In a week and a half I will have been on island for a year. I will have been in service for one consecutive year and a disjointed service of almost 2 years. I sometimes sit back and wonder am I the same person as when I joined? What exactly drew me to join? Who was I then and who am I now? I guess this is a point to have a deep meditative self-reflection.
Let me start with why was I drawn to join? As a child in a strict Pentecostal Church, we often had missionaries from places in Africa and Asia. I was always drawn to their stories. I loved the idea of seeing other cultures and living a different way. My biggest issue with becoming a missionary is that I would have to become a pastor/preacher. My heart was just not in it. I had no desire to share my faith, which I did not realize I did not really believe in, nor did I want to convert people out of their belief system into mine. I am a pacifist. Not that I won’t fight, because if I am threatened I do fight and fight hard, but I do not push my agenda/beliefs on anyone else. I am never the aggressor and would rather sit back and learn about a people than change the people.
Back in around 1994, I think, the Rwanda conflict was happening. I saw amazing things happening with world aid. Doctors and medical personnel were giving their time to go aid those in refugee camps in Zaire. There was some water based contaminant that was killing thousands of people. I then realized that missionary work missed the mark on what they should be focused on. Focusing on a persons salvation and soul rather than their immediate needs is both cruel and useless in reality. At this time I had taken some “gifts of the spirit” test and it came back that my gifts were evangelist and missionary and that I was adept to living in poverty.
At the time I had two small children and an unsupportive husband about any type of lifestyle changes. The fact that I was not passionate about being a missionary is likely the only reason I did not push harder. I had not heard of the Peace Corps, not in any sense of understanding what it was anyway. I struggled for years with this feeling of loss and unmet potential. I always just wanted to do something that felt like I was in some way making a difference.
Jump ahead about 20 years…… I started thinking more about Peace Corps as my kids were entering high school. I knew that soon I would be able to live my life the way I wanted to, without responsibility of children dictating what I could and could not do. Read this very carefully, not that having children meant that I could not find meaningful work, but that I knew what I was supposed to do and my ex-husband would not allow me to leave the country with the children. (this is a whole other battle and post!) So I waited. I happened to start researching PC and realized that if I got a Master’s Degree my ability to be chosen in a field that I would like was much more likely. So off to Grad School I went!
In 2010 I knocked my first real item off my bucket list! I got my Master’s Degree. Now I just had to wait out my kids graduating, and my new relationship had twin girls a few years younger than my kids, so I thought I would wait for them to be out of school as well and we would join together. Sadly I got hit by a truck in March 2011. This changed everything in my life. In 2013 Richard and I got into a big fight and we ended the relationship. Not for long, but long enough for me to realize my settlement was coming soon and I did not want to wait. I had to stop holding onto strings of my life as I had grown to despise it and just let go and take that leap. So I did. I started my application and then decided to bike across America.
Skipping that ride, and my service in Africa, let us go to entering service in Jamaica. I was immediately asked why Jamaica by a Jamaican. I honestly answered that I did not choose it. I was assigned it. He was highly offended, until I explained that PC does not give you choices in where to serve but in where not to serve and what you want to do. So why Jamaica, I ask myself today? I think it was a little bit of luck and a little bit of fate. My grad school professor served PCJ in the early 90’s. I leaned on him for guidance on how to prepare when I was first applying. He had great insight, but it was based on service 20 years ago and at first I was headed to Africa, so it was not as relevant to that location. Thanks for all your support Jonathan! When I got assigned Jamaica he immediately sent me suggested reading material and links to relevant documentaries. Funny the same documentaries and reading lists were suggest by PCJ.
So what were my ideas of what I wanted to do? More than anything I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I never saw my relationships back home as having an impact on other people’s lives, not that they did not, but not the kind of impact I wanted to have. I wanted something significant. I wanted something sustainable and I wanted something to touch lives so much that I would see the impacts. I wanted a visible change to be the result. I saw no way for this to happen at home in my wonderbread life.
So who was I when I started this adventure? I was a frustrated woman in her 40’s with a feeling of stagnation in my life goals. I was at a dead end job and felt that my life was not mine to control. I felt frustration at the situations that my own choices put me into. I was someone who hated injustices and inequality and would always stand up for those being repressed. Am I the same person? Not exactly. The frustration at life has left me. The feeling of not having control has subsided. The visions of seeing a visible change have also changed in the process. I am more balanced and definitely happier now that I have pushed myself in ways I never imagined possible. I now see the impacts I had in people’s lives back home. I also see that growth that I have done. The ignorance and arrogance have left me and in their place are understanding and a leadership quality I never knew I possessed.
Deep down I am still the same person, my ideals, goals and outlook have all changed. My understanding and cultural vision have also changed. Do I still want to see a change? Of course, but I now understand it might not look the way I imagined it would, and that is OK!