Thursday, March 29, 2012

The OCCDA Internship

Spring break week was also kind of decision time...

It's crazy how life goes sometimes. I wasn't planning on being involved in a med student retreat, nor was I really looking for it. But, it was great and I'm glad it all worked out (I promise, I'm not just saying that). Because through that, I spent hours on the phone with Dr. Barb Carlson, the doctor who planned the SWMC Retreat for us. She put me in contact with the OCCDA (Overflow Christian Community Development Association in Benton Harbor) and before I knew it, I was considering, SERIOUSLY considering, taking a year between my 2nd and 3rd years of medical school to work as an intern for OCCDA while concurrently working on a Master's in public health.  Please note I didn't say "to take a year OFF" important distinction--that's how important I think doing something like this would be. I even e-mailed the Air Force requesting a leave of absence. To which they said, "Apply, but don't get your hopes up. It's highly unlikely your request will be approved." I spoke with a couple of students who have done the MPH...with've gotten lots of opinions--for which I am incredibly grateful. Anyone who had to listen to me consider all this and process it out loud, I owe you one.

All things considered and believe me, I considered them ALL at least 10 times, I've realized a couple of things which I've listed below. "Things considered" included awesome, AWESOME people and role models in Benton Harbor I'd get to spend a year with, a church body that meets in a movie theater, learning tons about how to spearhead community development projects, immersing myself in a new culture, stretching my faith, taking out another $$20-25,000 in student loans, another year of coursework, extremely interesting classes in the MPH program, learning about how to improve the foundation of health in an inner city, seeing deep rooted division between classes in society...)

I've come to the decision that I'm going to use this experience as fuel for what I hope to discover  once I get to Bay City in July, either by a previously established organization or by my own initiative. I didn't get a big sign from God or anything regarding which was most definitely the absolute best. I believe choosing to spend a year in Benton Harbor would have been very worthwhile, but there are a ton of benefits to Bay City too. Benefits that extend beyond me and that I can see God using in big ways. For example, totally free housing (all utilities and laundry included!!) and an AF stipend that can be put to use building God's kingdom instead of paying rent. But spending time in Benton Harbor over spring break and learning about the MPH program (in which I hope to try to audit some classes...for free!) have served a purpose and thus, were not for nothing. With that, here are my reflections:

Big picture take-aways:
1. God has completely changed my 10 year "this is what I'll be doing" plan I'd set my eyes on only a year and a half ago. For years I pictured myself at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. That transitioned into any country overseas...basically any continent except North America. Now I'm thinking Detroit, which is only a short 20 minute drive from my hometown, is looking pretty attractive. It's funny how new experiences have begun to help me discover more about what makes me tick. I wonder where I think I'll be in another year...

2. Be ready for something to reset the timeline you've so carefully planned out. There is a quote from a sermon I shared a while ago..."those who follow God's mission will face constant temptation to exchange God's agenda for personal ambition." I think personal ambition here can sometimes refer to the timeline we carefully construct for ouselves. One we control and that a lot of people have proven work. It's safer. I'm praying for the ability to be flexible. To look for a road less traveled. Rather than see an interruption in the day, in the month, or like in this case, an entire year, as an interruption, I've learned to embrace it as an opportunity. Trusting in God and learning to be irrationally in love with the idea of serving a God who can do immeasurably more than I could have dreamed or imagined is starting to become a new standard I'm asking friends and family to hold me accountable to.

3. Above all else, put on love. "Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope." -Maya Angelou Sometimes I get freaked out when I try to interact with people I don't know or am for whatever reason uncomfortable around. I wish it wasn't the case. But it is. I learned while shadowing and interacting with volunteers at Mosaic love goes a long way and it starts with being interested in a person. After all, who doesn't love to talk about themselves if you ask them a question?

4. Stefenie, one of the co-directors of Mosaic, left me with a pearl of what she has observed. She said community is giving up our own privileges and intrinsic power we were born into, and working to empower those who weren't handed life on a silver platter. I know I don't have it all together, but a well paying job, warm home and running car (...silver platter) make life a little less stressful, right? I thought a lot about that and what that actually looks like. It sounds nice, but what does it look like? The problems people are so quick to point out in society are so deeply ingrained in brokenness that stems from generations of suffering. Andrea and I wrestled with solutions while we drove from Benton Harbor, over the bridge, and into St. Joe. Two cities divided by race, class, education, employment, and economics. It's a deep division that extends into how the two populations interact as human beings. I was even told by a Benton Harbor volunteer that he wasn't surprised when we told him we weren't from St. Joseph. "They never come over here, I don't know why...," he said, "they just never do." It took the disparity I saw merely in the homes and heard about in reference to school districts for example, to an entirely different level. A much more personal, heartfelt level. I learned in this that I have a lot to learn. And that I might never have the best answer, but am thankful for a God who sustains me when I get frustrated and feel out of control. There's a plan. He promised.

5. I struggled with not taking a year to spend time in Benton Harbor because I was afraid of what people thought. I'd spent so much time and energy investigating in the opportunity that I felt as though I'd be letting people down if I didn't follow through with this crazy idea to not stick to the said "plan." Sort of like I had to follow through in order to maintain credibility. Insecure? Maybe. But, hopefully you understand. Part of me was tempted to do it for the sole purpose of not sticking to the plan, which was extremely attractive in its own way. Maybe a little to prove to my parents that the experience would be worthwhile (Sorry Mom and Dad...) All in all, through that mental tug-of-war, I've learned to remember that I will best serve the Lord no matter where I am--just so long as it's about Him. Not me, not my insecurities, or to  maintain my own credibility with people. I have become so passionate about community health as a vehicle for Christian community development and will make it a priority in Bay City. And instead of feeling burdened by the thought of what people thought of not choosing to work in Benton Harbor, I feel empowered and encouraged by it. Like I said before, it's lit a fire under me for finding similar opportunities in Bay City this summer.

I'm so excited to move to Bay City. I can hardly wait. That also means boards will be over...which can't come soon enough!!

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