Friday, May 4, 2012

Something Like the Peace Corps

Hong Kong Baptist College
I once heard news commentator Chris Matthews talk briefly about his service with the Peace Corps in Africa as a young college graduate. He said that serving in another country, offering humanitarian assistance, living in another culture affected everything he did subsequently in his life. He encouraged young people to get involved in some service like the Peace Corps, and to do it before age thirty for an experience to set the course of their life for the better.

I knew exactly what Chris Matthews was talking about.  When I was in my late twenties, I took part in a mission program with the Southern Baptists called the Journeyman Program. The purpose of this program was to allow college graduates the opportunity to serve for two years in various missions across the globe. There were over 80 of us in our group that went out in 1981. Within our group there were teachers, nurses, youth workers, agricultural workers, and a variety of other jobs that gave aid and supported church missions. I was an English teacher at Hong Kong Baptist College (now Hong Kong Baptist University).

Becoming a World Citizen

A moment relaxing after some
intense Journeyman training sessions
The director of the Journeyman Program at the time was Dr. Stan Nelson. Stan really made that program into the quality endeavor that it was.  He told us during training that after our experiences overseas, we would become world citizens. How right Stan was!  My time in Hong Kong definitely shaped how I view the world. Sometimes I tell people that my two years as a Journeyman in Hong Kong were like ten years of experience.

The Journeyman Program was my “Peace Corps.” You cannot view your place in the world or the plight of others throughout the world in the same way once you have lived, served and worked alongside people in another culture. I have found that in all of my subsequent roles and occupations since then, I have had a sense of mission that others around me often do not seem to grasp. My values, my hopes, and my endeavors have all been shaped and borne by my life as a missionary Journeyman.  What’s more, my path has not been at all what I had planned, but it has all been good.  I recently found a quote that resonated with me, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.”

Renewing Old Friendships

Recently members of our Journeyman mission group have re-connected by way of the internet after thirty years. We have gone in many different directions as we have pursued careers, started families, and lived in various parts of the country and the world. It was amazing and invigorating to discover that immediate camaraderie that still existed after all these years.  I was excited to see the pictures that people shared commemorating their time overseas – it brought back such memories! I was equally invigorated to hear where my colleagues are now.  It was thrilling to hear one another’s stories of where life has taken them in the intervening years.

The bond that was formed as we prepared to go out into the world so many years ago was immediately renewed.  I tried to explain that camaraderie to my daughter, but my words probably fell short. It’s an experience that you can really only know by being there.

The Rewards of Service

I am extremely grateful for having been part of such an awesome group of people. We were young, inspired, and on a mission. We were setting out to parts unknown and we subsequently met with many wondrous encounters. There were joys as well as struggles and sorrows that occurred within our various experiences, but most seem to agree that those were transformative years for us – those two years of service.

I would like to echo the sentiments of Chris Matthews that I mentioned at the outset.  I would encourage all young people to consider giving a year or two of service overseas before you start your career. It could be with the Peace Corps or it could be with your church or religious organization. It will be challenging yet rewarding and you will not be the same thereafter.

Many Possibilities

I should add that if you are not in that youthful category, it is not too late. Did you know that Lillian Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s mother, joined the Peace Corps and went to India when she was 68 years old? My brother spent his vacation time for four or five summers providing assistance to a village in Brazil in a church-sponsored mission. There are nurses I know who have assisted with medical clinics in Central and South America for one to two weeks at a time.

Furthermore, there are many avenues of service available. Some that I know of are Doctors without Borders, SIFAT, and Oxfam. Other organizations that I have recently heard about are Give a Year Partnerships for college students, Proworld, and the Global Volunteer Network. The Quakers also have a number of service opportunities available.  By giving a gift to others somewhere else in the world, you will also be giving a priceless gift to yourself!

Some students from one of my English classes at HKBC
Members of the English language Sunday School class
I taught at Emmanuel Baptist Church
(in Cantonese, that would be pronounced 
Yee-mah-loi-lay Tsum-wui Lai-bai Tong)

Sunday School class at picnic outing in the park
Group shot at church picnic, Emmanuel Baptist Church  

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Previous Posts about my Hong Kong Experience:


  1. I can second Charlie's recommendation of an overseas experience. I have written about my Journeyman experience twice, in relation to teaching English. My understanding of such intercultural experience has changed dramatically over the years, and based on that, I would recommend thinking and reading about what it means to be a US citizen working in another country. If one goes with a belief that US culture is superior to other cultures, that we are "the greatest country in the world," then I'd recommend staying home--although I'd hope living in another culture with an open mind and spirit would change those beliefs. It helped change mine. Living in another country can de-center one's world, which is a good thing! So check out the philosophy and reputation of any sponsoring organization. I would think the Quakers and other groups Charlie mentions are more thoughtful about such service than many evangelical religious churches and organizations. We were lucky that someone as smart and caring as Stan Nelson was in charge of the Journeyman program. I wouldn't trust the current Southern Baptist convention to put anyone as sharp as Stan in charge of their missions work.
    As always, great blog, Charlie!

    1. Thanks, Steve. You have good words and wise counsel.

  2. Amen, brother.
    paul jones (jman missions 81-83)

  3. Do you remember meeting a US Navy sailor who visited the mission in Kowloon late 81 early 82 time frame? I always spent time there visiting with the missionaries and journeymen when in Hong Kong. David Stewart.

    1. Thanks for stopping by my blog site and reading my post about Hong Kong. I'm sure we must have met back then. I was usually at Kowloon Baptist Church on Sunday nights and at the mission prayer meetings on Boundary Street on Tuesday nights. Great times, they were!


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