Sunday, January 18, 2015

King Cake Season

January 18, 2015

One of the traditions that goes along with Mardi Gras is King Cake. What is King Cake? Essentially, it's a cake that tastes like a cinnamon roll and has a plastic baby in it. Why? Because that baby represents Jesus. One the twelfth night of Christmas, the kings made their way to the baby Jesus, thus beginning the season of Epiphany. During this Epiphany season New Orleanians traditionally host parties that have this King Cake. In one slice, there is a plastic baby. If you get the slice with the baby, you are to host the next party and bring/make the next King Cake. While the tradition of hosting King Cake parties isn't as common any more, the cake itself is still very alive. At the after-school tutoring program, we have had King Cake both weeks so far and it has indeed been glorious. Google a recipe and do it yourself!

Things that have happened since Thanksgiving:

-Christmas! I got to go home and visit my family and friends, even if only for a few short days. It was so fun and I'm very grateful for all that I have.
-Immediately following Christmas I brought down the college group from MSPC for a mission trip. This was the first mission that was hosted at Lakeview Presbyterian, but all went well. I loved spending time with Kyle, Sarah, Kevin, Michael, Ginny, and Kristen. Catching up with old friends in new places is really great.
-So then they left and college friends came down for New Years Eve! We spent that night in the French Quarter, particularly in Jackson Square. There was free music, good fellowship, and a grand time had by all.
-The YAVs moved into a new house. It's in another part of town, so now I get to learn another part of this city! Stressful, but good.

So then real life started up again. But it's not a sad thing. I'm loving the work I'm doing.  Mardi Gras is around the corner. Life is good. Thank you all for your support. God Bless!
-John

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The month of Thanksgiving



November is the month of Thanksgiving. As a YAV, I have so many things for which to be thankful.

My Home Life. I grew up in a neighborhood where it’s safe to walk along the street at night. There was always had food on the table. Good food. I got to go to Chuck E Cheese for spring break in elementary school. New Disney movie just came out? You bet I got to see it. I never had to use public transit as a child; then getting a car once I had my driver’s license. I had a loving church family that led me on mission trips all over the US. I had a great public education, attending some of the best public schools in Kentucky. I am so blessed and thankful for all of my childhood.

My Friends. There are some people in my life that are always there for me. I can call them and say, “I’ve had a bad day. Can you talk?” They walk away from what they’re doing and listen. I have friends who are willing to pick me up from the airport, cook food for me, sit and watch Titanic when my knee gives out on me again, make corny videos with me, learn new things with me, just sit and be, call me out when I’ve done something wrong, sing songs at the top of their lungs, watch tv shows, and make my life so fulfilling. It’s these people that make my life so joyous now and I’m thankful.

My Parents.  Cindi and Greg Kupar are the best parents I’ve ever had (yes they’re the only parents I’ve ever had). They are always taking care of me when I’m in trouble, hurt, or sick, but also insuring I grow up to be the best person I can be, challenging me to do new things. They taught me so many life skills that I utilize today, instilled (what I think to be) good morals, and never left me to fend for myself. If I need anything, they’re there to help.

My Faith Community. Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church is my home. Nothing compares. There are people who supported me through my childhood, college, and now in my years in of service. I’m so blessed to have a group of people who are there for me. It really means a lot. I’m so thankful.

There are so many things in this life to be thankful for. I’m thankful I can take a hot shower. I’m thankful I can have hot coffee in the morning. I’m thankful to be able to eat Raising Cane’s. I’m thankful for my guitar. I’m thankful to have a bed to sleep in every night. I’m thankful for college basketball. I’m thankful for jackets. I’m thankful for sunglasses. I’m thankful for the internet. I’m thankful for cheese. I’m thankful for chocolate, alarm clocks, the sun, cars, my housemates, sweatpants, and birthdays.

I’m most thankful to be put on this earth in a time and place where I’m free to explore my faith, without war, without famine, without extreme grief. I’m thankful I can glorify God in my actions, daily life, and hopefully the rest of my life.

Thank you thank you thank you.

-John

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

November 4, 2014

Life in New Orleans is awesome! There are so many cool opportunities here that are so unique to the area. Last month us YAVs got the opportunity to go out on the bayou and see first-hand how the wetlands are disappearing. The bayous are widening and land is being lost. I don't feel that I can fully inform you, but here are some striking facts to know:
- In Louisiana, a football field of land goes under water every 48 minutes. (HOLY CANOLI)
- The saltwater intrusion has visible effects such as "ghost" trees and dolphins in the bayou (pics below)
- Two million people will be directly affected by the disappearing wetlands
Bayou with boats on it.

Left to Right: Bennett, Hannah, Katherine, Colleen, John, Vincent, Jennifer

Dolphins in the bayou


Cypress ("Ghost") Trees dying from saltwater intrusion
It's a problem. Love the earth. You don't know what effect your actions can have on future generations. If you'd like to sign up for the disappearing wetlands newsletter to learn more, go to facebook.com/disappearingcoast and click the "Newsletter Sign-Up" on the left hand side under the About section.

On a different note, the YAVs have 4 beds in a community garden near our house. Throughout the year we are to maintain them as they serve as an excellent way to acquire fresh produce in our house. We had a work day a few weeks ago. Here are some pictures:

Katherine planting.



Neighborhood kids (& Vinnie) painting a bed.

Hannah painting a sign.
 
The signs I painted.
Other things that have happened outside of my work site placements:
- Oktoberfest. It was amazing. Polka dancing FTW.
- Helped unload ~4000 pumpkins for a pumpkin patch that supports a homeless ministry
- Rock N' Bowl. They have a band in the bowling alley. How sweet is that?
- Preseason Pelicans Game. Anthony Davis & Darius Miller!
- Presbytery meeting.
Left to Right: Bennett, Vinnie, Hannah, John, Katherine

Vinnie and me at the Pelicans game!

Life here has been pretty busy. In the summer at the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ (where I work for the after school program), they have a camp for a few weeks. This past summer it attracted about 60 neighborhood kids. Once a month throughout the year we invite any kids that attended camp the previous summer to come for a camp reunion. During this time we normally share a meal, have a quick lesson, and do some fun activity. For the October camp reunion, the coach of the De La Salle High School basketball team came to give kids a quick basketball clinic. The kids loved it.
Here's their group huddle at the end:
Life in New Orleans is going well. I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to be here. I really couldn't be here without your support. Thank you all.

-John

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October 9, 2014

How 'bout them Cats? Right? Starting off 4-1 with the next game against UL-Monroe? Loving this. The football team is here to stay. This year is definitely much better when it comes to watching sports. I don't have to get up super early for the east coast noon games. I have housemates who root for SEC teams. People here care more about college football than in LA. It's nice to be back in the south.

I guess you're not here to listen to me talk about UK are you? A couple of weekends ago I got the honor of going to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, a PC(USA) retreat center. I was there for a transition retreat for my first YAV year. It was a time to see my fellow YAVA (Young Adult Volunteer Alumni) and talk about the challenges and triumphs of our year. Emily Warren was there! She is from Lexington as well and just finished her 2nd YAV year in Nashville. One of the speakers for the weekend was David LaMotte. You should definitely look him up. He's very insightful and an excellent musician. On top of debriefing my year in Hollywood, I got to see a little bit of the southwest, an area I've never explored. I'm so thankful for my year in Hollywood, and am really excited to go to Ghost Ranch again after this year in New Orleans.








New Orleans' weather is better now. It doesn't rain nearly as often. This past weekend the high was in the 70s and the humidity was much lower. It really felt like fall. And I totally got to see a lunar eclipse, so take that cloudy places. Oktoberfest is coming up soon, and I am super excited to get my German on. Yayuh!

In our community we've started reading a book titled Don't Be Nice. Be Real. It speaks to the needs of ourselves and how we must meet them to be happy. While the beginning is rather intense, I've eased up on it and am finding the meat of the book rather enjoyable. Essentially, if you don't address your needs, then your life is less joyful. It utilizes the idea of Nonviolent Communication. If you've never heard of this, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the book, or looking into it online. It could change how you look at conversation and conflict.

What about work? I do that too. The kids at the after-school tutoring are comfortable with me now. I'm not that awkward adult-like guy standing in the corner anymore. I've enjoyed playing soccer with a few kids in the free time we have on Wednesdays, but also seeing the improvement in academics, as well as spiritual development by many in our Bible studies on Wednesday nights. This upcoming Wednesday our middle schoolers are teaching the parable of the sower to our elementary kids. I'm super excited, as there will be lots of candy involved.

Life is definitely getting into a routine. I can navigate most places by hearing in what part of town they are in. I know what a nutria is (though I haven't seen one). I can tell you what kind of jambalaya I like best. Life here is getting good.

Thank you all so much for this opportunity. I couldn't be here without your support.

-John


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Getting Acquainted - September 17, 2014

I don't have the time to write out all that I've learned in my first three weeks in New Orleans, but I will try to say as much as I can.
  • New Orleans is awesome, except for the rain. It rains almost every day. Days aren't dreary because of this, but if it's 1pm you better have your rain jacket. 
  • The roads are in terrible shape. If you're not on a major road, you literally cannot speed without popping a tire. On a better note regarded to travel, everything in the New Orleans area is within 20 minutes. This is such a relief coming from LA where it takes an hour to go 3 miles via public transit.
  • Most major roads are divided highways. The space in between the roads (what I would call a median) is called the neutral ground. This has some historical significance. On Canal Street, the median was a division where French Creoles lived on one side while Americans lived on the other. The tensions between the two cultures were very prominent. However, the median was where they met, henceforth being called the neutral ground. This is where the streetcars travel.
  • The food here is amazing.
  • Life here is much more relaxed. Time is more lax. People definitely have that easy going personality. This could be because it's so dang hot and humid!
  • Lakeview Presbyterian Church is amazing. The sanctuary is gorgeous. The people are nice. It feels so welcoming. I'm glad to be a part of it.
  • Festivals are the way of life here. I've walked in part of a parade as well as visited one in just 3 weeks. There's never a shortage of things to do here.
  • City Park is huge! 
  • There are filming crews here on St. Charles Ave. It is also reminiscent of LA. I believe they're filming NCIS - New Orleans. 
  • The streets and houses are gorgeous. Trees with moss. Huge estates with wrap around verandas. You have to see them for yourself.
  • Cemeteries are above ground. 
  • They take Saints football as seriously as I take UK basketball. (Except they're not as good. 0-2 with a loss to the Browns. Lol). Seriously though. People wear Saints jerseys to church. That's all they talk about in the sporting world. Their cheer/phrase is "Who dat?" I love responding "Who dey?" (Go Bengals!)
  • Mardi Gras is a huge deal. It's not just a day. It's more like a month that leads up to a Tuesday. More to come on that once we get closer to it.
  • Louisiana's wetlands are disappearing. It's seriously a problem. Read this article if you want to be informed. 
  • There are tons of birds here that I've never seen before. I haven't seen an alligator yet. You probably have to get out of the city for that.
Whew. Now what all have been up to? I've gone on a walking tour of the French Quarter. I did a photo scavenger hunt all throughout New Orleans. The YAVs wrote our house covenant for the year. I've had enough beignets for the year. I visited the Gulf! I walked in the Midsummer Night's Mardi Gras parade. I got to spend this past weekend at Feliciana Retreat Center for the Presbytery of South Louisiana's (PSL) fall youth retreat. I got to eat at the first ever Raising Cane's in Baton Rouge! Life here has been busy getting accustomed to everything.

So what about work? I have two part-time positions. Mid-City Ministries is an after-school program through the Carrollton Church of Christ. I tutor kids, lead bible study, and play games! I really look forward to getting to know these children over the next year. At Lakeview Pres my focus is on the youth program and mission. While that seems very vague now, I have specific goals. One of these goals is to have Lakeview host mission groups in the summer of 2015. Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church's college group will be coming down for the new year as our first group to come. I will be planning and facilitating the time and work with that group. The work that I've gotten myself into here in New Orleans is truly fantastic. I'm so grateful for all of your support.

Now for some photos:
YAV group photo at Feliciana

Wandering in one of the cemeteries.

City Park

Cafe du Monde beignets

Huge tree in City Park

The gulf

Lakeview Pres Rally Day picnic at City Park

Ukulele night at The Neutral Ground (Coffee Shop)
Thank you all for everything.

-John

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A New Beginning - 8/26/14

My year of service in Hollywood has passed. I can't stop talking about it and truly miss it. But life moves on. I spent a week in Lexington, KY where I got to speak at Maxwell Street Presbyterian. I'm so blessed to have such a supporting home church and family. I truly thank all of you for all that you do in my life.

So... New Orleans. Wow. It's a little different than I remember it in 2011. But hey? Memories fade. It's  We live in Uptown/East Carrollton. It's close to Tulane, Loyola, and Audobon Park. The house is awesome. I have a roommate again, and his name is Bennett. He is also a second year and served in South Korea last year. We've already bonded over Guitar Hero, so we're pretty much best friends. The second years arrived in NOLA while the first years were in YAV orientation in New York. Remember when I was there? So long ago. There are 7 YAVs in the house this year: 4 girls, 3 guys, which isn't too much of a different dynamic than the beginning of last year.
Left to Right: Jennifer, John, Hannah, Bennett, Colleen, Katherine        NP: Vinnie

I'll be working part time with Mid-City Ministries and part-time with Lakeview Presbyterian Church (with the late great Barrett Milner). I visited Lakeview Pres on Sunday and am very optimistic and extremely excited. Work doesn't start until September 2, as we have a full week of orientation. But I'm more than excited. We get to do a bunch of touristy things this week, and I'll fill you all in once orientation is over and I start working.

God be with you.
-John

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 6, 2014 - Leaving Hollywood

So here we are: less than a month from the last work day at Hollywood Presbyterian Church. It's been such a journey and I couldn't be more grateful. I feel like reflecting on the year is inevitable in this post, so I'll do my best to make sure it isn't word vomit.

When I first arrived, I had such different perceptions of Hollywood. In the first week I didn't know my housemates. I really wanted to be at all of the tourist attractions. I wanted to get started working at Hollywood Pres. I wanted to make a difference. Now I know my housemates all too well. I've been to all of the LA tourist attractions enough to get really bored of some of them. I still love working at the church. And I feel that I have made a difference. That difference is something that people can't see. I haven't built houses. I haven't started a nonprofit. I haven't ended homelessness. I have developed relationships with folks that I hope will never end. I have organized and been an integral part of a winter refuge. I have learned so much that I can't put it into words. Coming to the end of the year is a challenging place to be. In the upcoming month I literally only have 4 days without something on my calendar. It will be an ending with a bang before a new journey. Before I go on about that, I want to list my fun highlights from the year. This is more for my personal memory, but it's cool to see it all written out.

Aug - YAV Orientation in NY
          Arrived in Hollywood
          Attended taping of The Soup
Sep - Started working at Hollywood Pres
          Attended Women's Brunch at Hollywood Pres b/c it had Bluegrass music
Oct - First time to LACMA
         Was on Let's Make a Deal
         Attended Cirque Du Soleil - Totem
         Went to LA Galaxy vs. Montreal Impact Game
         Visited set of Community
         Forest Home Hollywood Pres Church Retreat
Nov - Hunger Games Premiere
          Freddie's Birthday Bowling Night
          Neighborhood Thanksgiving
Dec - Christmas Store at FPCH
          Ben Adam & Selene's Wedding
          Jimmy Kimmel Taping
          Home for Christmas along with JT & Meredith's wedding!
Jan -  Winter Refuge Began
          MLK Day Parade
         Dweller Retreat to San Francisco/Yosemite
Feb - Day of Silence at St. Andrew's Abbey
         Attended UCLA vs. Utah basketball game
Mar - Winter Refuge ended
          Venice Photo Scavenger Hunt
          Spring Break Discover Groups
          Sam Speigel Visited!
          Nicola Rohr Visited!
Apr - Attended Last Comic Standing taping
          FTE Conference in WA
          DISNEYLAND
          American's Got Talent Taping
May - Brent & Tara's Birthday Weekend
           Patrick Jeter Visited
           Traveled to Memphis, TN to see Bobby & Kim get married!
           Dad Visited! Went to Dodgers Game!
Jun - Surf Lessons with Joel
         Chaperoned high school youth to Forest Home


It's amazing to see all of the things that I've done. It's concrete evidence of how blessed I really am and how active I've become since moving out here.

So onward. I'll be leaving LA on August 12. From there I'm going to LA in late August. But wait! LA to LA? That's right. Los Angeles to Louisiana. I will be serving another YAV year in New Orleans. It looks like I'll be working with Lakeview Presbyterian Church, where the head pastor is Barrett Milner (that guy who was my camp counselor, helped me steal "children" in the simulation game at MSPC, and worked with 2nd Pres in Lexington for years) and/or Mid-City Ministries. My exact duties at either agency aren't exactly clear to me as of yet. Here are links to their pages though:
http://www.lpcno.org/
http://midcityministries.org/about/



How Can You Support Me?
·         Your Prayers: Pray for me and for the people with whom I will live and serve this year.
·         Your Financial Gifts: Give a tax-deductible contribution as a one-time gift or in installments over the course of my year of service. The preferred method is to send a check to the address below. If you'd like to give another way, please contact me.


Make checks payable to:
Presbytery of South Louisiana,
MEMO LINE: "John Kupar - YAV"
 
Mail checks to:
Layne Brubaker
YAV Program
2221 Filmore Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70122



National YAV website:  http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/yav/
New Orleans YAV Blog:  http://pslyav.wordpress.com/
New Orleans YAV Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/#!/pslyav
 



I'm so excited to continue my story there, but I first have to say goodbye here. The next month will be a challenge, but I'm ready. Leaving doesn't mean that I'm gone forever. I'll be back to LA I'm sure.

-John