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.

When family visits family for the first time

When family visits family for the first time

A full week has passed since my parents were able to spend some time with me in Southern California, but the memories are still as fresh as an orange picked right off the tree. We had a wonderful time together, eating carbo-licious Mexican food, reconnecting with cousins in the area, going whale- and dolphin-watching, visiting the beach at Corona del Mar...

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...misleading Mom into thinking that the Guardians of the Galaxy ride at Disney's California Adventure was an observation tower when it was really a freefall drop ride (this was taken before the terror ensued)...

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...and all-in-all enjoying each other's presence while hitting the highlights of Orange County and beyond.

But what really set this week apart from any other family vacation was that I was welcoming my parents to my newest home. I'm grateful to call many places home: Minnesota, Iowa and Germany are my top three. There are other, less obvious spots, too: Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University, where the Drake Choir would rehearse three times a week. A bakery in the village of Albersloh, Germany, where my grandmother lives. Lake Winona in Minnesota, where I have taken countless walks intentionally without headphones so I could soak up the sounds of nature and create space for reflection.

But I haven't had a home quite like the one at Príncipe de Paz. And for my family to experience it and be welcomed in the same unconditionally loving way that I was ... that was pretty awesome to witness. 

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Pastors Richard and Becky hosted us at their home in Anaheim on Monday afternoon. That evening, my parents met dozens of church attendees at our pizza fundraiser (which you can read about in the previous blog post). The following evening, at the church, the kids performed a mini-concert for my parents, made up of songs I taught them as well as others they had learned before I arrived. Afterwards, my dad taught them Jaws, one of his favorite camp songs. Some of the kids were so excited to meet my parents that they immediately hugged them when they saw them. One even drew pictures for them. 

I can't describe how much joy I felt to see this new bridge being built in front of my eyes. The memories of being welcomed at Príncipe de Paz will stick with me and my parents forever. In turn, I hope we can leave the kids and their parents with memories of a time when a family that didn't look like them just wanted to show up and experience their culture with no strings attached. I pray that there are many others who will do the same. We learn so much about ourselves and the world around us if we lower our walls enough to see what's on the other side.

In that spirit, I've been in touch with the La Verne Church of the Brethren, located about 40 minutes from Príncipe de Paz. My hope is to build some lasting bridges between the youth and young adults of these congregations, who, while part of the same denomination, are drastically different in terms of cultural makeup and the structure of worship services. 

I took a group of four Príncipe youth to the Sunday morning service at La Verne yesterday. We packed into my Honda Civic and sipped Starbucks drinks while talking about our future ambitions before arriving at the church.

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We participated in Sunday School class with five of La Verne's youth and reflected on the Colossians 3:12–15 scripture that inspired the theme of this year's National Youth Conference. The youth also wrote a letter to themselves about their hopes and intentions for the conference, and they will open the letter when they arrive in Fort Collins, Colorado, in July.

After that, we entered the majestic church sanctuary, sitting in the church balcony for the service. I could tell that the youth were blown away by how different everything was from what they were used to. One of them shared the following after our visit: "Walking into the church sanctuary, I was speechless. All I thought was 'wow.' Seeing the big choir and all the cranes hanging had me in awe. It was a big sanctuary but everyone seemed close to each other, not physically but mentally because it felt as if all members were included."

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She then added, "I felt very welcomed. Having so many members approach us and tell us that they were glad we were there didn’t make me feel as an outcast. They made it feel like a new home to us." 

Amen to that.

Busting fears and busting a move

Busting fears and busting a move

Building a bridge, one slice at a time

Building a bridge, one slice at a time