Experiences and Insights of Individual Volunteers
Andy Henson at pharmacy of Salud y Paz clinic in Guatemala
We invite you to read the following writings that have come from many different individual volunteers. We hope that these excerpts will help you get an insight into their experiences, and will be an inspiration for you. - Walt and Betty Whitehurst (Consultants for Individual Volunteers, 1999-2004)
Download and print the complete document "Experiences and Insights of Individual Volunteers" (Compiled September 2001) To view and print PDF files, you must have the free Adobe Acrobat ® Reader.
Part 5: Spiritual Growth - Value of Volunteering - Advice to Future Volunteers
Democratic Republic of the Congo
I have been somewhat surprised to find that I have an extreme hunger for reading the Bible. I think I just needed a little bit of life experience to make it real. This certainly has been some life experience!
I am writing this just after returning from the Sunday evening English-speaking worship service, and tonight was an incredibly moving night. We celebrated the Eucharist for the first time all year at that service, and it really brought home to me what an important part of my spiritual life the Eucharist is. All year I have been going to various churches, never understanding much of what was going on, and essentially receiving the Eucharist each time with a bunch of strangers in a language I don't understand very well. Tonight I was worried that it would be just a Methodist statement - the Lutherans wouldn't receive because it wasn't quite right, the Pentecostals wouldn't receive because it was too Papist...but after the preacher consecrated the elements and invited everyone to the table, everyone -- Congolese, American, British, French, Pentecostal, Methodist, Lutheran - came to receive the eucharist, and it was as though a longing I didn't even know I had was fulfilled. No matter what happens in these next couple of months, I know that I am much better prepared for it now.
I have found my prayer life to be very strong right now. Being so far from home and in little communication with family and friends, I find God is our ever-present communicator through prayer. In the same way, my relative inability to communicate with the children and people here, in Spanish, only heightens our spiritual awareness that some other being has brought us together and develops our relationships through smiles, hugs, laughter and prayer.
One of my more inwardly satisfying experiences was New Year's Eve. We all went to a relative's house around 9:00 p.m. All of us (about 15) visited and set off firecrackers until midnight. At midnight, we sat down to a wonderful meal of turkey and other delicious foods. Before we started our meal, Rev. Rodas led us in prayer as we thanked God for His gift of family and of a New Year. What a wonderful way to bring in the New Year!
Personally, I'm very satisfied by my time here. I feel that I have grown not only as a person but also in my understanding of my relationship with God. I have made some valuable friendships with people from all walks of life that I hope I will be able to maintain in the future.
God has revealed much to me during my first month here in the Philippines. I have learned so many things about the nature of God and myself...
In general, I think the students here are a little more receptive to discussing spiritual things than the young people in the U.S. I'm actually amazed by the honesty of the students here. They say things that surprise me all the time. They're not afraid to admit when they're a little scared or lonely. I would do well to learn some things from them.
I frequently discuss spiritual matters with people here. Sometimes it's brief, other times a bit more involved. We have a board in the dorm where we have a daily devotional. Someone writes a verse and someone else illustrates it. Some of the drawings have been really impressive. A few of the students have questions, and I do my best to answer them. And in turn, I ask questions too...
Sometimes when a few of us get together, I pull out my chord sheets and we sing praise songs for a couple of hours. It's fun.
Vietnam's spiritual foundations are rich and deep. Buddhism is the prominent religion; others are Confucianism, Taoism, animism, and Christianity. Temples, pagodas, and churches are in every section of cities and along highways. Buddhist homes have an outdoor shrine containing incense. Regardless of their religious belief, all Vietnamese feel an intimate relationship with the land on which they live and have a deep faith in the continuity of their nation. I read that the secret wish of all Vietnamese is to attain nhan - a word borrowed from the Chinese meaning "contemplating the moon through a window - laughing off the glory and the burden of the day and instead immersing one's self in the serenity of a moonlit night."
We live closer to God's creation here. We hear the birds as we work. We are lulled to sleep by crickets and frogs. Night and day chickens clucking, roosters crowing and dogs barking provide background for everything we do. Last Wednesday we even heard monkeys chattering in the woods by our house, but we have not seen them. Lizards run about on the roof - and occasionally on inside walls. We even have a herd of Brahma cows pass within a few feet of our backdoor once a week. We give thanks before meals more frequently - perhaps because we are more aware of how fortunate we are, and perhaps because we are together for almost every meal. Having time (and the need) to reflect seriously on topics for church Bible studies and lectures in faith development also adds to my spiritual growth.
What a journey of discovery this period of my life continues to be! What a joy - what a challenge! It seems that every moment I am called to confront my faith - the belief system in which I grew up and took for granted. There are no symbols of my faith here - no crosses, no doves. But on every corner there is a temple covered with red powder and flower petals and bells to ring to summon a god and a small worship center on most every house. The greatest gift we expatriate Christians have to give is to live each day as though it may be our last to show how our God is a God of love and a God of hope.
Value of Volunteering
[From an unsolicited letter sent by a mission project director:] I want to let you know what wonderful representatives of your organization Leon and Doris have been during their time at Southwest Indian School. There are so many positive adjectives I could use in telling about their ministry here, and then I would not have used all that apply.
They have found many ways to be involved both with students and staff and have been a constant encouragement to all. Everyone they have worked with has been uplifted and encouraged by their upbeat attitudes. There has been a willingness and flexibility to fill in wherever needed and do it with unusual grace.
Although their main assignment has been as part of our kitchen staff, they volunteered to fill in a real need by teaching a life skills class. They have found many opportunities to be involved in a one to one basis with students and former students both spiritually and socially. We feel blessed and privileged to have had them with us this year, and would recommend them to any other ministry where the Lord might lead them.
Advice to Future Volunteers
Lessons I have learned:
Motorized vehicles always have the right of way. Pedestrians must move out of the way if they want to see another sunset.
Never wait to take a shower, etc., if there is water available. At different times of the day, parts of Copán are without water. You never know when it will occur.
Always have a flashlight in an easily accessible place.
Never assume purified water will be available.
Bug soup is not so bad.
Get used to people being amused with your lack of knowledge about the language and culture.
Always expect beans, eggs, and corn tortillas and never tire of them or you are in for a long (very long) stay.