Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Alumni Share Their Stories

By Julia Kayser 

This is our story, this is our song, praising our Savior all the day long! These slightly modified lyrics of Fanny J. Crosby's hymn "Blessed Assurance" came back as a frequent refrain in the worship services at last weekend's Living Stones for Transformation conference in Arlington, Virginia. One of the most wonderful things about this celebration was getting a chance to hear alumni tell the stories of how the Mission Intern and US-2 programs shaped their lives. The following is a collage of stories that were shared during worship services.

Rachel Cornwell was a Mission Intern from 1986 to 1989. During her time as a Young Adult in Mission, she served in Okinawa, Japan. She bore witness to the heavy load of the US military presence there, and to the desperation of Filipina sex workers. "Go back to the United States," they told her, "and tell them what you saw and what our lives are like." Rachel says that the responsibility of carrying those stories helped her find her voice. She later went on to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church.

Elizabeth Cuevas-Wallace fled from her home in Chile seeking medical care after the 1976 military coup. Missionaries brought her to a Methodist hospital in Georgia, and she met her husband at a local church. Immediately after they were married, they went to Texas as US-2s, where they served as house parents for 12 orphaned Mexican students. "That was the best way that we could have started our marriage," Elizabeth said. It taught the young couple how to be parents, and helped them discern their calls. They have been married for 34 years so far.

Doug Cunningham is an alumnus of the Mission Intern class of 1983. He was sent to the Philippines, where he discovered a "connection between Jesus and justice." He joked that he left his mark on the Philippines when he accidentally chose a seat on a block of ice during a long bus ride: "the mark you make may be more embarrassing than powerful." But he attested to the fact that his work abroad was transformative for him, and taught him the importance of community-centered living.

Harris Tay served as a US-2 in Dayton, Ohio, when he was fresh out of college and thought he had everything figured out. He worked on leadership development for teens. Although he traveled far and wide after his US-2 term was finished, he ended up right back in Dayton, Ohio, and now works as the executive director of the Wesley Community Center. He says, "You can run away from your mission, but your mission will not run away from you."

Joanne Reich served as a US-2 in Georgia and a Mission Intern in Palestine in the 1990s. She became aware of her privilege when one of her Palestinian coworkers was in a wheelchair because of polio—a disease for which Joanne had been vaccinated as a child. Joanne is compelled to share stories of inequality, and now serves as a deaconess. "No one can take stories away from you," she says. And she's right, of course. Sharing our stories never dilutes them; it only makes them more powerful.

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