“So, have you been getting some attention from the next office over?” Mrs. Carla Gray asked, leaning in towards me.
I didn’t know what she meant until she nodded in the direction of my tall, gluten-free coworker Alex, who sat in the chair across from me, nibbling on a (gluten-free) brownie.
“Oh–I don’t really know,” I stuttered. “There’s been nothing–I just–I don’t really read into anything.”
She smiled. “Well, this was his baby,” she said, gesturing towards the balloons and streamers, table set with snacks and drinks, and giant taped-together “Thank You” sign. There was even a huge, pink card, the front of it jokingly decorated with financial aid application documents cut into flowers and sprinkled with glitter (the card was made by Alex’s mom).
A few minutes earlier, I had walked through the office door after my lunch break, barely registering that the lights were off, when a crowd of my coworkers, the admissions team, and several of the women faculty shouted, “Surprise!”
The lights were flipped on, I tried to sufficiently express my thanks and genuine shock, and then we began to eat and talk. This surprise party had been thrown in celebration of my last week in the financial aid office, before my graduation from Word of Life. Earlier in the week, I had been amused when Alex came and said that Mr. Henson, the financial aid director, planned to bring in donuts (or something along those lines) for my last day of work. Alex wanted to make sure that I didn’t have any strong preferences or allergies. I informed him that I am not at all picky and he could feel free to choose something that catered to his gluten-free needs. Anticipating finding a box of sugary something on my desk on Friday, the last thing I expected was a full-blown party. But there I was, reveling in the best surprise since my seventh birthday party.
“Tell everyone your plans for once your time here is finished,” Tom Headlee, the Dean of Admissions, said.
As fickle, ever-shifting, and back and forth as my plans always are, I actually had an answer. And the answer still stands, more than a few weeks later (which could be a new record).
The summer after my freshman year of high school I spent a week with the Phillipsburg Christian and Missionary Alliance youth group on an Adventures in Missions trip to Philadelphia. Serving alongside us at the Salvation Army on the infamous Kensington Avenue was another youth group, from Michigan. One member of their team–whose nickname was not “Hottie” as I had originally assumed, but rather, he was named Hadi–made a particular impression. He was capable of perfectly French-braiding the hair of the girls from the his youth group, was never found without a soccer ball being juggled on the tips of his sneakers, and had moved to Michigan from Iraq, where he had left about
a dozen siblings behind when he moved to the States. He really didn’t talk much, so I gathered this information throughout the week based on either my own observations or comments from other team members. At some point, I saw Hadi write something, and having never before seen handwritten Arabic, I was taken by its aesthetic beauty. I was fascinated with this language, and the culture behind it.
The next summer, one of the missionaries who spoke during the annual family camp week at Delta Lake Bible Conference Center (a Christian and Missionary Alliance camp in Rome, New York) was named Rob. He and his wife had started a women’s center in Jordan. I decided to talk to him one morning during the coffee hour, to ask him his opinion on taking Arabic as a foreign language in high school (a decision that I was currently in the process of making).
“Well,” he said. “Because there are so many dialects, you really need to know where you’re going in order to be able to really communicate. The daily, spoken language definitely varies considerably from one country to the next. That being said, it’s a great language, and worth studying.”
Without much–if any–convincing being necessary, I was sold and determined, and about six weeks later, I began my first online Arabic class. My teacher, Miss Maylena David, was from and currently living in Jordan. Throughout the following months I studied the Arabic alphabet and very basic conversational skills. The following year, I took another class, and although I didn’t study as much as I should have (not realizing how much free time I truly had prior to graduating–oh, the many wasted mornings that I slept in, and afternoons where I moseyed around as if those minutes didn’t count towards the sum total of my life), I continued to read about Arabs and Muslims, and grew increasingly intrigued with the Arabic language, Middle-Eastern culture, and the seeking and searching, but terribly hopeless, religion of Islam.
The summer before my senior year of high school, while camping up at Delta Lake again, I heard about the new short-term missions and internship program being launched by the C&MA, called Envision. I talked to one of the members from the Envision board, and asked him whether there was anywhere in the Middle East that I could possibly intern. He told me that there was a site in Jordan. A couple nearby, overhearing our conversation, commented that I could probably pass for a young, Middle-Eastern woman.
I filled out an interest form on the website, and since I had never been out of the country or lived away from home, they suggested a shorter-term trip. That didn’t work out then due to my schedule, but I kept the idea in the back of my mind.
Throughout my year at Word of Life, I muddled through a variety of potential plans following graduation from the one-year program. After applying to a variety of different schools for drastically different programs, unintentionally (and regretfully) soliciting emails and phone calls from every online and community college paralegal and sonography program in existence, then paying my confirmation fee and intending to enroll at a private four-year university as an English major (and subsequently second-guessing the loans and my true level of commitment, much to my misery), one day in June I stumbled across the Envision website yet again, and arrived at a webpage listing specific jobs. One in particular caught my attention: a teacher’s assistant needed in Amman, Jordan. I decided to submit an interest form, and see if anthing would come of it.
A week or so later, I received several emails from people serving in various capacities, from the Envision coordinators to the director of the Alliance Academy in Amman. The director said that they could still use someone in the position and would love for me to pursue the internship. He set up an interview with the Vice Principal of the school, an interview which was held at 7am on a Tuesday morning in July. The interview was not only a gauge of my ability to fulfill the needed position, but also a gauge of my commitment and ability to adapt to the drastically different culture and struggles that come with being a single woman living in a Middle-Eastern country. Although I was made more aware of the spiritual climate and likely frustrations that would come with living in Jordan, certainly worth considering, I found myself feeling an even stronger desire to pursue the opportunity.
After spending a few weeks doing my best to discern the desires that the Lord has placed in my heart from other motivations, praying for wisdom, and talking with my parents and several others about the situation, I decided that this opportunity is one that I don’t want to regret not pursuing. I dutifully phoned my admissions counselor to let him know that I would not be attending his university in the fall. He responded graciously. In the following weeks, I continued with the application process and informed people of my updated (albeit still tentative) plans.
This afternoon I recieved this email from the internship coordinator at Envision, Sarah Bourns:
Greetings from Colorado Springs, where you’ll be in a few weeks!!
I wanted to let you know that I’ve hear the OFFICIAL green light from the AAJ team in Jordan that they have gladly accepted you to serve with them come January! Yay!! And welcome to the family 🙂
This is exciting.
Sometimes certain decisions–like the decision to interview for a service RA position in the financial aid office, or the decision to spend a week in Philadelphia being chased around by inner-city six year olds in the Salvation Arm gym–can result, after many weeks or years, in very unexpected surprises.