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In about a week, I’ll be leaving my homeland of Oklahoma for a volunteer teaching gig at St. Fidelis College in Madang, Papua New Guinea. At the invitation of the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps (CapCorps, part of the Capuchin Friars of the Province of St. Augustine), I will be teaching primarily English, but other subjects too, as needed.
St. Fidelis College is part of the diocesan seminary program operated by the Capuchins in PNG. As I understand it, it’s the entry-level program for seminarians and is intended to bolster their education level, post-high school, so that they can go on to further study at the other seminaries in PNG.
Doing something like this has been on my mind for some time, essentially since December, 1999. Some of the students at the St. Philip Neri Newman Center at the University of Tulsa, where I was volunteering at the time, were planning their own volunteer assignments after graduation when I became interested in it. I submitted an application to the Jesuit Volunteers International and was offered a teaching position in Tanzania. I ultimately turned down that opportunity and pursued campus ministry at TU for the next eight years. The opportunities I had to visit those students who had volunteered in Nicaragua, Peru and other places kept the bug in the back of my mind. As did the many student trips that we took to the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala, Mexico City, and all over Europe.
Several years ago, before I began working for SQPN, I created a profile on the website of the Catholic Volunteer Network, a clearing house of Catholic volunteer programs. Since most applicants are young adults finishing up their college careers, I didn’t really expect anything to come from it.
Surprisingly, about two years ago, I was contacted by CapCorps with this opportunity in PNG. Since my skills and experiences over the years seemed to be tailor-made for what they were looking for, I decided that I would enter into discussion with them, follow their application process and see where it might lead.
Every step of the way, the right doors seemed to open, the people I spoke to had nothing but good things to say about the school and the work of the Capuchins in PNG.
We finally reached the go/no go point and I made the decision to go on a 2 year commitment.
I realize that this is a very idealistic decision, especially at my age. It was hard to ignore this opportunity as a person of faith and knowing the call to service and evangelization that we Catholics have. Working in Catholic New Media as I have, it was also hard not to put “my money where my mouth is.”
This decision hasn’t come without cost, though. Giving up my job with SQPN, renting out my house, and leaving my friends and family are just the tip of the iceberg. My decision is placing burdens on my family, friends, and co-workers as they assume some of my responsibilities and support me with their friendship while I’m away.
I decided when I entered into this process that I wouldn’t make a decision based solely on fear, but to try to discern God’s call in this decision. There’s a great deal of fear in this, to be honest. A little voice in the back of my head, chattering away “You’re ruining everything!” I hope not.
Here’s where I can sling more clichés about the road less traveled, nothing ventured nothing gained, no pain no gain, etc.
I think I’ll just close with the one that’s most often come to me when I need it.
Be not afraid.