A former travel magazine editor, 29-year-old Midwest native Jess Hoffert is taking a 6-month break from the cubicle life to become immersed in the colorful culture of Southern California.

The moment you realize you're a wall and not a bridge

The moment you realize you're a wall and not a bridge

In all the chatter surrounding border walls these days, I've been reflecting on the not-so-visible walls that exist in our society. The walls that give white males like me a Fastpass to a good quality of life while others have to leap through countless obstacles. The walls that continue to allow 805 million people on our planet to be undernourished on a daily basis. The walls that make Sundays the most segregated day of the week in our country. 

And then I think, "What am I doing about it?" Outside of giving a few bucks a month to Heifer International and generally being...nice...I can't claim too many brownie points in the socio-economic wall-crushing department.

Which is one of many reasons I'm on this 6-month quest to discover what it means to be a bridge in our ever-divided world. January 5—my 29th birthday—will be my last day in Des Moines, Iowa, a place that I'm deeply proud to have called home for the past decade. This is where I went to college. Where I landed my first job out of college. And where I've spent the past six years working a dream job of traveling the Midwest, writing about it, and—believe it or not—getting paid to do it. This job has given me an incredible amount of satisfaction and valuable experience. The staff has been a joy to work with. And yet, over the past year or so, I've felt nudges to step outside corporate America for a moment and give back to the world in some way.

These nudges have come to me through various people and experiences. The first one landed in my life at a Church of the Brethren Young Adult Conference in the summer of 2016. One of our guest speakers was Richard Zapata, a charismatic, laid-back and cool-to-the-core Ecuadorian who ministers at Príncipe de Paz Iglesia de los Hermanos (Prince of Peace Church of the Brethren) in Santa Ana, California. I was quickly captivated by his love of church and family, his genuine devotion to the members of his congregation, and perhaps most of all, his boundless energy to make the world a better place in his corner of Southern California.

During his presentation at the conference, Richard invited the attendees to consider visiting Santa Ana and ministering to the Spanish-speaking congregants and surrounding community. I'm not sure if Richard seriously thought someone would take him up on that offer, but I never forgot about it. After months of discernment, I realized that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime shot for me to experience Hispanic culture, brush up on my Spanish language skills, and hopefully learn a thing or two about cultural bridge-building in a new corner of the world. I'm deeply humbled to say "yes" to the invitation, and I will be spending January 9–July 9 of this year in Santa Ana with Richard, his wife and co-pastor Becky, their family and their congregation.

This blog will include my experiences, musings, photos and whatever else comes to heart and mind during my time in Santa Ana. I will also be touching on the other nudges that led me to this point in life. I don't yet know exactly what I'll be doing during my six months, but I have a general sense that it will involve youth ministry and communications work. The adventurer in me loves the fact that my California life will be somewhat unplanned and go with the flow. The obsessive planner in me is utterly terrified. But even during moments of anxiety and sad goodbyes these past few weeks, my mind has often drifted to thoughts of deep gratitude for this opportunity. What a gift I've already been given, just to have time set aside for service and personal growth. I'm deeply indebted to Richard and his family, the church, my previous employer, and family and friends for their generous support.

I'll wrap up this first post with a photo taken of some of the members of Príncipe de Paz during their Christmas festivities. I met a handful of these folks during my first visit to the congregation this past August. But there are so many more people to get to know in what is sure to be a fleeting 6 months. I can't wait to share some of their stories with you.

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It's not adios, Iowa. It's hasta luego.

It's not adios, Iowa. It's hasta luego.