“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived, this is to have succeeded.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I will act as if what I do makes a difference.”
Perhaps the thing we’ve been asked most since our decision to serve has been “Why?” There is always a backstory to the question. One that undoubtedly takes more time than our short, American attention spans wish to budget. Well, too bad.
During the summer of 2007, while my wife Lori and I were juniors at Heidelberg College (now Heidelberg University), we had the opportunity to go on a “Service Learning” trip to southern Texas. There, we worked with a small nonprofit that ran a summer camp for low income families near the Mexican border (http://www.arisesotex.org/ARISEProfile.asp). Southeast Texas is the hottest place I’ve ever been. That’s probably why Philip Sheridan, the Civil War general said, “If I owned hell and Texas, I’d live in hell and rent out Texas.” But the heat paled in comparison to the poverty of the people we were helping. Many had only a small plywood “shanty” to provide shelter for them and their children. All were Hispanic. Some were legal. Without exception, everyone that we met spoke of how happy and lucky they were to be in the United States.
It was one of those rare moments when, having grown up as a middle class American, the self serving apathy that has been your birthright is pulled from beneath your feet by the reality of the world. In that instance we enter the poetic “yellow wood.” One option is to continue to follow the route we are on only briefly pausing to feel the tinge of guilt that such a situation merits. Another is to allow the event to fundamentally alter us. To add to the layers through which we process the world. To allow God to speak to us in a way that we are not accustomed…by viewing the world through our hearts. For God is love, and how can one love without acting in a way that addresses the plight of those who suffer.
As time passed, I began to think of ways in which I might use the gifts and opportunities that God has blessed me with to give back to those less fortunate. During our senior year, in between studying and planning our wedding, we began to discuss the possibility of the Peace Corps. Ultimately, we chose graduate school over the Peace Corps. Fast forward to my second year of graduate school at the University of Oregon. Lori and I were once again contemplating Peace Corps service. This time, Peace Corps won. The timing was right, we were young, no kids, no long term job prospects (thanks economy), and a dash of wanderlust.
That’s the why. Now for the what.
Lori and I have been asked to serve in the republic of Macedonia from September 11, 2011 to November 23, 2013. I will be working with the government, NGO’s and businesses as a community development volunteer. Lori will be serving as a primary school English resource teacher. It will be the adventure of a lifetime.