Yesterday on our drive along the Columbia Gorge we saw breathtaking vistas all along the way – mountains, peaks, the river, water sports… It is really a beautiful part of the country. The landscape and vegetation varied dramatically, sometimes quite suddenly – one moment we’re driving through dry, brown grasses and nothing but very small shrubs, and then we cross an invisible line and we’re in the midst of a pine forest. Borders… Similar sudden shifts were visible in housing and lifestyle as we moved away from the agricultural valley to the tourism-driven economy of the gorge. Just as suddenly Native Americans – and at least the more visible Spanish speaking population – were also absent.
My time in Yakima was quite surprising. I could really have spent a few more weeks there and may seriously need to consider returning. In a week I ended up on the front page of their local newspaper, on the radio and offering a public lecture – one that was seemingly quite well received. The impact and appreciation of the conversations were evident in our conversation with Carole and Steve over dinner our last night in Yakima…but also the question about next steps. Can churches be a resource to this conversation? I appreciated Steve’s skepticism and Carole’s desire for seizing opportunities.
I went to Yakima with the agenda of leading a Bible study with a group of immigrant women and spending time in the fields picking. The Bible study did take place, although with a much smaller group than I had envisioned. Was it the timing (during picking season)? The topic? (People are leery of church conversations and conversions, and perhaps just as much about talking openly about immigration). Still the conversation was rich and more than I could possibly absorb in the time that we spent together. Getting out to pick in the fields was another story. I can’t quite put my finger on why it didn’t happen. The arrangements I had made fell through because of the uncertainty and complexity of the harvest. In one case, the family ended up not picking the fruit at all because there is too much fruit in the market, and their crop had some issues and therefore the promised buyer didn’t want it. In another case, the grower I think grew cold feet about having me out there, so said instead he didn’t want to take work away from the folks who work for him regularly for whom this season is financially so significant. A number of other growers I contacted didn’t follow up. I could just have gone out myself to a large grower and asked for work, and I am sure that I would have found some, but I found myself hardly able to keep up with the connections I was making. I had incredible conversations with a wide variety of people and truly was just beginning to scratch the surface.
In the Bible study – like in the interview conversations and then later in the lecture – the challenge remains how to make this type of conversation happen and available to others. Carole’s reactions – and to some extent the reaction of others – was to place much of the reason for the nature of the conversation on me and the particulars of language, presence, style, etc. How do I write/create resources that can help others “do this at home”?