A lot of people have asked me about what I’ll be doing in Boston, why I’m going, and basic details like that; I’ve told bits and pieces here and there because the long story is, well, long…
It all started just over a year ago.
The summer between my junior and senior year of college I did study abroad in Bulgaria. I went with six other students from my school along with two professors for the month of May. We were in the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia (the capital) walking around the art rooms upstairs when we heard English being spoken in the other room, and not just English, but an American southern accent. We ended up meeting a family that was from south Georgia (very close to our school) along with the partner of the director of the Peace Corps in Bulgaria. We all discussed the Peace Corps and similar programs around the world and in the U.S. that are opportunities for young people to travel to new places and spend a year working to help others. This experience got the ball rolling in my mind that after college (and possibly before grad school) I wanted to take a year to do some kind of service.
In those awkward conversations when people asked me what I was going to do after college I usually just shrugged my shoulders and said “Grad school?” (I still do.) My reasoning is that I actually like school (I know I’m weird.) I never really made the specific decision about going on to more school, is was just always what I was going to do. It’s been the same way with doing a mission year. It just became my only option because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else; it just felt right.
I’ve been on the receiving end of so much love, support, and generosity throughout my life that I feel obligated to share that love and kindness. I’ve also grown up in the Presbyterian church (my mother is a Christian Educator) where working to help people in mission has become a fundamental part of my personal faith. Specifically Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, MN, Idlewild Pres. in Memphis, TN, Conyers Pres. in Conyers, GA, and First Pres. Americus/The Presbyterian Student Center in Americus, GA, all get specific shout-outs as being part of my (big) church family that have nurtured and loved me. From organizing pantyhose at a women’s clothing closet when I was seven to mission trips in high school to helping serve in a soup kitchen with my campus ministry, “faith” has always been a verb– doing something to help people to spread God’s love. Evangelism, in my mind, has always come across as empty words used to judge people rather than love them, and has never really fit for me. I’ve always been more focused on the show part of show and tell of spreading the gospell.
I started looking into programs, something like Peace Corps, but a year long, and with a spiritual aspect. Unfortunately that doesn’t make a great Google search phrase, so it took a while. I looked in depth at Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center (I went to college in Americus, which is essentially where both of those amazing organizations were founded,) but neither had anything that seemed just right. I vaguely knew about the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteers program and a couple of people suggested it so eventually I decided to learn more. It seemed to fit just right– a balance between helping others, personal and spiritual growth, somewhere/thing new and out of my comfort zone, but enough structure and support that it wasn’t too scary. It ended up being the only program I seriously considered.
Any kind of application process with lots of paperwork is stressful enough, but while I was applying for this program I was also applying for a transient class over the summer and graduation from my college all at the same time (along with just trying to graduate.) The YAV program has sites all around the world, but Boston was a geographical fit (a big city up north was exactly what I was looking for) and a combination of working with a local church along with an organization focused on food justice. I was especially interested in the work site with First United Presbyterian Church of Cambridge and Bread for the World. It was described to me as political advocacy and education, which was perfect because I always thought I should have done more protesting in college, or have been involved with something political. I thought this is my chance! After several phone interviews with people all over the country, dealing with time change, trying to match schedules, dropped calls, and Skype failure, I got my first choice placement!
This summer (a year after the first spark of this calling) was a bit of a whirl-wind. I lived in the Presbyterian Student Center on my campus and took an online Spanish class, and spent most of the summer between south Georgia, Birmingham, and Atlanta. After my class ended I focused on getting the Pres House (student center) ready for the new semester. I was a part of many, many organizations on campus (all that I possibly could, and then a few more), but the Pres House was always closest to my heart. I met roommates and lifelong friends through campus ministry, and in the past four years it truly became home and it was always hard to leave family.
Working with campus ministry has taught me so much about the difficulty and joy of working with and loving people on a daily basis and working for the kingdom. I’m not sure I completely understand what that means and looks like, and I don’t know if I ever will, but this year I am going to do my best and see what God has in store.