For the past month and a half, I have been trying to write something about my impending voyage to Andahuaylillas, Peru for a two-year stint with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). For the past month and a half, I have been unsuccessful in writing said something on said voyage.
I have tried to blame this on a number of unrelated factors: writers’ block; my parents’ NetFlix account; the economy; the NBA lockout; the Tea Party; being distracted by Growing Pains (the sitcom, not adolescent discomfort); Steve Jobs’ retirement; and Obamacare.
I think the real reason for my struggle to write about Andahuaylillas (pronounced On-duh-hway-lee-us) is that I am still not entirely sure why I am going there. Let me explain before JVC’s staff reads this and withdraws its offer.
There were many aspects of JVC I found attractive when I initially applied last January. I was drawn to its emphasis on living a simple lifestyle in community with other volunteers. I also liked that it made a point of stressing solidarity, arguing that volunteers must work not only for but also with people in their host countries. Having studied abroad in South Africa, I was interested in once again immersing myself in another culture and learning about it firsthand. Finally, I saw an opportunity to go deeper in many of the faith and spiritual traditions I grew up with.
It is almost dizzying thinking about where the application process has taken me in the last nine months. Since January, I attended a Discernment Weekend in Washington, D.C., which basically involved myself and other applicants learning more about JVC, thinking and praying about whether the program was right for us and not-so-subtly trying to prove we were more thoughtful, spiritual and committed to social justice than each other. I also participated in conference calls about fundraising and health care, which sort of made me feel like I have a real job. And this summer, I went to Boston College for a two-week orientation with the 25 other new international Jesuit Volunteers.
Through all this, my original reasons for joining JVC remain. These aforementioned preparatory activities, however, have given me a better idea of what my favorite qualities of JVC might look like in reality. While I have yet to experience the faith traditions of the Quechua people who live in Andahuaylillas, JVC’s staff has already introduced me to new styles of prayer and meditation I was previously unfamiliar with. I am not used to a lifestyle as simple as the one I will undoubtedly live in Peru, but orientation gave me the refreshing opportunity to spend stretches of time without using computers, cell phones or other technology I rarely go a day without. And though I still do not fully grasp the time and effort it will take to enter and build intentional communities with my fellow volunteers and people from my host country, Discernment Weekend and orientation gave me the chance to form friendships and build a broad, global community with my fellow volunteers preparing to serve in Belize, Chile, Micronesia, Nicaragua and Tanzania.
But as I said before, there is a part of me that, despite all my explanations, still finds it hard to say why I am joining JVC. I can trace this uncertainty back to the Monday in April when my JVC mentor, Margaret, called to tell me JVC wanted to send me to Peru if I so desired. She asked me to take two more days to think about it before calling her back.
Per Margaret’s request, I went to a small chapel on Marquette University’s campus later that night to see if God had any thoughts on the matter.
‘God?’ I asked. I took the silence as encouragement to keep talking. There wasn’t much to say; I had already exhaustively weighed all the pros and cons—from having a once-in-a-lifetime experience and two years of job security to considerable time away from family and friends and missing the next Batman movie—to such a point that either decision would have been easy to rationalize. What was I to do? I wasn’t expecting a burning bush, but I wouldn’t have minded a divine poke in the right direction.
I can’t be certain that’s what I got, but at some point while musing over all this, I suddenly felt an incredible sense of calm and relief as a simple thought occurred to me: I will always regret it if I don’t do this.
It was the same thought that compelled me to go to Marquette and study abroad in South Africa—I knew I would always wonder what might have been if I didn’t take the chance.
With only two months until my departure, I have almost no idea what to expect once I get to Peru. I’m not even sure what my service site will be. But my belief in what JVC stands for, as well as my faith that something absolutely worthwhile and eye-opening is there for me to experience, leads me to go discover what awaits me. That alone justifies the trip.