of cleaning the gym and washing all the dishes. Overall, our community meal was a grand success, raising over two thousand dollars for the Shalom Project.

Now, nearly a week later, we are enjoying the spring sunshine as I hear that Kansas is being inundated by rains. We had our weekly seminar in the park, where we laid on a t-shirt blanket and listened to a podcast about the danger of following one career path, suggesting instead that young people try out many different paths before they settle. This podcast reassured me as I still struggle to determine whether I should stay with the Bookmobile next year or go on to get my masters in Creative Writing. While the bittersweet transition out of the Shalom Project at the end of July is not one I am looking forward to, with prayers, discernment, and a little open-mindedness, I am hopeful that it will go smoothly. Blessings and Shalom to you all.

Inner Peace?

[Chad Gundy, 2017-18 participant] I am not writing this as an attempt to give advice or make sense of the world, but rather as a way to share a story, because I believe that sharing and listening to stories is a great way for us to understand each other a little better. I hope you enjoy.

Shalom Project Participant

In college there were many occasions where I battled with finding inner peace. An example of an outcome of these battles is when I changed my major from Education to Information Technology.

Everyone has different ways to engage these battles. I like to think that some might do yoga. Others might go on a walk through the woods. I knew one friend who would make alone time where they would just be still. However, I’ve felt as though I’ve never really had my “thing” that ignited this deep, self-reflective thinking. I mean sure, I would often be playing the guitar alone in my room and singing, but that was more to practice than anything. I would longboard to Bob’s for some fries or go shoot hoops by myself, but none of these seemed to result in this deeper understanding of myself. They were just things I enjoyed doing, and I didn’t mind doing them by myself.

When I first spoke to Nathan about the Shalom Project, I grew excited when he talked about the focus that the project puts on personal, inward peace. I remember connecting strongly when he shared this idea of God pouring into us, and then we use that so we can pour into our communities. As I was dedicating the next year to voluntary service, I was excited to not only be a part of a program that thought about serving in this way, but also on taking time to discover what my “thing” would be that would allow my way to self-reflect.

I guess the real reason I felt like I needed to improve on my self-reflection skills is that I saw so many people that were good at it and benefitted from it. Throughout college I was exposed to practices like silent retreats, challenges to take 10 minutes a week and just be still, and ideas of solitude being essential. And even though I tried, I could never find my “thing” or “practice” that I thought would lead me to inner peace.

As I entered into the Shalom Project, I again tried to find my way to reflect. I would try to sit and be still in a meditative way. That didn’t work, as I would quickly think about going disc golfing. Okay, well then maybe while I was disc golfing I could go and think about things while I was on the course. Active reflection could be a thing, right? Well that didn’t work either, as I would quickly get distracted by how lousy my last backhand drive was and only be able to focus on throwing a frisbee.

I was not ready to give up, but my first attempts at achieving inner peace had failed.

It was around this time that we had our first official seminar. The topic was Myers-Briggs. For those of you who don’t know, Myers-Briggs is essentially an assessment that uses four letters to describe your personality type. According to Myers-Briggs, you are either an E or an I, an S or an N, a T or F, and P or J. I’ll let you do the research on what this means if you are unaware, as I would butcher any kind of description of it.

I had heard of Myers-Briggs before this. I had taken the online test of about 100 questions and learned what my personality type was. I had met people who thought that Myers-Briggs was the greatest thing ever, and people who thought it was dumb and 4 letters didn’t define who they were. I was somewhere in the middle, and I probably still am (if you would like to have a longer conversation on Myers-Briggs I would be happy to talk with you at some point!).

The way we did this seminar was we went through what each letter meant (so E vs. I, S vs N, etc) as a group and then went around and explained what we thought we were. I had a really hard time with the first two, and I started to think something along the lines of, “Man, I really don’t know myself do I? I really need to work on this…” However, the last 2 letters were super easy for me, and I began to feel quite a bit better.

We then got papers that described our personality type and the different traits they typically have. I remember reading through it and being surprised on how accurate it was, even though my first two letters seemed to be really borderline. Naturally, there were some things that I disagreed with, but all in all, it was like I was reading about myself.

I didn’t think much about the seminar until one day at dinner. In the Shalom House we partner up and cook 3 dinners (suppers) that we eat together every week. We always struggled with a way to start of these meals. One way we have tried is this awesome idea that we open the meal with “picking on” (again with the quotes) someone and giving them compliments and/or tell them something we appreciate about them, and then close by “picking on” someone else. And the person who you are complimenting has to just take it and say thanks. It was a strange kind of torture.

Anyway, I was the first to be tortured, er, I mean complimented. During this time, some of my housemates told me that they appreciated my “smile and optimism,” or something along those lines.

This stuck out to me because I have never thought of myself as an optimist. I’ve always defined myself as a “pessimistic realist,” if you will. I did this, because well, I liked to think of myself as a realist. However, this wasn’t the first time that I was labeled as an optimist this year.

(If you guessed that the other place that labeled me as an optimist was my Myers-Briggs personality paper, you are correct! Hurray!) After hearing that, I decided to look back on my Myers-Briggs sheet and see if there were any other insights.

Here is where I found the answer to all of my questions!!

Okay not really, but I did discover something that has helped me a lot.

So, I am an E. That means I am an extrovert, and extroverts struggle with introspective thinking that introverts are naturally good at.

I first learned I was an extrovert in college when I took the online assessment. I am like 51% extroverted and 49% introverted according to that test. So it’s close, but I know now that it is definitely true. It seems strange that someone who enjoys disc golfing by themselves, reading, and sitting in his room playing the guitar as much as I do would be extroverted. It seems even stranger when you add on the facts that I am not a party person, I am super shy, and I do not talk much when I meet someone new. So I’m pretty much one of the world’s worst extroverts.

However, the focus of this is not HOW I’m an extrovert, but rather THAT I am an extrovert. And not only that I am an extrovert, but also that I am every other little letter that I am (I’m going to let you guess on the rest).

As I was wishing to learn who I was, I thought that the only way to do this was through some sort of prolonged, meditative strategy that required a lot of INTRO(see what I did there)spection. However, that’s not what my strengths are, and this realization that, “Hey, you’re not naturally good at this,” was such an important one for me.

Looking back, there is definitely comedic value to me asking trying to answer the questions of “Who am I? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? How can I use my strengths in my life?” through a means in which I am not naturally gifted (After typing that it seems less funny and more sad. Oh well.).

Now this isn’t to say that I should never be introspective. I am extroverted, which means that I need introversion for balance. I can still benefit from being reflective and taking time for myself. I mean, I’m writing a blog. If I didn’t think reflection was important, would I really be doing that?

So, let’s wrap this up. I am not naturally reflective. I am not good at taking time for myself to think about my feelings and really process that. But that does not mean that I can’t have a sense of inner peace. For me, inner peace didn’t come from some huge epiphany that appeared after hours of processing and reflecting. Instead it came with the acceptance that the math-loving, sometimes-hyper, super-unorganized, shower-singing, rather-take-a-nap-than-talk-about-my-feelings person that I am is who God made me to be.

Introducing Helena

[Helena Neufeld, 2016 summer intern] A bit of exposition before I get to how I came to intern at The Shalom Project:

I’m going to be a senior at Goshen College in Indiana in the fall – I’m majoring in English with minors in women’s studies and political studies. Goshen offers a summer program called SIP (Service Inquiry Program) which provides students with a scholarship for volunteering at a service organization.

I’ve been interested in this program for a while, although initially for its flashier possibilities  – many students use SIP for international opportunities. However, as I was preparing to spend a semester in Cambodia this last spring, I was more drawn to staying in my own community.

I’ve led a fairly insular, Manheim Township, suburban life in Lancaster, and while I do come home from Indiana for the summers, I am pretty exclusively focused on working. SIP allowed me more space to intentionally learn about and engage in Lancaster, instead of my usual full-time summer job.

I looked into several different nonprofits to work with, and after a fairly drawn-out process, came across The Shalom Project. While it wasn’t one my original ideas, it seemed like a great way to learn about lots of different organizations and initiatives which I normally wouldn’t come across.

I’ve been with Shalom for about a month now, and appreciate the variety and flexibility of what I do. I already feel a bit more aware of my surroundings in my home community, and it is very interesting to be with an organization just finishing its first year – there is a sense of possibility and, again, flexibility, which can be difficult to find in more developed and cemented programs.

There is also so much value in Shalom’s model, itself – taking these young adult, fresh-out-of-college years and spending them developing, in community, instead of immediately going from thing to thing. This isn’t to say that the experience isn’t valuable, of course, or not a career-building opportunity. Nevertheless, spending a year not focused on making money or getting a further degree, while living simply and volunteering, is definitely a departure from the pre-written straight line momentum that it is so easy to be pressured by as a recent graduate.

Focusing on service and self-development/care can be tinted as irresponsible or indulgent. Shalom avoids this by taking these things seriously – I’m excited to continue spending my summer working with an organization that promotes this growth, as well as seeking it for myself.

Finding Shalom in the City

[2015-16 participants]

Nathan: The Shalom Project is a year-long voluntary service and learning experience in Lancaster, Pa. We invite college graduates to Lancaster to live in community in a house in the city, work and serve full-time in professional internships, and to engage in a variety of activities aimed at personal growth and Christian spiritual formation.

We are more than halfway through our first program year, and recently took time to reflect together about this new experience. I asked the participants why they chose the Shalom Project, and what their experience has been so far.

Lenore: During my senior year of college, I decided to change my major. This left me unsure of my future. The plan that I had created for myself was no longer what I wanted. I decided to look for internship programs that would allow me to gain professional experience as well as allow me to reshape my future goals.

With the Shalom Project, I have been working at Church World Service as a Special Needs Facilitator assisting with resettling refugees. I have been given responsibility and expectations that I have felt under-qualified for, but my co-workers have shown me constant support. I’ve heard stories from refugees of horrors and trauma I could not imagine experiencing.

While my job can be stressful, it is extremely life-giving. Every day, I help empower a resilient population who refuses to be beaten down and rises above the oppression. I am extremely grateful for the Shalom Project and Church World Service, and everything they are teaching me about myself and the world around me.

Ellie: As a recent college grad who was transitioning from a year abroad in India, the Shalom Project seemed like an ideal way to jump back into a new phase of life here. Halfway through the experience, I can say that it was exactly what I needed.

I chose the Shalom Project because I love their blueprint for helping us build a life in Lancaster. The internships open up professional opportunities, seminars introduce us to people who influence and love this city, and community life provides support (and adventure!) throughout the year.

To my surprise, the internship placement has been what defined this year for me; I never expected to love my position at The Mix at Arbor Place as much as I do, and I am thriving with the responsibilities and creative freedom I have at work.

Erin: As a person who does not do well with abrupt change (this type of change constituting a fair amount of the past 3 or so years of my life), I needed to do something after I graduated from college that would ease me into the next phase of life. The Shalom Project provided this opportunity. And because the Shalom Project is a one-year commitment, I have the flexibility to take what I’ve learned somewhere else, or continue to immerse myself in this community. I have chosen to stay in Lancaster City for the foreseeable future!

In a Resident Assistant internship at Steeple View Lofts (an independent living retirement community in downtown Lancaster), I am learning a lot about the professional world, and my favorite part is interacting with the residents. At my internship at  the Ephrata Re-Uzit Shop, which supports MCC, I am learning how to work with people who think and dress differently from me – balancing the times I need to learn from them with the times they can learn from me.

In terms of the community, I am really enjoying living in community with the other Shalom participants (or Shalomie Homies, as we like to refer to ourselves!). I can ride my bike essentially anywhere within the city limits and can ride the bus most places outside the city.

I have been drawn to a great need in Lancaster to bring people back together: there has been a great deal of division in the past which continues to affect the communities in Lancaster city today. I am hoping to continue to be a part of bridging these gaps – bringing people back together and restoring broken relationships between different people groups around the city.