Tomorrow, Nov. 28, I am moving to Peru to serve with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) for two years.
Whenever I tell people this, a number of questions inevitably follow. Will I be able to come home? No. Will I be making any money? Barely. What if I fall in love with a Peruvian woman and never return? I will cross that bridge if I get to it.
Surprisingly, the question people rarely ask is why I am going. Perhaps they think it is too blunt, but I am not complaining, as it is the question I find most difficult to answer.
There were many aspects of JVC I found attractive when I applied. I was drawn to its emphasis on a simple lifestyle in community with other volunteers.
I also liked that volunteers work not only for but also with people in their host countries. Finally, I saw an opportunity to go deeper in many of the faith and spiritual traditions I grew up with.
It is dizzying thinking about where the application process has taken me. In February, I attended a Discernment Weekend in Washington, D.C., which basically involved aplicants learning about JVC and not so subtly trying to prove we were more thoughtful, spiritual and committed to social justice than our peers.
I also participated in conference calls, which sort of made me feel like I have a “real” job. And during the summer, I went to Boston College for a two-week orientation with other volunteers.
Through all of this, my original reasons for joining JVC remain. I have simply grown to understand them on a new level.
For example, though I cannot grasp the time and effort it will take to enter and build a community in my host country, orientation gave me the chance to form friendships and create a broad, global community with fellow volunteers.
But as I said before, there is a part of me that still finds it hard to say why I am joining JVC. There are moments when I feel foolish for not trying to start a career and scared about the uncertainty of my future.
These thoughts were prevalent when I learned last month that Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple, had died. There may seem to be scant connection between the passing of one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and a faith-based volunteer program, but the news reminded me of a commencement address Jobs delivered at Stanford University in 2005.
In his speech, Jobs talked about dropping out of college and living a nomad’s life for 18 months. Though it seemed to be a reckless decision at the time, he later realized that much of what he learned and experienced during that period was invaluable in helping him grow into the person he was to become.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” Jobs reflected. “You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, Karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. And that will make all the difference.”
At the end of the day, this is all I really have to justify my decision to spend two years doing work I have never done with people I have never met in a place I have never been.
An unexplainable sense that this is what I am supposed to be doing and “that the dots will connect down the road” gives me the confidence to head to South America. I can only hope, as Steve Jobs said, that this belief will make all the difference.
This column originally appeared in The Fond du Lac Reporter on Nov. 27, 2011.