Weaver Wanders West

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It feels as if I'm dreaming, someone might need to pinch me...

It has been a very full month here, getting acquainted with my five amazing housemates, painting the Oakley House while job hunting (thanks, Dad, for teaching me to paint houses in high school!), and enjoying the beautiful state of Colorado. Looking back over the past several weeks, being here in Boulder has often felt like a dream. The sun peeking over the mountains. The bright, yellow aspen trees. The worn trails all around me. It’s easy to feel as though the beauty surrounding me is merely a dream world.

Then it starts to hit me—it’s not a dream at all, but a CHANGE.

Change often means giving something up, in exchange for something else, which is exactly what I did when I moved to COLORADO to pursue my passions and dreams. Life in Peoria was great— I loved my jobs, my friendships, my family, my church, but something was missing… I wasn’t doing what I was passionate about in life.

"You have to find your way back home again. Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself. It could be creativity, family, faith, service, or raising corgis.  Your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energizes with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential."  Elizabeth Gilbert


Like Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, I believe that home is much, much more than an address. Living in Peoria, I wasn’t devoting myself to what I loved “more than I loved myself.” So now, though my new “home” is in Colorado, I find my sense of “home” in fulfilling my passion.

 

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THE PASSION 

I’ve been doing ministry ever since I can remember. Growing up in a Christian home and attending a private Christian school provided me with the opportunities to be involved in worship teams, vacation bible schools, and missions trips. During my senior year, I went to Rwanda, Africa and learned so much for only having been there 2 weeks. I loved playing with the children and seeing the joy they had even with so little. I loved the music and the way they would sing praises to God.

It was not until I finally did YWAM, “Youth with a Mission,” in 2014, that my passion for ministry was narrowed down specifically to Refugee ministry, after spending 3 months in Lebanon and Egypt. My time was spent working in refugee camps, playing games with the children, and stopping to hear the unforgettable stories about their lives.

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THE VISION

My interactions with the refugees in Lebanon and Egypt made me want to do more, so I went to Lesvos, Greece about a year later, and spent time volunteering at a refugee registration camp called Moria. After coming home from Greece, I was able to take my photographs from both trips and share the stories from those I had personally met and start this refugee blog and several other exhibitions as well.

This vision I have for refugee ministry wasn’t happening in Peoria, since the majority of refugees living in Illinois are located in Chicago.

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I’m definitely not a big city girl, so… I of course moved to Boulder where I could roam free to be in the mountains with my camera and spend more time with the refugees living in Colorado.
I have dreams to start a refugee art ministry, taking portraits and sharing the stories of what the journey is like for those making their way to America. This ministry would also be a place to find safety, a place to create, and a place to dream. Art in many forms has always been a way of expression for me, and I want to create a space where men, woman and children can come to feel free. As of right now, my goal is to make connections with churches and organizations to see how I can help minister to their needs.

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THE MISSION
My first month here I started volunteering at a Burmese refugee homework club on Sunday afternoons. My first week there I mentioned I did photography and the girls got really excited. They asked me if I could teach them how to use a camera. Of course I was excited and said YES!  I’ve decided while I’m here I’m going to start photography classes for those wanting to learn how to use a camera, how to pose subjects, etc. I’m excited to use my passion for photography to connect with others.

The second opportunity I’ve had since being here was connecting with Hope in our City in Denver. This organization works mostly with Somilian refugees, and just recently was blessed with a building in Denver. I was able to attend one of their prayer meetings last week and will be volunteering with them while I’m here.

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The third connection I was able to make was with Cornerstone Boulder church. I’ve been attending Cornerstone Boulder the past five Sundays since being here, and I’ve been extremely blessed by the preaching and community. I was able to take some pictures for one of their Justice and Mercy Ministries working with human trafficking survivors this past month. This specific ministry is called Reintegra and they will be taking a trip to Mexico City to continue doing work there. They have asked me to go with them this December as part of the team doing photography and videography.

I have decided to go with them, but will need continued prayers and support.

The total cost of this trip is $1,500, which will cover travel, housing, food, and other needs for the trip. The church has graciously offered to pay for 50% of the trip, leaving me with $750 left to raise.

If you are interested in partnering with me, feel free to contact me through this blog or email: christen.weaver20@gmail.com

 

I am truly blessed to be here, and I can’t wait to see what else God has in store. 

Thank you for all your prayers and support! :)

No Ban, No Wall, Protest | Peoria, Illinois

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a protest in downtown Peoria. I was sitting at a stoplight on my way to 3030 Coffee downtown, and I heard a murmur of chanting down the street that made my heart leap. I made out the words, “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.” I was shocked! As a volunteer and activist for Syrian refugees, I thought to myself, is a protest for refugees really happening in Peoria? I was about to ordered my coffee from 3030, but found a friend who happened to have his camera on him. The two of us ended up walking over to the event to participate and document the protest.  

It was only about a year ago that I got back from spending a month volunteering with an organization called Euro Relief in Lesvos, Greece. The majority of my time was spent working in a clothing tent at a camp called Moria. We would have refugees come in with only the clothes on the backs and soaking wet. It was there in the camps, I was able to document the stories and photographs of the families as they passed through in hopes of making their way to Athens. The poverty caused by the war had made access to cameras nearly impossible, since they where only able to bring their most valuable possessions with them. It was so special to see their faces light up when they would see a family portrait for the first time!

When I came back to Peoria, I all the sudden felt removed from the refugee crisis and lost about how to bring about change. But that Saturday morning at the corner of Main and Perry, I saw hope for the future of Peoria and also hope for the Syrian refugees. After recognizing the energy from Peoria residents willing to spend their day in the cold protesting to bring about change, I was inspired to become more proactive about the refugee crisis with Peoria as my center for activism.

I wanted to know more about the No Ban, No Wall, Protest and how it came together, so I asked Peoria resident, Trey Mowder, a manager at 3030, how he first heard about the event. He told me the event was shared on Facebook, and also by word of mouth. Trey commented, “It was reassuring that people are supporting the same cause. I wanted to feel like I was doing something, being proactive.” He was also happy to see Peoria’s residents come together with such energy and care for the refugees. “If a town this small can do these things, imagine what Chicago or a bigger town could do.”

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Like Trey, I was surprised and heartened by the gathering of Peoria residents bringing awareness for the refugee crisis. With thoughtful conversations and proactive gatherings like this protest, Peoria can truly make a difference for Syrian refugees. 

SYRIAN REFUGEE EXHIBITION

 

Artist Statement:

As the war against ISIS continues and more and more refugees flee from Syria each and everyday, Lebanon stands as the world’s highest concentration of refugees per capita and continues to welcome refugees daily. A total of 2 million Syrians have traveled to Lebanon, a small country of around 4.5 million people, in hopes of finding peace from a violent war. I had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks with a NGO in an area known as the Beqaa Valley located in Lebanon. My team and I would spend our time working in UNHCR constructed camps where the majority of the refugees lived. Our time consisted of playing and making crafts with the children, sitting and listening to the women’s stories of their lives back home, drinking tea and distributing food. The statistics of refugees we hear about each and everyday became names and faces, and personal friends that I will never forget.

This specific collection of photographs shows that the refugees are not just a number or a statistic, but a person who deserves to have a voice. This truth began my project to show the lives of the refugees living in Lebanon. The photos display both the everyday lives of the refugees and the conditions they encountered. 

 

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