I got my staging information in an email this week – I leave for Peace Corps stuff a month from today. What. The. Heck. This can’t be real… can it?
A question I’ve heard from a variety of people has been “Why the Peace Corps? And as a Christian, why that instead of missions?” So I wanted to write a post explaining why for those that are curious and to also put to words things that have been jumbling around in my head like miscellaneous loose change for months now.
I’ve written about this in previous posts (you can read them here and here and here), but I did an internship at my church my first year out of college, which was incredible but really really hard – I learned a ton. I love the Church (capital C – the body of Christ) but my perception of the local church’s programmatic focus is kind of hard to swallow. You see, I’m good at ministry: at loving people, remembering names, planning events, going all out with ridiculous costumes, putting in the countless hours and managing a million simultaneous details so people can encounter Jesus.
But the thing with ministry is that it is broken, just like everything else in our world. It’s done by humans in the name of a good God, and more times than not it just gets messed up. It’s full of good intentions that get warped into budgets and participation and scheduled time that never seems to please anyone. And when you become a slave to the program, the tension between the expectation to be on a stage with a microphone rather than sitting in a closet with a crying, precious, beautiful teenager gets really complicated. I always thought I wanted to do ministry, but I’ve learned that my priority will never be the program that was planned – it will always be the people. And that God intended me to be that way.
I am super burned out on programs. I just want to love people.
I stumbled across the Peace Corps like an afterthought, grappling through the application process in the midst of a dark, unknown future. I thought ministry was going to be my career path, and all of a sudden it was blown wide open into an overwhelming number of possibilities – I could be any of those things I had dreamed about as a child (providing someone, somewhere, would hire me).
So it was in the midst of absolutely overwhelming confusion and total refinement that my application process started. I didn’t pray about it much, didn’t think too much of it, just threw the words into the wind with expectation that they’d come swiftly back in a boomerang of rejection. I got a job at a student travel company with coworkers I really enjoyed, began learning and growing in a secular world, and felt total peace.
My education and work experience have taught me that whether or not it’s “Christian” or “non-Christian” is not the point. You see, when you study religion at a secular university, there are lines drawn regarding the difference between secular and sacred and they become imprinted in your mind like chiseled carvings. When you work in ministry, you draw those same lines in the sand about those two realities, blurring the edges as they overlap onto one another. When you work in a secular job as a Christian, you love people, invest in them, and choose to do a good job regardless of any dividing lines.
And when it comes to my Peace Corps application – I just kept getting further and further along in the process, the competitors dwindling down, my interviewers convinced of my suitability for something I’d never actually considered a possibility. It’s then that I started to pray. And freak out. And try to trust Jesus more. And inch forward bit by bit until my inbox contained the contents of an email with the words “Congratulations….Teaching… Namibia… July…”
So why Peace Corps? Why Peace Corps instead of something else, like Christian missions?
Because the difference between secular and sacred isn’t black and white. Peace Corps is a governmental institution of the United States, and they are firmly non-religiously affiliated. And the Americans that do Peace Corps need to know that they matter just as much as the people overseas. “Peace” is something that is drenched in religion – all of them, in fact. Because peace is a big part of God’s heart, regardless where you find it.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. ~ Matthew 6:9 (MSG)