Campus News

June 20, 2011

Global internships are change of view

Food is distributed at a school in Laos. (Photo by Heather Reese)

You never know where a few good courses in biblical studies might take you. This summer they are taking Peggy "PJ" Craig, a rising third-year student at Candler School of Theology, to Khammouan, Laos.

She is traveling there as one of three Candler Master of Divinity students selected to serve as 2011 interns with International Relief and Development Inc. (IRD). Craig's internship, like those awarded to Candler students during the summers of 2009 and 2010, is funded by a grant received by the school from IRD.

In 2008, Craig spent six months in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, living in an intentional Christian community and planting a church. In Laos, where the government is by no means friendly to Christianity, this is a bold undertaking.

After returning to the United States, she enrolled in professor Brent Strawn's Old Testament course and later in professor Luke Timothy Johnson's New Testament course. Craig said she started reading the Bible with new eyes and began to see the relationship between it and her life.

"I read Acts 2 and 4 differently, because the community I had lived in was very much like the early church. The text became real," she says. "This interconnectedness is what really interests me."

The experience made Craig yearn to return to Southeast Asia to find new ways to make the gospel come alive in that part of the world. In Laos, Craig hopes to combine her Candler studies and her undergraduate degree in communication from Fordham University to change lives and perspectives.

She will produce three documentaries about IRD's work in that country, and will be responsible for all aspects of the assignment, from camera work to conducting interviews to editing and final production. She is looking forward to speaking to those most directly affected by IRD's efforts to make formal education possible in rural Laos.

While Craig is in Laos, her classmate Jonathan Navas, a rising second-year student, is in Florencia and San Vicente del Caguán, Colombia, aiding internally displaced persons — Colombians who have lost their homes to paramilitary activity and/or drug violence and who live as refugees in their own country.

Pursuing a vocation as a teacher of theology, Navas knows his success depends on real world experience.

"I believe this work in Colombia will complement my studies at Candler well since I will be exposed to people most affected by the world's violence," he says. "Ultimately, everyone is responsible for this violence. But, everyone is also responsible to act justly and compassionately toward one another."

Compassion will be a major component of second-year Master of Divinity student Marques Harvey's IRD internship in Mozambique. Using his background in public health, he will work at the intersection of non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations and faith communities to increase HIV prevention and to care for orphans and other vulnerable children.

Craig, Navas and Harvey follow 12 other Candler students who have participated in the IRD summer intern program over the past two years, some of whom have had their lives permanently changed by the experience.

Maria Presley, a 2011 Candler graduate who spent the summer of 2009 in Mozambique, starts full-time work with IRD this month as an associate officer in the Community Stabilization Program.

"My IRD internship gave me the opportunity to apply a Candler education invested in reflection and systemic engagement to the real world. My theological education provided me with a fresh perspective from which to examine complex realities on the ground, helping me approach narrowly defined situations more broadly," Presley says.

Five students from Rollins School of Public Health are also on IRD internships at several international locations this summer, some serving alongside the Candler students.

This is an excerpt from the Candler Students Around the World blog, written by Peggy Jean Greg.

LaosDocumenting a school food program: You live and learn…Lao!

The distribution began. As each child's name was called, the child was fingerprinted to track receipt of the rations, and then given an armful of goodies. It was adorable watching a small 8-year-old girl trying to carry her beans, rice, and salmon all at once. Many of the students helped each other out. One girl would grab one end of the bag and a boy would grab the other end. Together they would shuffle over to the shade to put down the bag. Once in the shade, the children faced the challenge of hoisting their rations onto their bicycles and securing them. I smiled as I watched little boys ride off with bags on the back of bicycles bigger than them.

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