Summer Updates: Blogging and World Change
By Owen Sallee, Coordinator for Urban and Global Involvement
Throughout the academic year, the John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University is filled with students engaged in learning and service with indigenous leaders in local and global contexts. In the summer months, the work of the Perkins Center shifts. I spend significant time sending and keeping contact with students trained during the school year as they engage with communities around the world.
As I maintain contact with these teams during their trips, I’m reminded of the Perkins Center’s goal to equip student leaders to engage with local leaders, serve in ways that support long-term efforts, and respect locals’ views rather than assume that one’s status as a privileged outsider providing the right answers.
I’m grateful to hear story after story from students and their hosts, reporting significant conversations, meaningful cross-cultural exchanges, and helpful work performed by our students.
Students carry these values and perspectives beyond their time with Perkins Center programs. This summer, I’ve also been following updates from Chris Welter, an SPU senior who participated in a Seattle Reachout International (SPRINT) team last summer and has returned for his own longer-term internship this summer. I also received updates from Nicole Ide, a 2006 graduate now engaged in work in Zimbabwe. Excerpts from their reports home, shared below, show the impact of our students in the world, and the power of the principles of Christian community development.
Chris Welter is a senior and a premed student. In September he will begin his second year as a student leader for the SPRINT program. After a successful engagement with the work of Dr. Tito Palacios and La Mision in Guatemala in Summer 2009, Welter has invested this summer in long-term service under Palacios’ guidance.
In his email updates to family and friends in the United States, Welter displays the cross-cultural competencies we strive for in our community engagement programs. In his supporting role at La Mision, he has had the opportunity to help at medical clinic outreaches, direct mission teams from U.S. churches — and cut the grass. In a late-June update, he writes,
I have been doing everything I can to fill my time with chores around the office, my favorite of which was mowing the lawn with a push mower and cleaning up the clippings with bare hands — I absolutely love the looks I get for being a white guy working in the yard of a Latino instead of the other way around — I'm realizing more and more that one of the biggest parts of my ministry down here may come through trying to break the Gringo stereotypes and trying to flip the idea of a racial hierarchy on its head.
In his work as host and translator for visiting mission teams, Welter encountered the mission-trip experience from a new angle. Describing a particularly trying encounter with a frustrating group in La Mision’s pharmacy, he writes,
Thankfully, even amongst having to send back several prescriptions which likely could have killed the patient had I not been checking each one before handing them out, I have been able to keep my patience so far. Please pray that I can continue to keep my cool with the American workers, but more importantly, that I can be attentive enough to catch all the mistakes as I check through the prescriptions being filled!
This opportunity to see the receiving side of U.S. missions will contribute significantly to Welter’s future plans as a medical doctor, and to his work with SPRINT Core student leadership, responsible for recruiting and training students who will learn and serve alongside local leaders across the globe in Summer 2011.
Nicole Ide, Class of 2006, served as student coordinator for the Perkins Center’s Urban Involvement program. She is now living in Zimbabwe, having recently begun work with the Zimbabwe branch of Christian World Outreach. In Ide’s blog, she writes,
The work of CWO in Zimbabwe is quite extensive – it ranges from building wells and community gardens for local villages, to leadership development which provides training for over 4,000 community leaders and pastors per year, and also includes an orphan program that provides supplies and support for around 500 orphans, most of whom have lost at least one parent due to HIV/AIDS. I will hopefully be able to assist with many of these projects while I’m in Zimbabwe, and I will likely be providing various administrative support for the organization as well, allowing the staff to accomplish their work more efficiently and effectively.
As her experience in Zimbabwe has unfolded, Ide’s blog posts highlight the perspective we hope for in all graduates of Perkins Center programs. Clearly, she has not engaged her community in Zimbabwe as a Great White Savior or a source of lavish gifts. Rather, Ide demonstrates a commitment to learning from her local partners and developing a systemic, holistic perspective from which to view the community’s strengths, needs and prospects. She writes,
People spend so much time doing everything here. Hours every day doing laundry. Cooking dinner often begins early in the afternoon. Boiling water for cooking or taking a bath. A clean home is a big deal – so scrubbing and polishing the floors each day (or sweeping the dirt around your hut if you live in the village). Unless you have a car, you can guarantee that if you live or work in town, half of your day will be spent either walking or waiting for/riding the “bus.” With the amount of time and energy it takes just keep oneself alive, it’s no wonder that many struggle to find the resources to make a decent living and lift themselves out of poverty. I’ve really come to see how much America values efficiency.
In another blog post, she addresses a bill recently adopted by Zimbabwe’s government, allowing maternity and paternity leave for adolescent parents. The benefits seem obvious to an American outside, Ide observes,
My first reaction when I heard this was positive. Isn’t it good to have a high school diploma? Won’t that open up a lot more opportunities for them to be able to support the baby? Won’t education help them learn how to best care for a child’s health and well-being? Won’t being in school keep them from getting into additional trouble? All good things, right? In the States, in most situations, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that a teen should go back to school if they are able to.
However, the fear is that this bill will encourage younger children to become parents, creating additional strain on bodies, families, and economic resources. “The impacts of early marriage and pregnancies are devastating across much of Africa. Girls who are married and have children early are much more likely to remain in poverty than those who finish their education and wait to have a family,” she adds.
In August, Ide enrolled in Africa University’s master's of public health program. Studying with a cohort of students from around Africa, she will live on the university campus and apply her field work with Christian World Outreach to her degree program.
These students’ community-engagement skills and learner’s hearts demonstrate the outcomes we hope for in all students who encounter the work of the John Perkins Center. These students will undoubtedly rank among those who “engage the culture and change the world” in ways that are both tangible and respectful.
Welter and Ide are just two of the many students who have served. This summer, 50 students in nine teams had the opportunity to learn and serve in international contexts with SPRINT. Read their blog reports on the SPRINT website.
Owen Sallee trained under World Vision's Vision Youth Initiative, and he was a youth director for Choose Life Youth Ministries in White Center for 12 years, during and following his time as a SPU undergraduate. He graduated from SPU in 1999, and in 2006, he completed his master’s degree in school counseling at Seattle Pacific.
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