I feel like I am at an ultimate vocational crossroads in my life, and in my estimation, being at a crossroads is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. As any reader of this blog would obviously know, we’re spending the summer in Uganda doing internships with ChildVoice International. What many of you may not know is what I will be doing while in Uganda, as well as what my plans are for when we get back. To fill you in on a little secret, folks… I also have absolutely no idea …on both fronts.
Allow me to expound on this a bit, starting with this summer. As interns, we are required to submit project proposals, diagramming what we will be contributing for the organization. Some examples of past interns have been linguists developing Acholi language learning programs, microfinance and income generating projects, and various other highly focused contributions. My wife, Taylor, will be working with another student on creating and implementing art therapy curriculum for the women of the program. I, on the other hand, have very few specialized skills or expertise in the areas of finance, agriculture, or trauma. I simply applied knowing that I wanted to somehow serve the base’s community and poverty development projects. As the deadline for project proposals neared (March 1st, procrastinator till the day I die!), I started to panic, because I had no idea what to propose if I did not specifically know what I would be doing. In my anxiety, I called our intern coordinator, Kathy, in New Hampshire and informed her of my worries.
Her answer both befuddled and intrigued me. When I asked her what I would or should be doing, she essentially said she didn’t know. I assure you she is not a lazy or incompetent leader, but rather the reason she does not know what my role would be, is because in many ways the base in Lukodi is in flux. They are in the process of acquiring new land and resources in the area, and due to a myriad of reasons, they are unsure of when exactly this transition will take place. They are unsure if we will be at the old or new site, or oscillating between the two this summer. Because of the many uncertainties, they want me to be a jack-of-all-trades and point-man for this transition, as well as helping wherever my gifts are best suited for the base. This could include working in agriculture, managing new building projects, or even transporting livestock to the new site (which I wish they never informed me of this possibility because if I don’t get the chance to hoot-and-holler at 3rd world farm animals then I will be SORELY disappointed).
While, there is comfort in knowing exactly how I’ll be serving the people of northern Uganda, the more I think about it, the more I am thrilled to be the Renaissance man of ChildVoice for many reasons. I’m excited about this, because my last long-term overseas experience in Haiti, where I also spent 3 months living and serving on a base, I was able to freelance projects as the needs arose. While there I taught pre-school and PE for a school, conducted a door-to-door census for disaster victims in the wake of multiple hurricanes, consolidated and re-organized the census data, built a concrete school/church in a remote village, and played a whole lot of soccer in the process. What I love about doing work “as-needed” is the fact that it will force me to be a servant to the base and the community. It will lead and free me away from the white-guy-savior-complex, in which I have a brilliant idea for a project that I am going to do for these people whether they need it or welcome it at all. That is what I love so much about ChildVoice, they are deeply committed to partnering with the poor and oppressed as equals, in order to ensure dignity and sustainable local solutions. Rather than pursuing my own ends and agendas just to pad my resume and ego, I want to submit myself to the vision of ChildVoice because I believe it is anchored in God’s vision for bringing the Kingdom of God to Acholiland. I am also intrigued because I am hoping I can dabble in all aspects of the organization to break up the monotony of implementing a single project, as well as maintaining a holistic perspective to development.
Ok so, I have covered this summer, but what about the rest of my life? Here’s where I’m at: I have a degree in African Studies, I am spending the summer in Africa, and in my spare time and days off I scour the internet for interesting blogs and academic journals about African politics, economics, and development (I’m a nerd and I’m fine with that). Nothing would please me more than finding a profession where I can study, advocate for, and travel to Africa for the rest of my life in order to play any sort of role in creating a better place for Africans. Here’s the snag: my wife and I currently live in Des Moines, and LOVE this city. There is absolutely no place in the entire world where we would rather be. Our friends are here, our family is here, our church- Gateway Church (I’ve never believed more in a church in my life), is here, and Des Moines is amazing.
Here’s where I’m at the crossroads: I know my passion and love is for Africa, but in a landlocked state with a relatively small African Diaspora population, if I pursue a Masters or PhD in African Studies and still live in Des Moines, I will be stuck with an obscure and impractical degree with an abundance of debt and poor job prospects. I know that whatever I will be doing will be in service to the poor and marginalized, but in what capacity, I have no clue. The most practical route for me to stay in Des Moines would be to get a Masters in Social Work in order to open horizons and possibilities for fulfilling jobs in social work and community development.
It would be dandy if God would nicely say what his will for my wife and I should be. Even if it would be to flip burgers for the rest of my life, if I knew with all certainty that it would fulfill God’s will for us then I would definitely do it. It hasn’t been that easy for me, however. God is huge and mysterious and sovereign and I won’t discount the possibility that there could be a magic moment of clarity where it will be revealed to me what I must do specifically like when Paul was sent to see some dude in Macedonia. More often than not, however, my experiences have been more like Nehemiah where he recognized a deep injustice/need (rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem), and he went out and made it happen.
I have spent many agonizing moments scouring the web for masters programs and jobs and it has only left me with worry and doubt. After much reading, meditation, and prayer, I’ve come to a deeper understanding that I have a huge opportunity to put my roots down deep in Christ and to focus on discipleship and community and service right here where I’m at until I develop a “calling” (I hate the ambiguity and absurdity of how this word is thrown around in Christian culture today, see my cousin-in-law, Sam’s awesome articles about this topic: http://somajournal.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/say-what-you-mean/ http://somajournal.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/mean-what-you-say-part-two-in-the-use-of-religious-language/ ).
I’m completely content right now to whole-heartedly love my wife, stay committed to my job at Orchard Place, dedicate myself to prayer and discipleship, and submit to Pastor Paul Stewart and Gateway Church’s vision for bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Des Moines. I will go where they go, and do what they do. While in Africa, I will pray for discernment, wait on God’s direction, and serve my ass off, and return to the submission of Gateway Church when we come back to Iowa because I know that the journey IS the calling and I want to be faithful at all steps of the journey, big or small. I have a feeling that if I stay faithful to all of this, then when I take a step back and look at my life, some form of “calling”—if you insist on calling it that it that—will have fallen into place. I will keep y’all posted.