The Eighth & Edinburgh
VOL. 1, NO. 1 | OCTOBER 2016
In The Beginning
Forty-three days and nights of Edinburgh have brought a flood of emotions and gifts. I adopted two new families, or rather they adopted me. Both the Bethany Christian House clan and my church family quickly filled the void and scooped up this South Dakotan. In addition to my families, I’ve also adopted the role of helping with the monthly newsletter appropriately titled Bethany Banter, and this past Wednesday I led a house outing to the cinema to see The Magnificent Seven.
When I’m not spending time with these folks, I have been dusting off several hobbies. A lack of homework has given me time to tend to my indoor plants and herbs, bake an unmentionable number of banana bread loaves, hit the gym nearly every day, and cook healthy meals with fresh food. Learning a new language was a hurdle I wasn’t prepared to leap over, but my ears are finally tuned into the Scottish station. “What?” is no longer my first response to everything, and I resort to the “smile and nod” method less frequently. I did, however, adjust to the Scottish banter rather quickly. I’m actually certain these are my people since they say, “Teasing is an indication that someone likes you.” With that being said, I’m often dishing up and getting showered by banter so the next ten months are looking bright.
Thank you for reading, and keep a lookout for the the November issue which will appear in your inbox on the 8th of November. If reading this is more enjoyable than scrubbing the toilet, raking the leaves, or taking the garbage out, you can also read my blog. (Find the link below!) Posts pop up there once or twice per week. Cheers, friends!
And He asked, “May I have this dance?”
In addition to serving as a missionary with the Young Adults in Global Mission program, I’m also a Time for God (TfG) volunteer. Last Monday morning, at six minutes past eleven, I boarded my train for a TfG conference in Leeds, England. As the British countryside began to fill my vision in gradually blurry frames, Australian accents tickled my eardrums. What joy! If you know more than my name, you’re likely aware of how my summer in Perth, Western Australia empowered and inspired subsequent life decisions. The Australians on the train quickly became my friends too, and as the landscapes flew past, the three-hour-ride flew by. Self-proclaimed “caravanners,” one of the pairs referred to “home” as being on the road and had endless stories from their experiences in countless countries. Needless to say, I enjoyed the journey to Leeds far more than the three days in Leeds.
The conference concluded on Thursday morning with a final reflection. During the session, the speaker played a video titled, “Why Your Life is Not a Journey.” (See prior post to watch.) Initially, I reacted to the title with skepticism; however, my body responded by producing goosebumps. It was the answer to my prayers for an answer for those who ask what I’m doing over here.
Cognizant that some people judge my year abroad as travel, I hope to clarify. This is not a trip, vacation, holiday, journey, retreat, break, recess, or gap year. It’s a dance. A what? I’m dancing. After all, dancing is the purpose of life. (If you just wrinkled your nose, modern society has effectively destroyed your sense of wonder and playfulness.) “But Kat, you’re only 22. You don’t have sufficient experience to know the purpose of life.” I’ll be honest, I know little. But do you sing a song to reach the last note? Do you dance to strike a final pose? Do you live each day in anticipation of the final one?
Forgive me if I have not given you a complete answer to, “Why did you choose to leave your family, friends, boyfriend, and potential jobs to volunteer in Scotland for one year?” I needed to see that video before I could appropriately reply. I am here because I enjoy staring out the window, hearing another’s story, and walking in the rain. My goal is not to lengthen my resume, save my money, or retire. I am living and experiencing, playing and dancing. Maybe I’m a dud, but at least I escaped the conveyor belt.
David W. Orr wrote, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people, but it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”
So, would you like to dance?
“Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” – Psalm 150:3-6
Written on September 15, 2016
It's the Wee Things
1. A random act of kindness from a colleague in the form of a Sudoku book in your work box
2. Invitations from strangers to attend free Salsa lessons, to visit their home in England, and to enjoy a complimentary meal at a new restaurant
3. Accompaniment of urban foxes on evening walks home from the gym
4. Friendly rectors, intriguing sermons, and church opportunities to volunteer with children
5. IKEA plants and herbs that require nurturing, yet offer fresh air and a reminder of home
6. Bethany House residents who remember your name, and staff members who afford grace as you learn
7. When familiarity converts a map from essential to expendable
8. Days chockfull of reading, running, worshipping, wandering, and writing
9. Inaugural loaves of chocolate chip banana bread that flood the apartment with an irresistible and almost visibly delicious fragrance
10. Daily confusion provoked by the Scottish accent and slang
“Then they accompanied…”
It is Sunday, and although I’m still plagued with jet-lag, I yearned to connect more with the community. David and Dana, the “YAGMs” here in Edinburgh before me, recommended a church. Since Lutherans are rarer than peanut butter in Scotland, I took their suggestion of an Episcopalian service. Waking up early, I hopped on the 22 and headed to P’s and G’s, the nickname for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church. Allocating time for my inevitable confusion, I left the flat plenty early; however, I found the building with relatively little trouble and was one of the first worshipers present. As a true Lutheran, I chose a chair near the rear and by the aisle. As others began to arrive, I prepared to sit alone.
Since it was the early service, I also prepared to be one of the youngest present. So when Ben arrived and sat in the row in front of me, I was surprised. Then he got up, walked back to the aisle and asked if he could sit next to me. Of course! Outside of those at Bethany House (who are obligated to be friendly to me and whom I already love), he was my first friend in Scotland! Ben grew up in Hungary and moved to Scotland to study maths and music at the University of Edinburgh. Enthusiastically, he described the differences between all the church’s services and encouraged me to attend another sometime. During the bits of the service where the congregation reads together, I found myself having to commit significant self-restraint not to speak with a Scottish accent. I wasn’t expecting that.
The sermon centered on Acts 20, Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders, and discussed the importance of positively and humbly accompanying others, which requires perseverance. After the service the preacher approached me, introduced herself, and invited me to attend other church events. After coffee and biscuits, Ben helped me find a bus stop to get home. It was a restful and lovely Scottish Sunday all-in-all.
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Written on August 28, 2016
Hawthornvale to Goldenacre
The tiny shops, cozy and kind
Lead me to and receive me from
The green walkways tucked beneath
Cobblestone roads and hurried folk.
A green backdrop frames the final
Daytime gesture. Upstairs the leaves
Foster courage and prepare to
Earn freedom from the canopy.
The tree remnants adorn the paths.
Hawthornvale to Goldenacre
And then back again. A fox ahead,
Black cat beside, lampposts o’erhead
And fog’s embrace escort me home.
Written on September 22, 2016
With so much going on, I still try to post a few stories a week so feel free to keep up-to-date by checking back frequently.
Yellow, sushi, ultimate frisbee, the Amazing Race, children, funny greeting cards, Gilmore Girls, banana bread, and exploring are a few of my favorite things. Katherine Van Gerpen is my name, yet most people call me Kat. Home will always be Pierre, South Dakota, but during the last four years, I studied nursing at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Now the magic of my wandering feet has landed me in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year. On behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am serving as a Young Adult in Global Mission volunteer at Bethany Christian House, a hostel for homeless individuals.
One quote has been a daily inspiration to me for several years. David W. Orr wrote in his book Earth in Mind, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world more habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” Since reading this, I have continued to chase both tiny and grand opportunities to create peace, heal pain, restore hope, tell stories, and love others. Thank you for your support. I hope my stories portray the warmth and joy this often rainy and overcast city daily offers me.