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Here’s the 411

I promise to write more once I’ve had a chance to absorb it all. For now, here’s the 411 on my Peace Corps assignment…

COUNTRY:  Panama

PROGRAM:  Community Economic Development (CED)

JOB TITLE:  CED Consultant

ORIENTATION:  Aug 11-12, 2009 in a U.S. city yet to be named.

TRAINING:  Aug 13 – Oct 22, 2009 in Panama (I will be living with a host family)

SERVICE: Oct 23, 2009 – Oct 27, 2011 (After training, I can move into my own home)

LIVING CONDITIONS (per Peace Corps): Rural Panamanian-style house… a simple concrete blockhouse with cement floors and a tin roof or adobe or grass huts with dirt floors or wooden floors on stilts with palm-thatched roofs.

THE GOALS:  The focus is on strengthening the management and leadership capacity of Rural Cooperatives, Local Organizations, and Youth to increase job and economic opportunities.  There are three goals:

  1. To improve management and leadership practices.
  2. To identify resources and employ strategic planning to stabilize and/or expand economic opportunities.
  3. To empower youth through the acquisition of life, entrepreneurial, and technological skills.

MY DUTIES:  I will be working as a consultant to improve small business management and leadership capacity. Some of my tasks will include:

  • Transformational leadership training
  • Train the trainer
  • Instruction in writing business plans and training modules.
  • Training in strategic planning, problem-solving, decision-making, market research, feasibility studies
  • Educate youth in teamwork, leadership, and effective communication
  • Support income-generating projects of other volunteers including 1) Community Environmental Conservation, 2) Environmental Health, 3) Tourism and English Advising, and 4) Sustainable Agricultural Systems.


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Practicing Goodbye

Two weeks ago, I began grieving. No one close to me had died but I was grieving nonetheless. Two very special young people had come into my life and each, in their own way, had turned it upside down. When the time came for each of these very different people to take the next step in their separate and unique lives, I braced myself for the day when that step would take them away from me.

Just three short months ago, after plowing my way through everything I thought I could not live without and posting the rest for sale on Craigslist, I pulled together enough money to cover the cost of the move, packed up what was left, and said goodbye to a city that had been consistent only in its ability to find new ways to knock me down and to produce new friends to pick me up, some of whom I was just getting to know. Though I was no stranger to goodbyes, I naively believed this to be a sufficient dry run leading up to the one big goodbye when I leave for 27 months of services overseas.

My friend Rob drove the moving truck, leaving me alone in the Rover that was overflowing with my personal items and my personal thoughts. It seemed to drive itself the 270 miles from Cleveland to southwest Michigan as I reflected upon the friendships forged over the past three years and considered the short-term stint I would push through on my way to the Peace Corps. I promised myself that I would not “adopt” a young person in Michigan as I had a tendency to do in all of my travels. My time here would be short and my gaze was firmly fixed upon the future.

But God had other plans. Not one young person awaited me, but two. Still covered in road dust and gathering my bearings, I met the sweet and funny DK. She needed a big sister and I guess I needed a little sister. She pulled me into her heart and I lost the ability to choose not to love. Within two weeks of my arrival, I met the sensitive and thoughtful DP. He needed a teacher and apparently I needed a student. When I looked into his eyes, I saw not the emptiness I expected of one who had been deprived of education for more than two years. Instead, I saw warmth and sincerity. After a painful two years of being ignored by potential employers, I finally experienced bienvenido (welcome) from the heart of my new boss, a sixteen year old who was hungry to learn. Because he and I have something very obvious in common, the other students often asked if he was my son. I relished these moments because, in my heart, he is.

DK and DP accepted me into their lives knowing I would only be there temporarily. Distracted by the temporal nature of my own life, I gave no thought to how I would feel when the time came to say goodbye. I certainly did not consider that their departures might begin before mine, reminding me that these adoptions of the heart could only be done with arms open both to embrace and to let go. I had to let them go. DK packed up her belongings and left to brighten the life of someone else. DP made a very grownup decision, one that he believed to be best for him though it grieved both me and his real parents.

My plan for a sterile and unemotional period of Peace Corps preparation was interrupted and turned upside down. DK and DP knew that my time here was short but they counted the costs and chose to love me anyway. These two very young people taught me a very grownup lesson, one that will serve me well as I create a home and build relationships in the community that awaits me, knowing that goodbye is always imminent. The lesson came full circle this week as I reconnected with them both and was reminded that goodbye does not always mean gone. DK and I have decided to make Thursdays our day to spend together. And DP has decided to delay making any major life changes while he continues to learn and grow. The goodbyes have been delayed, just as they have been with the friendships I left in Cleveland, the friendships that continue to blossom.

Along with the Peace Corps uncertainties of when and where, come the relational uncertainties of with whom, for how long, how deep, and how real. I am learning to keep my heart open to loving people without demanding that they stay. There will be goodbyes, some of which will blossom into friendships from afar while others will simply mean gone. To be truly alive, I believe is to embrace them both.

As you read these words, I hope that you are disrupted by the image of someone in your life. Loving them might be inconvenient and messy but don’t ignore them because you think they are just passing through. Dare to love and dare to let go.

Grace & Peace,


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Will She or Won’t She?

The road that leads to the Peace Corps is turning out to be quite bumpy. So much needs to happen within the next six to eight weeks in order for me to gain access to destinations unknown.

The most immediate of issues includes a head-to-toe, properly documented, clean bill of health from a variety of doctors, most of whom are less motivated than I to meet the imposed deadlines.

Coming in at a close second is meeting the requirement of being debt-free, with the exception, of course, of student loans which we all know follow you to the grave. Because my current work assignment ends on May 29, a seamless transition into a summer assignment is crucial if I am to meet those financial goals.

The final issue, which is actually a complication of the previous issue, is the loss of the use of my vehicle which disqualifies me for the summer job that I had lined up, the one I was counting on in order to meet the aforementioned debt-free requirement.

So when Laura B. asked me for a Pre-Peace Corps update, I realized that I had been avoiding the blog because I was waiting for things to get better. I only wanted to share the good stuff.

So while I was waiting for the good stuff to happen, I was presenting my case to God. This calling has been twenty years in the making; surely He will honor it. I keep looking for a ram in the bush but I know that for Abraham it came only after he demonstrated a complete willingness to sacrifice that which was most important to him.

Is there anything or anyone that could stop you from pursuing your big dream?

For me, even if every ‘I’ is dotted and every ‘T’ is crossed to Uncle Sam’s satisfaction and I am boarding the plane as God suddenly says, “Stay,” I will stay. So as I continue to dive head-first into this incredible adventure, I regularly remind myself to live in the moment and not to overlook today’s adventure in favor of that which has not yet happened… and only God has the power to make happen.

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Are You Serious?

Opening one’s email can present an emotional dilemma when a lady and her poodle go their separate ways.

Charlie gave me a special kind of love. You know, the kind of love that overwhelms one’s tail and sends it into a wagging frenzy in response to just a simple smile. The kind of love that wipes one’s memory clean of forgotten snacks, delayed walks, and way too infrequent car rides. What would it take to walk away from this kind of love?

Long before I came to love Charlie, I longed for a love of a different kind, a love of a place I’ve never been, a people I’ve never met, and a problem I never knew needed to be solved. The place may or may not be comfortable. The people may or may not welcome me. The problem may or may not be within my ability to solve. But love calls.

I miss Charlie but I have decided that I don’t want to see him before I leave for the Peace Corps. Saying goodbye is just too hard. Besides, he has two new loves, Dee Dee and Harold. And my new love beckons me as I delete an email from Pet Smart addressed to Charlie and remind myself not to look back.

Am I serious about the Peace Corps? Yes, I believe so.

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What is the Peace Corps about Anyway?

As Gracie Hart said (Sandra Bullock’s character in “Miss Congeniality”), “I really do want world peace!”

Will the day ever come when every person on earth is at complete peace with every other person on earth? Reconciliation on such a scale is God’s business. Face-to-face connection, understanding, and relational commitment in one’s realm of influence is our business. By joining the Peace Corps, I hope to live up to the challenge as the borders of my realm are expanded.

President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship through 3 simple goals:
1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

What about you? How are you doing in your role as an ambassador for Peace within your realm of influence? Do you have peace in your home? More importantly, do you have peace in your heart?

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Last week I was officially nominated for service in the Peace Corps.  With a stack of application paperwork under my belt and the next stack in FedX limbo, the month of August taunts me through my peripheral vision.  

A friend asked me a very good question: “If you get a fabulous job offer between now and August, will you say ‘no’ to the Peace Corps?” I didn’t have to think very long before responding, “I’ve had fabulous job offers before. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”  Though she did not ask the next question, I read her mind in the way that girlfriends do and responded, “And if I meet a wonderful man who sweeps me off my feet between now and August, no, I will not say ‘no’ to the Peace Corps.  I’ve been swept off my feet before and I believe that I will be again.  This is one of those unique moments in time when a dream like this can come true.”

It is my honor to invite you to join me as I blog my way through this leg of my adventure.  Welcome to my Pre-Peace Corps blog!

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