In life, I rarely seek input from others about a major decision. I like to think of myself as an individualistic and spontaneous person; yet on this March afternoon I found myself frantically seeking advice from any person that would listen. I was just offered an Internship from the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Southeastern Jurisdiction and despite any and all conscious efforts to make a decision independently, I needed help. Although I was unaware of it at the time, this indecision was a symptom of the internal challenges I wrestled with throughout the summer.
I met with my Chaplain, called my parents, sister, and grandfathers. I stopped random people on the streets of Birmingham (unbiased opinions are sometimes the most valuable), and still I couldn’t make a decision. Upon reflection at the end of this Internship program, I realize that this struggle was not of my desire to serve in this position or not but of a grander discourse involving my relationship with the church itself.
Having been raised by United Methodist ministers, (both of which are also preacher’s kids), I have always been actively involved in the church and its various ministries. Whether it was in a local congregation, Annual Conferences, during my time at Lakeshore UMA, Carolina Cross Connection, Birmingham-Southern College or the myriad of Methodist organizations in which I have become affiliated, I think of them all as a blessing. These amazing experiences, and the persons I have met through the years, have shaped my identity, my faith, and the ways in which I interact with the world.
I was struggling with my relationship with the church. This stemmed not from a discontent for my past but from a desire to experience “other”, and so I ran away from it. Just as Jonah ran away from Nineveh, I was running away from God (unlike Jonah however, I had people waiting for me in Nineveh with open arms).
I accepted the internship, and soon my summer began at North Alabama Annual Conference gathering in Huntsville, Alabama. This time was spent hearing and sharing stories with old and new friends, family, and complete strangers. It allowed me an opportunity to center myself and focus my heart. During the ordination service I sensed a feeling I had been missing for sometime (but after an hour or so, I decided to pass it off as indigestion). The next morning I found myself sitting next to my grandfather, listening to the words spoken by the Bishop James R. King Jr. during his message entitled, “Better… Not the Best”. It resonated on many levels. I have always had struggles and frustrations as a perfectionist and held the constant misconception that I have to do everything by myself. These issues have only been exasperated by my time as an undergraduate. But in that moment surrounded by familiar faces of “beautiful people” I felt this weight lift off my shoulders. My fears and regrets, though still present, began to transition from stains on my heart into opportunities for growth.
I spent the next several days in Birmingham at the UMVIM, SEJ office, diving into its ministries, the organizational structures and beliefs of the United Methodist Church, and the details of the International and Domestic components of my internship, all the while delving into my own thoughts as to my future vocation and next steps after graduation.
I have always been drawn to environmental hazards and the disasters that they cause. The chaos and tragedies that occur create vulnerabilities, losses, and pains that we as Christians are called to relieve. After many conversations with the UMVIM, SEJ staff, it was decided that my time in this program would be focused upon faith based disaster recovery and relief. After going through UMCOR Early-Response Team Training, UMVIM Team leader training, and heading up to North Alabama Disaster Relief Warehouse, it was time for me to head out into the field.
I spent the first 3 weeks of the program traveling all over the coastal plains and inner banks of North Carolina, working with the North Carolina Conference Disaster Recovery program. Every day I found myself surrounded by people more knowledgeable, more dedicated, and more skilled than me. I spent my days learning as much as possible and being of as much use as possible. This journey was one of the most humbling yet empowering experiences. I went into this knowing I knew very little, and came out thinking I knew even less. But I left North Carolina thankful and praising God for the amazing people I met and all they meant to me. But even more importantly, I praised God for all they meant to everyone else.
I travelled and arrived at the Bahamas Methodist Habitat [BMH] for the next portion of my internship. I immediately got put to work in a familiar yet foreign context. The ‘camping ministry’ setting was familiar; yet the ‘international’ component was new to me. After coming off of my intensive crash course in faith-based disaster relief in North Carolina, I knew nothing about the environmental, political, and infrastructural conditions that contribute to the Bahamas’ unique needs and challenges experienced during a disaster. I struggled with this unfamiliarity, yet I was able to become fully immersed in the ministries of BMH. I was allowed to serve in many different capacities, getting to participate in all the various components of the organization. My specific task, however, was to work alongside the Executive Director and Board of Directors to create programming, policy, and procedures for BMH to more efficiently and effectively implement their mission as a disaster relief organization. At the end of three weeks, it was far from finished. But instead of being frustrated I began to thank God. I thanked God that the written policy is now “better”. I thanked God that my knowledge of NGO’s, international relief, and struggles of many Bahamians got “better”. And I pray that my work there can make persons affected by disaster a sense of comfort and relief so that they can begin the process of getting “better”.
This summer provided so many unique and diverse experiences that allowed for personal and vocational decantation. Although I am not any closer to determining what to do after graduation, I am not worried because I know that I am not alone. Am I over my obsessions with perfection? Not even close. But I have a renewed comfort in knowing and experiencing God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. We are called to serve God in missions, not because we have everything figured out, but because we are called to be “better”… not the best.