Monday, June 13, 2011

Why the Peace Corps?

This is typically everyone's first question.  My answer usually depends on who is asking.  My shortest response:  I felt as though I was called to join.  A little bit lengthier response:  I encountered a life event that made me realize just how short life can be, thus I decided to do the things I had always wanted to do.  The Peace Corps just happened to be at the top of my list.  And for those of you reading, here's the real story...

When I was getting ready to graduate college I went to an education job fair where I spoke to a Peace Corps representative.  I was extremely interested in all she had to say, but at the time I couldn't fathom the two year commitment that one had to make in order to become a part of the Peace Corps.  I left the fair that day, but the idea of joining the Peace Corps never left me.

As years passed, all that I had thought I could possibly do in two years (that originally kept me from joining) didn't happen.  Here's what did:

After college, I moved to California with the dream of becoming a teacher.  I knew this wasn't going to be an easy task, but I had the will, so I figured there must be a way.  After adjusting into our new home and getting a good night's rest, I set out on foot in downtown San Diego in search of a waitressing job.   It wasn't long before I was hired on the spot at Moose's McGillycuddy's.  This would be one of the first places where I felt as though I was put for a reason.

My next task in San Diego was to find a church.  I asked around and would go to churches that were too big, too boring, or too entirely crazy, until one day I met a family at Moose's...  I have no idea what came over me to ask the family I was waiting on if they went to church, because it's not a typical question that fits between "What would you like to drink?" or "Would you care for any dessert?", but I did and it is probably the best question I have ever asked.  They told me about New Creation, the church they attended, and gave me directions.  The next Sunday, I followed their directions and ended up in the second spot I was meant to be.

New Creation is where I met my angel, Angela Bass.  I was sitting in the pew behind her, when she turned around and asked me if I was a teacher.  My response, "No, but I want to be.  I received my degree in elementary education and am looking for a job."  She told me to talk to her after the service, and thank the good Lord, I did just that.  Angela ended up connecting me to the third place I was meant to be, Central Elementary.

Once again, I was hired on the spot and started out as a substitute in 5th grade for a teacher's maternity leave.  This led to another maternity leave teaching 4th grade, and then finally to my own classrooms for the next two years teaching 4th grade.

While I was teaching in my third year, I started to attend a bible study with fellow teachers from Central that was organized through The Rock Church.  During this time, Pastor Miles led a Do Something campaign, and I felt a fire start to ignite in my soul.  In our study we were asked questions such as, "What would you do if you had no fear?" and I began to contemplate the Peace Corps once again.  I spoke to my group about my thoughts, and I was given the advice to "go until something tells you to stop."

A couple of weeks after I started my application process with the Peace Corps, my life changed drastically.  I received news that Leeann, one of my closest friends since high school, and also my moving to Cali buddy, was involved in a fatal car accident.  Crushed, I flew out the next day to our hometown of Topeka, KS.

It wasn't long before I was accompanied by the many others that loved Leeann just as much as I did.  There were about ten of us that were all squeezed into my mom's two bedroom house.  Becoming closer than ever before, not because of our proximity, but because of our shared pain we managed to squeeze out smiles by sharing memories and moments that made us laugh.  I remembered that I had left my high school yearbooks with my mom and instantly ran down stairs to find the pages of embarrassing photos.  Flipping to the index to search for Leeann's name, I found something much more.  A flyer for the Peace Corps, a sign.

Holding that paper in my hands, I realized it was something I had to do.  I was just taught that life is short in the hardest way possible.  I knew that I needed to listen to my heart, that I needed to finish my application for the Peace Corps.

When I returned to San Diego, I finished my application within the week.  It wasn't 7 days before I received the phone call from my recruiter in Los Angeles, was interviewed and was told I was nominated to become a part of the Peace Corps.  The process after that was pretty long and tedious... medical exams, thinking I was going to Central or South America in February or March, but finding out in January that program was filled.  In February, I found out I was going to Africa and later that month I learned my country, The Gambia.

I am confident that I have been placed in The Gambia for a reason, as I have been placed in so many other locations throughout my life.  My hope is to learn as much as possible, to listen, to love, and to help in any way I am capable.

This journey is dedicated to my dear friend, Leeann.  Thank you for showing me what it means to be a true friend and how to live.