A Rocha, recovery and hospitality
This is the final installment of our blog posts from around the A Rocha family exploring how someone first found a home with A Rocha, their memories of hospitality here, and how this changed how they know God.
A book exploring these themes, A Place at the Table: Faith, hope and hospitality, has just been published, with all royalties going towards the work of A Rocha around the world. It is co-written by Jo Swinney, A Rocha International’s Director of Communications and her mother, Miranda Harris. You can buy the book here.
In 2016 I experienced what I call a collapse. It is a ‘multipack’ of physical and mental illnesses, and the easiest way to address it without too many emotions is to talk about ‘burn out’.
In the last five years there have been many hardships and difficult stages in my daily life. Mourning for myself while recognizing myself alive is very complicated. I wasn’t dead but I wasn’t alive either. I was asking for help but could not receive it; I was in total inner turmoil. It started with losing my voice, followed by losing a lot of weight as I struggled to digest my food – even breathing became difficult. I became a ghost whose mission for the day was to get to the kitchen to eat, feeling despair that even eating was useless since it tired me out more than it gave me energy. Nights were just as frustrating with pain and insomnia.
The years have passed, despite times which felt like a thousand torments and a journey to the most extreme depths. Gradually, a path was cleared as I found doctors a little more understanding, the possibility of financial aid, supportive people and suitable advice. Learning to live has been a very intense research work, a doctorate. I had to learn to eat, to communicate despite my inability to speak, to breathe, to accept pain and vulnerabilities. It was a huge change – the energetic and committed me who believed in possibility was floundering amid the impossible. At 37, feeling all powerful, I was rendered totally helpless. I was reminded of John 12:24: ‘Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’
I began to find a very small voice, to discover a diet adapted to my needs, to receive a treatment that allowed me to breathe better. On the recommendation of my doctor I started to go out of my house to meet people, and I fell in love. I discovered A Rocha, which combines faith and ecology, two essential areas in my life. I wanted to serve despite my limited strength. One day I heard that A Rocha Courmettes in France was looking for someone to help with building renovations. My previous job was advising on energy use and providing building audits, and I especially like renovation and the feeling of ‘tinkering’ and working with my hands.
At first it was a dream, imagining myself to work again in a magnificent site for a community that has ecology and faith at its heart. Finally, I decided to make contact with Les Courmettes, in spite of my limited capacity in the midst of my health issues. They welcomed me as a volunteer and I leaped into the unknown.
I remember the magnificent site of Les Courmettes, with a magnificent view and an icy climate. I quickly understood that the kitchen was the nicest place. It’s a home with people and a physical and human warmth. It is where we prepare the welcome, where we meet, where we share, where we are sometimes disappointed sometimes and where we can say that. It is also where we meet in the evening to relax, play, drink herbal tea, laugh and sometimes share more intimately and get to know each other. I liked the diversity of faiths that I found at A Rocha Courmettes: it is a bit like biodiversity. I left with a feeling of community, not ease or simplicity or naivety. A welcome: simply authentic and warm, open and fertile.
Stephanie Perregaux is an independent engineer dedicated to building energy efficiency and renewable energy. She has travelled around the world to develop sustainable and social projects and more recently has been working to recover her health, volunteering at Les Courmettes in 2022.