PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

“Despacito” is taking over my life

Despacito.” I hear it on the radio, in the office halls, and through the walls at night before I sleep. “Despacito.”

Firstly, I would like to say that my old housemate Abby and I listened to the Fonsi hit while it was on the way to the top but before it became uber popular. Yes, we have good taste in music, thank you. We would cruise around town listening to the local Spanish variety station on our way to Aldi, and she would practice her Spanish by translating for me.

But folks, a few months have passed, and the song is on fire now.

In the five weeks since I moved to Denver, “Despacito” has played everywhere. The Bieber version played on the car radio on the way to prayer. Two days later I was visiting a family from church and the six year old started to sing it. Then my roommate and I had a dance party to the hit and a number of other Spanish-language songs.

Actually, my whole house knows “Despacito” well. One of my housemates loves the song, and half the house hates him for it. But he is fluent in Spanish, so he can actually sing the words, and I liked the tune already, so I don’t mind.

I’ve even heard it sung by the Division Director at the refugee resettlement agency where I volunteer. I started to laugh in surprise as I passed him in the hall and asked him, “You’re singing Despacito?”

He replied, “Everyone seems to be these days.”

True that.

“Despacito” has officially infiltrated all the main facets of my life: church, home, and work. Today a woman at my internship played it for a mini dance break when we were feeling tired. And you know what? After hearing it everywhere I go, I still don’t mind.

About a month ago, one of my friends shared a link on Facebook that noted how “Despacito” was the first (mostly) Spanish song to top the American Billboard since “Macarena” in 1996, over 20 years ago. That’s huge. I wish it happened more often; there are certainly enough sweet Spanish-language hits, and the United States boasts so many Spanish speakers that it’s ridiculous not to have more Spanish songs in the mainstream.

The same friend then shared a post about Bieber’s utter disrespect for the Spanish language. I had already preferred the original because why water down a Spanish song with English? Again, we have enough English-language songs out there already. But especially after listening to the way Bieber glibly subbed in “burrito” and “Dorito” on multiple occasions when he did not remember the words, I only choose the original if I have an option.

Don’t disrespect the Spanish language. Don’t disrespect the people who speak it. Honestly, be more mature and honoring.

Even though I don’t think highly of Bieber, I’m glad the song itself is so popular. Props to the Latinx artists such as Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee for producing such catchy, high quality music.

Here’s to hoping more Spanish-language hits will top the American charts soon!

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Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Confession: I am a PK

The same twangy tune plays at the end of every Midwestern Mu Kappa Snow Camp, a man’s voice singing, “I’m an MK (missionary kid); I wouldn’t trade it. If there’s any better life, I couldn’t name it. Yes I’m an MK; I’m glad it’s true, and you can tell your folks you wanna be an MK too.” My friends and I have a lot of different thoughts on the song overall, but hearing it has made me realize something: I’m a PK (pastor’s kid), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My History

I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a church of thirty. Yes, thirty people. My dad did practically everything: setting up chairs, preaching, organizing the kids’ club on Wednesdays—everything except singing, that is. Mr. Jeff and I took over that for the sake of the congregations’ ears. When I wasn’t at school, music lessons, or friends’ houses, I was at church.

My Sundays began with a 9:15 a.m. Sunday school class through sixth grade, which later switched to a 9:00 worship practice and 10:30 church service. I helped lead worship; listened to my dad’s half hour message; chatted with the church family before, during, and after the service; and sometimes joined them at Wendy’s for lunch around 12:00. Mondays were my dad’s Sabbath from ministry, though he still had coaching and sometimes teaching or landscaping.

Wednesdays we went to Family Night at church, 5:45 p.m. on pizza nights and 6:30 on regular nights. There I first participated in and then led children in AWANA, an inclusive Bible club where kids memorize Scripture and play energetic, competitive games. The adult Bible study took place at the same time, making it easy for families to come and go together. For a few years we had youth group at that time, too.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

We did everything in the church. My dad even held his tonsil removal/birthday party there! Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

On Friday nights I attended a youth group at my friend’s church, where I would sometimes go for weekend conferences if I wasn’t leading worship. The church week never ended, and I was fine with that.

I never quite left the church grounds either. For several years, we lived in the parsonage, or what I called the “church house.” This meant I was seconds away from the actual church building, and Bible studies, Sunday school and youth group were in the living room or basement of the house itself.

If I haven’t made myself clear, I spent a lot of time at church as a PK.

Fighting Stereotypes

Toby Keith captures one of the stereotypes of being a pastor’s kid in his song, “God Love Her.” The young woman in the song is called “a rebel child and a preacher’s daughter.” The opposing stereotype is that PKs are goody two-shoes.

I suppose I have always hated stereotypes, because before I was passionate about racial conciliation or even aware of racial injustice, I fought against the PK stereotype. I didn’t face much flak for being a PK—perhaps because I was around so many Christians all the time, and my family was in good standing—but I overreacted when I did.

When the boy at church youth group said, “Oh you’re a PK” in a negative tone, I immediately countered him by saying, “And a coach’s kid and a teacher’s kid and a landscaper’s kid.” My point: don’t assume I fit the selected categories of (A) Goody-goody or (B) bad girl because of my dad’s job.

Reaching Understanding

Many people also thought that I loved Jesus more because my dad was a pastor. For about nineteen years of my life, I denied it: If my dad wasn’t a pastor or youth pastor, he would still love Jesus just as much. I would still have grown up in a Christian home. But both my parents are so involved in ministry that I cannot separate who they are from what they do. Others minister Christ’s love and grace in just law practice, honest accounting, cheerful mail delivery, compassionate medicine practice, truthful journalism, joyful car cleaning, patient retail work or tireless social work, and my parents do it through faithful church ministry.

When I turned twenty last year, I recognized that this has shaped me. I do not love Jesus more because I am a PK, but being in a Christian family devoted to church ministry certainly helped me to know God and see Him at work.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

My best friend, cousin, and I began a garden outside the church. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

As a PK, I had to make sacrifices that were not my choice. We did not have much money, and we did not enjoy the privileges many middle class Americans have. However, God always provided what we needed. We were never without food or housing, and we always had sufficient clothes for each striking New England season. God blessed us with loving friends and relatives, although Connecticut did grow lonely for my family, due in part to their status at church. In all the trials we faced, God taught us how to trust Him and how to pray. He gifted us with “daily bread”: exactly what we needed at any time, usually not more, but certainly never less.

Achieving Growth

At just the right time, God moved my family to a new place where they could thrive. They are still so involved in ministry that the church directory had to cut out the allotted “hobbies” section to fit all the ways they invest in the church. They enjoy friends, good jobs, and warmer weather. Life is not easy for them—my dad works three jobs including his youth pastor position, my mom has one, and my high school sister has a couple—but God provides for all their needs.

My children, if I am blessed to have any, will likely face similar challenges, though with a cross-cultural component since I plan to do ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I doubt they will have much materially, at least by American standards, but I believe they will have all they need in order to rely on God and know his goodness.

I cannot predict how they might respond to the MK song, but as long as they love the Lord, I will be pleased.

 

 

 

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Inspiring youth, Independence Day, and the DRC

Fifty-seven years ago on June 30, the Democratic Republic of Congo won its independence. While I won’t go into a political history right now, I will celebrate Independence Day by telling you about my generation and how amazing they are.

Congolese youth are artists, talented photographers and musicians. They are teachers of elementary students and ESL learners. They are preachers and leaders and peacemakers. They are aspiring doctors.

They are aware of their socioeconomic status in their country and their country’s status in the world. They are thinkers and doers. They are innovators and prayer warriors.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Blackman Bausi recording with Skye. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

My friends, Congolese men and women in their teens, twenties, and thirties, are hilarious, too—just ask me about Charles sometime. They are humble, kind, and very passionate. They are dedicated students and worship leaders and evangelists and creatives. They are uncomplaining friends, patient mamas and brothers and husbands.

They are amazing.

I wish I could tell you about each of my friends in detail – Victoire, Blackman Bausi, Patricia, Patrick, Clarice, Dieum, Sumaili, and so many other dear ones. You could meet some of them or get to know other incredible Congolese youth by visiting Un Jour Nouveau (Africa New Day) in Goma, actually. UJN is always happy to have visitors.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Some youth at UJN after Sports Sunday at church. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Organizations like UJN in Goma and Congo Initiative in Beni work with and employ these youth for social change and a better Congo. They teach Christian leadership and peace in a country tarnished by suffering yet underlaid with resilient beauty. They are part of Congo’s ongoing history.

I’ll say it again: my generation is part of our country’s history. The youth are making change.

Today we celebrate the freedom we have from colonialism. Today we celebrate our victories. Today we remember what we have accomplished personally and as a nation, and we strive forward towards a brighter future.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Me and one of my best friends, Dieum. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Happy Independence Day!

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That moment when you forget you have chronic pain

 

Two of my friends are marrying each other in a few weeks, and they are planning a boat trip the day before the wedding. I was talking to one of them about it, asking how to RSVP, and he said he was not sure if I would be able to participate in the day trip due to my back, since the activities involve hiking.

My friend was very considerate and left the options open to what I thought I could handle, but he remembered what I forgot: that I have chronic pain that affects my daily life.

I forgot this because the boat trip sounded fun. I forgot this because I am a socially active person. I forgot this because I am relatively physically active as well. I forgot this because I was feeling strong during that conversation.

Chronic pain and illnesses are odd in that they do not always manifest themselves. I can go a week carrying my guitar on my back and walking to the library, dancing around the house, and lifting babies so they can “fly.” I will have discomfort and pain in this time, will potentially take some ibuprofen to ward off the stronger pain I feel coming, and will certainly require several massages to keep going in this time, but I will still feel relatively strong.

(My definition of feeling strong means being able to walk without having to think about it.)

But then I will have a breakdown. The pain will grow too strong, and an inexplicable weakness will overcome me. Tears will come, my limbs will go weak, and I will lie on a couch or the floor and have to talk to myself again and again and again in order to sit up or move my legs.

“Okay Skye, you’re okay. You’re okay. Move your leg. Move it. MOVE YOUR LEG. Come on, Skye, sit up. Oops, you’re not moving. Why aren’t you moving, Skye? Silly. There you go. Try again. Good, okay, let’s sit up now.”

Sometimes I will be strong in the morning and have a breakdown at night.

Sometimes I will have a totally strong day.

Sometimes I will have a totally bad day.

Breakdowns tend to happen once a week, on weekends, on Sundays. (The devil still cannot stop my worship to the one true God and my Healer.) However, I cannot predict when I will have a good or bad day.

I asked my soon-to-be-wed friend to pray for me to have strength during the entire wedding weekend. I told him I would plan to go on the boat trip but would cancel that day if need be. I absolutely love hiking, so I really want to go.

And who knows? Maybe the Lord will heal me by then. It has been seven years of pain so far. I think it is about time to enter a year of Jubilee and be rid of this pain. Don’t you?

 

 

Some say refugees. I say friends.

I spend nearly every day of the week hanging out at the houses of refugees or having them over my place. On weekends many of us attend church together, all weekend long. On weekdays others of us eat lunch together; I always look forward to 12:30. Several of us practice music together, all of us converse together and call out the ways we appreciate each other, and some of my acquaintances who are refugees open up their houses till midnight to share ugali and rice and greens and fish.

Just this Sunday, I visited a Congolese pastor’s house as a stranger and left with an invitation to return anytime. As I left, he made sure to point out his apartment number and floor so I could find it next time. Thank you, Pastor David.

I recently realized that I talk about my friends who are refugees differently than I talk about my native-born American friends, particularly those who are white or monocultural. Sometimes this lends context, but it can also be problematic if lending to an othering effect.

“Reaching out to” or “serving” our refugee neighbors or any marginalized population in order to feel good about ourselves hinders us from fully engaging with the group being “served.” When we do this, we are looking through a lens of power versus powerless. Although we may be doing good deeds and growing in our understanding of particular refugee populations, subconsciously thinking in terms of power dynamics blocks our hearts from receiving love.

We native-born Americans are not the saviors. But we can be good friends.

Here’s an idea: let’s develop deeper friendships so refugees become fully human in our eyes, fully capable of giving while still fully needy, like us native-born American humans. Let’s open our hearts to receive love from the strangers and soon-to-be-friends we seek to welcome.

While the humanity of refugees is not a question, it is important to note that the human experiences of refugees have been shaped by horrors like war and statelessness. Refugees have experienced things most native-born Americans have not. Their experiences will vary by age and country and contingency. The histories of the countries they have fled and lived in have shaped them in significant ways. The color of their skin will also impact their life chances once in the United States. We must consider the systems in place that affect their daily lives.

Refugees in the United States have overcome a lot: less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled, and it is common to spend almost two decades in camps or foreign cities before coming to the US, if granted status here.

Yet once they receive this status and move yet again, they come to a land that often treats them poorly.

Several of my Congolese-American friends have told me that Africans do not believe them when they say the United States is not heaven. (I witnessed this over
-admiring attitude firsthand in DRC myself.) But the truth is that when they come to the United States, they can barely make rent. Their living conditions are not necessarily significantly different. They start at the bottom of the workforce. Academic degrees do not always carry over to the American system. In short, life is still quite difficult.

Take pause today to consider these injustices. Do a little research. Sleep on what you discover. Wake up woke.

Now take pause to consider the ways refugees give to your community and the United States, the ways you have seen them serve. Thank them for their contributions. Be creative about it.

Today I stand with countless global citizens to celebrate world refugee day. It has been a truly splendid day full of energy and smiles and even a bit of dancing (see the InTandem – a Flashmob of Empathy video below from Denver’s World Refugee Day rally.) I particularly think of the ways my friends are bettering my life through their hospitality and friendship and food. The main ingredients I have noted are time, love, and ugali, given in generous portions. I am grateful for my friends who are refugees and am incredibly glad to be a part of their lives as they are in mine.

Les Worshipers repetition, UJN PC: KSB

Masauti ya nyumbani (Sounds of home)

Every night I fell asleep to the sounds of my neighbors partying, the dance music audible through the thin walls and crimson drapes. Every morning a rooster awoke before the sun and squawked along with my morning alarm. I usually crashed at 20:30 and rose at 5:45 to prepare for the long work day at Un Jour Nouveau, a Goma-based Congolese organization “equipping men, women, and children to transform the culture of Congo through Christ-centered education, reconciliation, and leadership.”

“Siku muzuri,” I’d greet the smiling guards, Carlos and Jonathan, before crossing the road to Mama Esther’s house for breakfast. The sun gleamed off Lake Kivu and illuminated the vibrant foliage and bright flowers in her yard, where I waited for my driver, Fabrice, to take me further into our smoky city of one million. We’d drive over gray-brown rutted dirt roads, past blue Vodacom signs and red Airtel stands, around the turnabout with its statue and construction and occasional military presence, by the pastry store and banana booths to the Center. Fabrice would play “Alpha Omega” by Gael until we arrived.

Then English classes and staff prayer and lunch and piano lessons and worship practice ensued, filling my day with countless people and immense joy. Praises from Les Worshipers, the church choir, echoed off the rooftop and across the street (see video below). It seemed someone was always playing a keyboard or picking on the guitar, and the afternoons were bright with the sound of children’s voices. (I was often one of the people playing guitar and singing, whether in English class or choir repetition.) The sun set by 18:00, I went home for dinner with the family, chatted with my crazy wise and hilarious housemates and began the cycle again.

Goma is a home to me. Charles’ questions and chuckle, Denis’ melodic voice singing “Nakwimbea leo nafuraha” in church, Happy Fanny yelling my name across the yard, Mama Julienne’s Swahili at lunch hour, Jenni’s hearty laugh, Dieum playing “Napesi” on keys — these are some of the sounds of home. I don’t know if I’ll return to UJN and all the particular voices and people I love so dearly, but I do plan to return to Congo. And I cannot wait.

 

Montana. PC: KSB

“My grace is sufficient”: praising God in the face of chronic back pain

“You’re too young to be in pain like this,” they tell me. I shrug and grin sadly. It doesn’t change that I have had chronic back and neck pain for the past six or seven years. I’m only 21.

In high school I went to the chiropractor about once a year for back pain. I thought this was normal, and maybe it was. Doctor Metzger was great, and I appreciated the adjustments he gave when my bones needed it. I also appreciated his honesty, jovial personality, and belief in natural medicine. But in college the pain intensified.

I remember lying in bed in Denver the summer after my freshman year, crying and praying that I could move my body in order to get up. My cousin Jonathan prayed for me from two time zones away, a bad chiropractor stole my money, and I wasn’t well enough to hike in the Rockies. Then sophomore year began.

I composed a mental list of friends who could massage well so I wouldn’t overburden one person when I desperately needed some relief. These student masseuses have been incredibly kind over the years, and I am deeply thankful to these friends. Yet even the most thorough massages would not be effective for long. At first they helped for a couple weeks, then a day or so, then only a few hours. Now they don’t do much at all except to provide very temporary relief and comforting physical touch.

The pain makes college more difficult since I spend all my energy controlling it, which hinders my learning in class and tires me out when it comes time to do homework. Praise the Lord that I have made it this far, with only a few months left until graduation! Although my back and neck issues have caused me to struggle, I am still on track to graduate. I know others whose diseases have set them behind or caused them to drop out of school.

About a year ago, I was in constant pain, and approximately once a week I would break down and not be able to walk, since the pain translated into a weakness in my extremities. I remember collapsing and sobbing in a pile of leaves after church one Sunday, unable to walk the quarter mile from church to the main campus building. Dry leaves served as my tissues, and after the tears had released enough tension in my back, I managed to walk home with multiple rest stops. Typically the pain would build back up over the course of a week until my next breakdown. The pain was usually worst on Sundays, which I understood as a spiritual attack.

This pain hindered not only my own body but also my work in Goma, DRC, this past summer. When I was too weak to teach English one day, I lay crying on a couch in the director’s office and then held my friend Clarice’s hand. My driver took me across Goma to search for medicine so I could prevent more breakdowns and work again.

The pain came to a climax in the first week of my senior year this past fall when I broke down four times in one week. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish college although I’d worked so hard to get to this point and God had shown himself so faithful to bring me there. I began going to doctors and having my friends carry my bags and support me physically as I walked.

I have learned to ask for help when I need it, for I cannot do everything on my own. I am weak on my own. But I am not alone, not with God’s Spirit in me and His people around me.

I’ve been to chiropractors in recent years, but they can’t offer an explanation and don’t do much to help my larger problem. X-rays say my bones are fine. Finally I went to an alternative doctor who confirmed that my problems aren’t structural but rather a conglomeration of internal issues that have built up over years and manifested especially in my shoulder and neck — viruses I’ve had since birth or gotten from a vaccine, strep in my shoulder, and so on. No wonder massages and chiropractic adjustments couldn’t fix me.

This doctor’s remedies have helped a great deal, allowing me to go even weeks without thinking about the pain, although my back would still be uncomfortable at times. What a gift! But a little after Christmas break, the pain started to worsen again. Two weeks ago, I had to stop six times on the four block walk from my house to the place where we had worship practice because I wasn’t strong enough to carry my guitar. I just kept praying, “Yesu, Yesu, Yesu,” taking strength in the name of Jesus.

When I arrived at worship practice, the pianist was playing “Because of Who You Are.” I asked her to keep playing piano, just keep playing, and I laid on the ground and cried. That afternoon I decided to praise God regardless of my pain. I told Him and my team that even if I suffer with this pain for the rest of my life, I will give Him glory and praise.

Since then, I have taken new joy in my suffering. Instead of neglecting God in my trials, I will turn to Him. He has shown himself to be mindful and good and gracious and faithful, and my life would be desolate without the hope Jesus gives. The Bible promises that God will make everything new, and I long for that restoration. Meanwhile, God has given me incredible friends to support me emotionally and help me in my physical need, people who pray for me, and people who can relate to me and guide me along. I am blessed.

I believe Jesus heals, and I’ve witnessed Him do it multiple times in multiple places from Goma to Wheaton. I don’t understand why he heals some people and not others or why some people are healed on the spot and others wait for years. In all this, I do know that His love is constant and faithful and sweet. And I will praise Him for all my days on this broken earth and in heaven where all things are made whole.