Life Experience

Rural India

A scene from a rural India agricultural project

This blog post is an introduction to my life experiences that shape the kinds of things I anticipate writing about in future posts. A following post will focus more on the name of my blog and the themes of spirituality, freedom and community in the way of Jesus.

My wife Ruth and I had worked for many years on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University, a small Christian liberal arts university in the Shenandoah Valley. I taught religion and social ethics and also served on the pastoral team of the Shalom congregation. Ruth was an administrator in the university’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. After our three children left home we made the momentous decision to uproot ourselves and take a relief, development, and peacebuilding assignment in South Asia. We always dreamed of returning to Asia, having previously served for eight years in the Philippines.

Kolkata, India became our home as we worked at programs in poverty alleviation, sustainable agriculture, education, and community conflict mediation in India, Nepal, and Afghanistan with Mennonite Central Committee and our local partner organizations. My portfolio included church relations, interfaith relations, and local peacebuilding programs. We had envisioned working there for the remainder of our careers but that changed abruptly because of a bureaucratic visa snafu. We had to leave India after three years—considerably sooner than we had anticipated.

That was an anxious time. We had to find new employment in a depressed economy. I took a one-year interim pastoral position in Madison, Wisconsin. I loved that city and our congregation. We were only getting settled there when Ruth was offered a position with World Vision in Washington DC. It was a hard decision but she took the job and I followed her to DC when I finished my pastoral assignment. We bought an old house in Hyattsville, Maryland that needed lots of remodeling and I put all my energy into that for several months. I then took a pastoral sabbatical by volunteering at the MCC Washington Office, the advocacy office of the Mennonite Central Committee.

After that I took one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education through serving as a chaplain intern at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center. I learned so much about our city and life in general through my interactions with patients, through relating to my peer chaplains, through the pastoral care topics we studied, and through my relationship with my supervisor who guided me in a spiritual journey of self-discovery. I learned how to be a spiritual presence to people facing illness, to accident victims arriving in the trauma center, and to patients and their family confronting the end of life and death.

My time in South Asia continues to inform who I am even though my work is now oriented to life and ministry here in the Washington DC area through my pastoral responsibilities at Northern Virginia Mennonite Church. But even that has an international flavor in our diverse community. We share our church building in Fairfax with Korean, Hispanic, and Chinese congregations. I now serve on the board of the Anabaptist Peace Center, which sponsors two peace related public forums each year. I also serve on the board of the Jubilee Association of Maryland, which serves clients with developmental disabilities. All these things together should provide rich resources for exploring what a Jesus centered peace insurgency might look like in our world.

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