I’ve compiled this posting over the last few days, so some of the references to days may be a little off.
So I’ve come to rural Georgia . . . willingly. Many of my friends have been shocked by this, and I must admit I never thought I’d find myself here, especially after telling people I wanted to ski for the winter (but that’s another blog entry that I’ll have to write later). But I have a reason to be here (at least until May) and so far it’s been a great experience. The Christian community I am a part of is called Jubilee Partners. It’s is a liberal oasis located in northeast Georgia. The property is situated on the border of the town limits of Comer in Madison County, supposedly the county with the most chicken coops of anywhere in the country. That should give you an idea of the setting. The property here is really pretty (but maybe it just seems that way so far because the humidity hasn’t set in), it’s a mix between camp and a farm. It has permanent residents, volunteers like me who come in for few months at a time, and refugees who live in their own homes a little further away on the property for two months before they are permanently resettled by an agency in Atlanta. I have to say that after being here a week I hardly noticed the fact that I was in Georgia (perhaps that was due to unseasonably cold temperatures that have hit the South and remained here for several days. So much for breaking out my t-shirts in January!). Until a walk with another volunteer yesterday I hadn’t even left Jubilee property in four days. The small town of Comer remains to be explored (as does much larger, nearby Athens which I hope to get to this weekend), but we have a volunteer group date for Saturday night at the local pizza place that will no doubt give us a great introduction to the small town.
However, tonight, the first Friday night since arriving at Jubilee Partners, a group of us headed out a few miles down the road to a “gospel bluegrass” concert held in a building called the “Gospel Tabernacle.” It was incredibly, stereotypically southern. If I didn’t think I was in Georgia before, I know without a doubt that I am now. The band was full of very talented musicians and very opinionated singers. With lyrics something along the lines of, “I won’t trust that rag head, diaper head, to fly my plane . . .” nonchalantly stuck in the song I could no longer deny that I found myself in red state. I considered walking out and running in a northwestern direction as fast as possible about the time that the lead guitarist began his preaching about his granddaddy who was a sharecropper who survived the depression and how he was an honest, hard-working man unlike people today. When the political commentary came out about how we need to get the “bums out of the white house” during the next election and go back to the “old way” because everything “new is bad” I could no longer keep a straight face or look at the speaker. Thankfully I was sitting next to another volunteer who is from the Bay Area so I could quietly moan to her as the man spoke of his conservative agenda.
Despite this abrupt encounter with southern culture, I am very thankful to have come to Georgia to be a part of a progressive Christian community that is anti-war, anti-racism, anti-death penalty and has some incredibly interesting thoughts and intentions. I may be in the South, but the environment I live in is incredibly unique, for any location. I have told most people that I came here to teach English to refugees, which is true, but there are quite a lot of other details about my time here. Jubilee Partners is an organization that began thirty years ago and branched off from the parent organization called Koinonia located in southwestern Georgia. Koinonia is also the organization from which the idea for Habitat for Humanity branched off. So Koinonia, Habitat for Humanity, and Jubilee Partners have all been founded or started by many of the same people but have remained separate organizations with slightly different intentions. I’m sure I will be able to recite all of this much more comprehensively after I read the book With Our Own Eyes that Don Mosely (one of the founders of Jubilee Partners and Habitat) has written about his whole experience. So I will be teaching English to refugees from the country of Burma a few times a week and taking care of the refugee children a couple times a week while their parents are in English classes. Much of the rest of my time during the “work day” will be jobs that help to contribute to the whole community. We have been given assignments based on our preferences and I am also helping to prepare guest rooms for the many visitors that come through, I will work as a correspondent assistant to one of the partners (a partner is simply a long-term resident at Jubilee, unlike me who is just a short-term volunteer), I will do various painting jobs around the property, help be a host to the college groups who come here on spring break, along with the normal chores of everyone in the community to do laundry, clean, work in the garden, prepare meals, do dishes, etc. We live simply here without TVs, little access to internet, growing much of our own food, raising a milk cow, goats, and chickens and creating much of our own fun and entertainment. I’ve already gotten out Scattergories once and I’m hoping that is just the first of many future appearances! Since I do have some time to take a break and reflect on all that has happened in the past several months during quieter moments here, I have great ambitions of being able to reflect on and write/blog about some of my experiences throughout the fall of traveling and visiting many friends.
Today, is now Sunday and I’ve come to Athens for church. My friends from Wyoming who went to UGA told me of a church to check out. To my surprise, though none of my friends who I worked with in Wyoming this summer live in Athens anymore, they were all at church this morning visiting!! It was a great surprise to see all of them sitting nearby. Last night, the other volunteers and I headed out for a night on the town at the local pizza place in Comer. It was fantastic, particularly because it was karaoke night! Caleb, one of the other volunteers, made his debut karaoke appearance in Comer and did quite well, but the show was stolen by the nine-year who sang (with attitude) “Gunpowder and Lead” and “Before He Cheats,” two sassy country songs. It was hilarious. There are two other karaoke nights coming up and we’ve already noted the dates so we can make a return appearance.
As I was sitting outside “Jittery Joes” coffee shop today after church talking on the phone to my friend Molly in Germany, an Oscar Meyer weiner car drove by. I had to interrupt Molly to tell her of what I was witnessing on the street. She of course cracked up and said something that I feel captures my thoughts on being in the south exactly: “To paraphrase John Mayer, ‘Why Georgia, why?'”
Maybe in a few months I’ll be able to answer that question. For now, it still remains a mystery 🙂