The transition between international volunteer and regular working girl has been a difficult one for me; much more difficult than I might have imagined. As I have remarked to many people upon my return, “As great as it was to leave, it’s so wonderful to come back.” The last few months have been full of unexpected happenings, twists of fate or faith or both. For when I take time to reflect, this period of transition is characterized by yes, a few challenges, but more so the sheer number of blessings and opportunities that have come my way. I’ve highlighted just a few of them below.
Opportunity 1: YAGM Recruiter
When I was still in Southern Africa, I was fortunate to be hired as a short-term recruiter for the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. This position started a mere ten days after I landed back in the United States in August, and it certainly was a jolt to my adopted “take it easy things will happen when they happen” African attitude. Suddenly my life was full of things: people, contact information, flight schedules, presentations, meetings, and the ever-changing calendar of events. It was a three-month whirlwind that left me exhausted but yet energized and excited about my future. I met some marvelous people on the road, gave many presentations, had amazing conversations and was reminded that, although hard to beat, African hospitality does indeed exist on these shores as well. I gained confidence, assuredness, and a deep-feeling conviction that this kind of work may be what I do best, and I vowed to myself that I would try my hardest to do similar work when my “real life” actually started again.
Opportunity 2: Family Christmas
After my gig as a recruiter was over, I was able to settle down in Portland long enough to find an apartment and unpack my material life from the few boxes I had stashed in a storage unit during my time away. Unpacking was a marvelous adventure (“I forgot that I own cowboy boots!”) and then I flew to the Midwest for Christmas with my family. What a joy to be surrounded by those who know me best, well enough to know that maybe I was a little tired of telling stories by now but doing what they could to comprehend and understand the deep transformation that had taken place within me as a YAGM volunteer. I spent almost three weeks with my family, reveling in the delight that can only come from not having any reason at all to leave, except the ever-growing concern about what I would be doing with my life next (and how I would be paying my rent). Had I been employed it would have been another rushed week too full of activity to do much but run from one thing to the next, but as that was not the case I took my own advice and was content to just “be” with the ones I love.
Opportunity 3: St. James
When I returned to Portland, now essentially five months since leaving Africa, I was finally ready to start my life again. I was looking for a routine, a steady job, and of course a steady income. Actually, I don’t know if “looking” is even the appropriate verb here, because I discovered that job-hunting is just that… hunting. As in going everywhere in search of that ever elusive prey with only two weapons: my resume and cover letter. I sincerely underestimated the difficulty I would have in landing a job. Granted, I know that my design background doesn’t readily appear to translate into the non-profit work that I was looking for, but I knew I was a qualified applicant… if only given a chance to interview.
However, as it turns out, I did finally land a job; and I didn’t have to interview at all. My pastor at St. James Lutheran Church approached me one Sunday morning in February and said, “I think we need to get together sometime later this week. An anonymous donor has come forward who is willing to fund a part-time position for you. Are you interested?” Interested? I was flabbergasted! So much so that I actually had tears spring to my eyes (this happens a lot more frequently now, I have discovered) and couldn’t say much of anything but an incredulous, “Yes!”
The next few weeks were spent creating a job description, agreeing on a salary, crafting goals and arranging workspace logistics. I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, and I knew that if ever I had doubted that the Holy Spirit was working in and through us lowly mortals down here on Earth, this experience certainly proved otherwise. Someone at St. James has given me the most marvelous gift: an opportunity to work in a faith-based setting where I am encouraged to form relationships, plan educational events, and connect our members with the world in which we live. Each day, I am humbled anew as I remember the circumstances of my employment and how much my donors believe in me. For believe in me they must, if they spent the time to consider my situation and develop such a strategy as this for my well-being.
Getting a job is, as they say, all in who you know. Donors, I still don’t know who you are, but in your spirit of anonymity I see your presence in every member of St. James. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to grow, serve, and live in God’s presence as the Minister of Community Outreach for St. James. A few weeks ago, dejected by my job search, I would have said that such an opportunity was impossible. Your faith in me has also renewed mine: in myself, in the people around me, the world in which I live, and my God.
I’ve given up trying to think about how opportunity might present itself next; right now I’m content to sit back, relax… and get to work.