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A legacy of service: People in Mission celebrates 20 years

Twenty years ago, Covenant initiated plans for People in Mission, a program to help college students do social justice work during summer break. We asked alums to look back on their mission experiences. These are their stories.

Katherine Higgins – Cairo, Egypt – 1999

Oberlin College PC(USA) minister, chaplain and pastoral educator at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, NC

Why pyramids?"

He said, "Think of them as immense invitations"

                                                   -Josh Ritter, The Curse 

Cairo was not an easy place to be.  It was hot and dusty, and as a young and adventurous single woman, I felt constrained by the culture that encouraged women to be covered and not go out alone.  But Cairo was an amazing place.  With the benefit of time, I have come to see that discomfort can be the beginning of important learning (who knew putting on frozen socks could cool down an overheated body so well?) and that constraints can birth freedoms unimagined.

Officially, my job would be teaching English to young girls at the Ramses College for Girls, a school founded by Presbyterian missionaries in the early 20th century. Unofficially, however, it was so much more.  I got to know missionaries who had lived their lives in faithful service to God, called out from the comforts of home.  I experienced a culture, and language, and environment unlike any I had known before.

Today I am a PC(USA) minister, working as a chaplain and pastoral educator at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, NC.  Kierkegaard said that life is lived looking forward, but understood looking backward.  When I think back on my time in Egypt, I can see the profound influence it had on my life, and especially on my vocation.  I am filled with gratitude as I recall

  • the support of a community faithfully living out its baptismal promises to me and my family; in spite of my undeserving, you all gave me the world, and taught me something about grace
  • the courage to move beyond my comfort zone, opening myself to wonders unknown
  • a sense of my own smallness...standing in front of pyramids 5000 years old
  • the power of relationship formed over a cup of tea and a hearty dose of hospitality

Rebecca Dautridge Nesbitt  Cairo, Egypt – 2000

UNC - Occupational Therapist (Aldersgate Retirement Center) currently a paralegal with Nesbitt Law

Living as a foreign Christian woman in a Muslim country was the first time I ever truly felt what it must be like to be ‘other’ or a ‘minority.’ We were watched, touched, and taunted, and we quickly learned that it was much easier and safer to go places with our one male companion as opposed to travelling as an unaccompanied female. It was a big adjustment to realize that it was not safe to be out on the streets of the city because of our race, gender and religion. This experience of being ‘other’ helped us relate to the experience of Sudanese refugees with whom we were working. They were also singled out for being ‘other’ but unfortunately they frequently met with violence on the streets of Cairo, because many Egyptians resented their presence in the country.

It many ways Egypt was a juxtaposition of being ‘other.’ At times, I felt foreign, lost, and conspicuous. Other times, my American citizenship was used to obtain privileges that normal Egyptians could not obtain. In both instances, I was judged externally by my race, gender, religion or nationality as opposed to my individual characteristics. It was an eye-opening lesson that I have never forgotten, and I am grateful to Covenant Presbyterian for providing this opportunity during my youth.

Cary Hill Degan – Alaska -2000

Tripp Mickle – Reynosa, Mexico – 2001

Wake Forest University, Journalist covering Apple for the Wall Street Journal San Francisco

I didn't want to go to Mexico. I thought of the opportunity costs. The money I could make in the U.S. The journalism internship I could get. The awkwardness, isolation and evangelism I could avoid. But I went anyway.

Temperatures in Mexico were already tipping 100 degrees when I arrived in late May. As we made our way across the lazy, green Rio Grande and onto the bumpy highway south of the border, I stared out the window of a pickup truck and questioned my decision.

There were no groups in those early weeks. It was just me and a Naval Academy volunteer, learning to lay cinderblock, cut rebar and build homes alongside a dozen Mexicans working to earn houses for their families.

I was a calamity on the construction site. I hammered my thumb. I dropped a cinderblock on my foot. I left cement on my skin, burning it.

The foreman, Ezequiel, looked past the mishaps and mentored me. My language skills improved and I began talking in my sleep in Spanish. A woman adopted me as her gringo son.

Eventually, the groups came. We built house after house and entertained high schoolers and adults from churches ranging from Alabama to North Carolina.

Years later, one of the high school students from outside Charlotte, Claire Tomkinson, became the director of middle school youth at Covenant. Giving and receiving can be circular like that, spinning forward over decades in unexpected ways.

On the way to the airport my final day, one of my colleagues asked: What are you going to tell people when you get home?

My work gave countless families new homes and deepened volunteers’ appreciation for helping others. People’s lives on both sides of the border improved. Along the way, my faith deepened.

Carla and Stewart were right. Giving spawns receiving. So when you’re asked to step outside your comfort zone and do something for others, remember their simple advice: Go. Try it.

Cary Hill Degan  – Ghana, Africa – 2001

Gail Sullivan – Reynosa, Mexico – 2002

Law school; journalist for Slate magazine’s Politcal Gabfest, Etsy shop TiqueCopper

My time in Reynosa was impactful in so many ways, more than I have time to describe! It was an amazing opportunity to develop relationships with people who were born into circumstances so different from my own. That has shaped my understanding of poverty, privilege, race, and class. When I hear "undocumented" or "illegal," words often tinged with judgement and even hate, I think of the people of Reynosa who want nothing but a better life for their families and their children. Many of them had family members working in the US. My time in Reynosa made me more compassionate and aware.

I felt like the people of Reynosa saw and accepted me as me, which was so humbling and astonishing. It made me aware of how much of my day-to-day life was a performance that required charm and material goods, none of which mattered in Reynosa.

2003 no intern

Katie Graybeal Chalmers – Reynosa, Mexico – 2004

In summer 2003 I spent two months in Reynosa, Mexico serving with Faith Ministry.  I felt a strong connection to the people and the work done in Reynosa during my two youth trips to Reynosa in high school.  So when I had the opportunity to spend a longer time there with Covenant's support I jumped at it!

There are many memories I have of that summer.  Staying with Zenaida's family gave me a chance to live and see the community in new ways through shared meals, bingo games, playing with the children, and sitting at Esequiel's house listening to music.  Putting the roof on houses where there had been empty yard only weeks before gave me a better sense of how the construction projects fit together to create a new home.   Getting to know the families and workers as we worked and my fledgling Spanish improved gave me a stronger appreciation for the relationships and community that exist between families and friends in Reynosa, and between the Mexican people and American volunteers.

The importance of community is the one thing that sticks with me now more than ever, and I know that God is in our lives every day through the people around us.  Since my summer in Reynosa I have had times where I struggled to trust God, but each time I look back I realize that He has brought people into my life all along the way to help me through.  Living in a community of faith at Covenant, in Reynosa, and now in Washington has taught me that no one of us is alone. Not only is God with us but He sends people into our lives to walk with us along the way. 

Caroline East Beradi  - Northern Ireland – 2005

PC(USA) minister

I served for a summer in Northern Ireland, traveling alone for the first time, studying, and serving at the residential center of Corrymeela, a community dedicated to peace and reconciliation.  As a volunteer there I worked with families affected by the "Troubles," and listened to how they moved forward in faith while living in neighborhoods that remained thick with tension.

My experience as a People in Mission scholarship recipient gave me the chance to see what it meant to spend significant time with people dealing with conflict instead of flitting though as a short-term mission trip participant.  I was taken in by a local minister and his family and saw firsthand what it meant to dedicate one's whole life to the Gospel's call to love and mercy in incredibly challenging circumstances.  I'm so very thankful for that summer. 

Heather Currie – Thailand, Singapore – 2005

Surgery Resident, Otolaryngology, UVA

I spent my time in two capacities one at a world-wide missions conference called Urbana. This conference brings together missionaries all over the world and provided an amazing insight into the broad spectrum of opportunities and needs that exist. I also spent my time in South East Asia with a Semi-Professional Women’s Soccer Mission with the Charlotte Lady Eagles. In this trip we held training camps for the region’s national teams and brought Bibles to a remote area in South East Asia. We saw first hand the struggle of spreading the gospel in this area of the world. In both of these experiences, I learned a great appreciation for the gifts the Lord has given me, in sports and now in medicine and surgery. I plan to join short-term medical missions teams to use my training to continue to spread the hope of Jesus. 

Ann Cosper – Africa – 2006

Lawyer in North Carolina

I found an international program on the Internet where participants from around the world would fly into Dar Es Salaam, the capital city of Tanzania, and do humanitarian work for a month. The People In Mission scholarship at Covenant was just becoming well-known, and I applied, hoping to gain the trust of Covenant's congregation. It was humbling to receive the grant, and it carried with it great responsibility to represent Covenant and Christ.

The 50+ girls at the Bethsaida Secondary School and Orphanage live together in white cinder-block buildings outside Dar Es Salaam, a city with a populace of approximately one million people, similar to Charlotte. My fellow volunteers and I taught English and worked on AIDS prevention. Three of the girls at the orphanage were HIV-positive. We believe one girl contracted the disease when she was raped by her brother. Many of the girls became orphans because AIDS claimed the lives of their family members.

We look at the Bethsaida girls, and we see human beings who have nothing. What a gift we are, we think, to help those less fortunate--doing God's work, sacrificing the comfort to which we return after several weeks. But while these girls are poor by the world's standards, they are not poor in spirit. Perhaps our American malaise is a luxury.

My way of "singing Asante" when I returned from Tanzania was a commitment to raising sufficient funds to put in a water system for these girls - so they can turn on a faucet, flush a toilet, wash their clothes, bathe, and brush their teeth using water that does not come from a stagnant pond. Thanks to articles written by my mom and by Covenant member and longtime Charlotte Observer columnist Taylor Batten, and thanks to the generosity of friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers, we ultimately raised $15,000, and the project was finally complete four years later. 

The girls are passing national exams and are graduating at a higher rate than ever. I like to think that their water system has played a small part, and if I had not received the People In Mission scholarship and love and support from Covenant, it never would have happened. 

Will Diehl – Reynosa, Mexico – 2007

Hannah Leaf – Reynosa, Mexico – 2007

Architecture, Marketing with Wildlands Engineering

The People in Mission summer experience forever changed me as a person. From the outside, the people of Reynosa seem so different than us - different language, different skin color, different culture. Yet, when the beauty is revealed behind these differences, you recognize the thread of God's beautiful love that weaves us together.

One story, in particular, sticks out to me. I found myself and about 60 other people packed in the Faith Ministry's church for our lunch break and mid-day church service. During this time of fellowship, members of the community often come to hear the word and break bread together. I sat next to a disabled woman who lived just a few streets over from the church. She had experienced severe abuse as a child that left her barely able to walk or talk. As I began to eat my sandwich, she reached her hand out for a bite. I tore off half my sandwich and gave it to her. We were both enjoying our half of the sandwich when a member of one of the American mission groups tapped me on the shoulder and simply said, "There’s a seat saved for you in Heaven."

Now, did that one moment earn me a seat in heaven? I highly doubt it, but in that moment I was reminded that God has called us each of us to be the light. Whether by the recipient or a bystander, quiet acts of love don't go unnoticed. I pray that the light sparked in me from these two summers in Reynosa never goes away. Thank you, Covenant, for granting me such an impactful experience!

Mary Ripple – Reynosa, Mexico – 2007

Morgan Sanders – South Africa – 2007

Jennifer Mickle – Reynosa – 2007

Pediatrician, Miami

During the summer of 2007, I spent a month serving in the Faith Ministry Clinic in Reynosa alongside Dr. Juaquin and Nurse Betty as well as the medical volunteer groups.  I went there eager to apply what I learned in the classroom after my first year of medical school but I came away with so much more.  There were memorable interactions with patients everyday---standing alongside a new mother as she heard her baby's heart beat for the first time, giving an injection to help an elderly home-bound patient walk again, and helping with check-ups at a large makeshift satellite clinic. In many ways, I learned more in those 4 weeks than I did during any clinical rotation in school.  

Ten years later, I still find moments almost daily that take me back to that treasured experience.  Since I am now a Pediatrician practicing in Miami, I find myself longing for another day learning medical Spanish with Dr. Juaquin.  Other times, I recognize that I have a better understanding and appreciation of cultural practices of my patients. I know that the time I spent in Reynosa shaped the person and doctor I am today.  

(As a side note, I met my husband because I did a presentation on my time in Reynosa during a lecture to the 1st year med students when I got back to school--he thought I was cute and really cool for doing mission work) – Jennifer Mickle

Hannah Leaf – Reynosa, Mexico -2008

Will Diehl – Reynosa, Mexico – 2008

Kohl Eisenschmidt - Reynosa, Mexico – 2009

Regenerative Blower mechanic and Chief Metal Fabrication Craftsman for Cary Manufacturing. 

Because of the increased American concern over violence brought on by the Mexican drug cartels, that summer was significantly slower than usual for Faith Ministries.

The work seemed to ebb and flow between the noisy chaos of huge church groups to manage and the dead quiet of when no groups attended. This forced us to take initiative, do odd jobs, and sometimes see unfamiliar places in Reynosa.  

Some of my fondest memories took place after hours in the long silence of the afternoon when I had time with the other volunteers to play cards, laugh at jokes and conversation, or simply spend all afternoon reading in a hammock. Never having learned Spanish, I had to rely on more fluent volunteers. This meant that I mostly retained my quiet disposition among our Mexican friends. This fact ensured, however, that I strove to “make up” my contribution by being an extraordinarily hard worker and an exemplar to the visiting church youth.

Nevertheless, what I most remember was spending personal time with the Mexican families in their homes. I was deeply touched by the familial love they offered me so freely. It would often nearly bring me to tears.

I still act on my experience to this day. I came prepared by the liberal arts philosophical education I had already received.  This combined with the shocking realities of my Mexican friends’ natural world.  By stepping out of my privileged bubble for this time, I was allowed to reexamine my perspective. The building and the hard work combined with this always expanding and deepening perspective to give me a new lens through which to see the world.

My memories of my time in Reynosa are something I truly cherish. Today, I am truly the contemplative welder. It has made all the difference!

Morgan Bennight –Dominican Republic – 2009

Nanny, Charlotte, NC

I became one of Covenant’s People in Mission the summer after I graduated college. That summer, I was sifting through family heartbreak, realizing the fact that I just graduated college, and with a ‘what am I supposed to do now?’ question on the forefront of my mind.

I spent two months living under a mosquito net and using the bathroom with tarantulas crawling up the walls. I spent two months building relationships with children and making them feel known. I spent two months strengthening my own faith journey and learning about God in a new light. My actual living quarters were on the orphanage property. We got to wake up to the sounds of children working in the fields, to roosters doing their thing, and to cows mooing right outside our window.

At first I was scared out of my mind. My initial thought was ‘maybe I can swim home.’ The first couple of weeks I was moving through the motions trying to figure out if I could do it or not. Then something happened. I truly believe it was a God thing. I began to feel like I was truly living amongst the Dominican people. We ate what they ate, we slept when they slept, and we got beaten to the ground in dominos every single time.  I felt my eyes open big and my heart open even bigger. I began to see that walking along side children and families, who had no choice to be placed where they were, was just as important as digging, moving, shoveling, and lifting cement in Reynosa. I was a part of building a home in the Dominican but in a different way.

Mollie Strawn – Uganda – 2010

Carson Duffy - International Volunteer Headquarters, Cusco, Peru – 2010

I spent the summer after my sophomore year at Rhodes working in a daycare center in an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Cusco, Peru.  Throughout this experience, I was most impacted by the other volunteers and travelers among whom I served, traveled, and lived.  As “an outsider”, alone in a foreign country, I begun to understand that the feeling of community is not always spontaneous but often something that has to be fostered. There is equally as much variance in the process of creating community as there is in the meaning and manifestation of communities across the globe.  An interest in this process has stayed with me since my summer in Peru.

A couple years later I applied for a year long Watson Fellowship in the hopes of giving myself another chance to explore other cultures and to challenge my opinions, my assumptions, my history, and my comfort. Over my fellowship year I studied conflict resolution and community development practices in South Africa, Chile, India, and Northern Ireland. Covenant provided a strong community and a safe space for me throughout my childhood; it also feels fitting that Covenant helped facilitate an opportunity for me to explore and grow in an unfamiliar place.

I am currently living in Memphis, TN – coincidentally, about 3 blocks from Evergreen Presbyterian, where we stayed during a Youth Group service trip in 8th grade!

Jane Sanders –Capetown, Africa – 2010

Development Associate with Communities in Schools

I spent the summer of 2010 as a People In Mission scholar living in Cape Town, South Africa working for the Secretariat of the African Decade of Persons with Disability. Most importantly, I saw firsthand how a small group of people with a vision were not just changing the world, but proving the interconnectedness of it as well.

A devotional given to me by Covenant staff before I set off on my travels remains close to my heart:

As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together. No man is an island.  (Originally published in The Hungering Dark)

I began to cherish my walk to work every morning.  I smiled at the same street cleaner, waved to the same shopkeeper, and hugged the same woman in the market who had sold me my first souvenir months earlier.  I felt a part of their world and I hope that they felt a part of mine.  It was easier to see this connection as a college-student traveling abroad than it is in my day-to-day life now back in Charlotte, but I make an effort to think back on that experience often. 

Rob McAlister – The Grove Presbyterian Church - 2010

Rob McAlister – Urban Ministry Center – 2011

Si Ward – Nepal – 2011 Currently serving in U.S. Air Force and deployed to Jordan

Abbie Henderson – Urban Ministry Center – 2011

Attorney with the law firm of Alexander Ricks starting in September 2017. 

My time as a PIM has shaped how I walk in the world every single day.  It gave me an insight into several aspects of society that I hadn't previously experienced. 

I learned about the unique challenges and rewards that come with running and working for a non-profit.  I also learned a lot about the challenges that face the people that these non-profits are working so hard to help.  There are so many little indignities, challenges and roadblocks that don't warrant a second glance from someone who lives their life with the privilege of having a little bit of a cushion--a little bit of protection if things go a little sideways in life--but a significant portion of our country, and our city, don't have that.

After my time as a PIM intern, I think about why so many of our neighbors don’t have this cushion, why our society is structured in a way to keep it this way, and what would be the most meaningful way to help others have the same cushion, support, and grace that I had (and continue to have) the privilege of being gifted. 

Rosie Strawn – A Child’s Place – 2011

Development Associate at Charlotte Bilingual Preschool

This was my first real taste of supporting a nonprofit behind the scenes.  I was helping plan the organization's big fundraising event and then do follow-up work afterward. I had grown up with the opportunity to volunteer at many nonprofits, but this was my first experience at fundraising.  Fast forward to 2014 and I joined the staff at Charlotte Bilingual Preschool as their first Development Associate, where I continue to support the organization through fundraising and administrative work. 

My experience helped me connect my skills to the city I grew up in and love and was the spring board for my professional life so far.  Administrative work at a nonprofit often means no romantic stories of seeing God in the face of a neighbor, but it does mean I get to hear everyone else's stories and often help connect supporters to organization that they care about.  I'm often at the connection when others find a mission they connect with and want to support to help the kingdom come.   

Lacy McAlister – Tanzania  - 2012

Mary Kate McAlister – A Child’s Place – 2012

Teacher at Trinity Episcopal School

It didn’t take me long to locate the journal I kept during my time with A Child’s Place. Inside that journal are both joyful and sorrowed entries capturing my interactions with students, my questioning and growing of faith, and my discovery of God’s assured presence.

Among many things I learned and carry with me from People in Mission, this redefined vision of mission and outreach is perhaps the strongest. Since 2012, I have traveled near and far for both mission purposes and adventure. However, what ties these experiences together is the foundational understanding that “every little thing wants to be loved” -- as is, right where their feet are planted, right where they sit within God’s great arm span. Whether that be down the road here in Charlotte with A Child’s Place, or across the world at the Renguti School makes no difference at all. “Every little thing wants to be loved, ” from the controllable, geographical distance and from the uncomfortable, removed distance.

My final journal entry from this summer with People in Mission reads, “God always remembers us kindly -- even amid our many flaws, failures, shortcomings, and sin. He sees our good. He sees what makes us lovely and whole and reflective of his light. If God does this, then who are we to act in any other way? We too must see the good. We too must see what makes others lovely and whole and reflective of God’s light. If we don’t, we the disciples of Christ, then who will?

What a summer this was -- I am thankful for its remaining impact on my heart, my faith, and my discernment in what lies ahead.

Emily Zizzi – The Grove Presbyterian Church – 2012

Teacher in Greenville,SC

Anslee Boozer – Loaves and Fishes, Freedom School Partners – 2012

Texas Pediatric Society, Austin Texas

People in Mission instilled something in me that I would not have found anywhere else. Growing up in a comfortable home and nurturing community allowed me to feel that all was right in my circle.

I began my freshman year at Furman, another very comfortable circle and was encouraged to apply for PIM towards the end of my semester.

I was placed with two organizations- Freedom School and Loaves and Fishes. I met mentors and incredible women who sparked a passion and light in me to serve others. Not just to serve others but to make a career and a life out of serving others. 

As soon as I completed school, I moved to Austin, Texas. I only had a passion and a little confidence. No plan at all. 

Through a bit of networking and prayer, I began interning at the hospital system's foundation here in Austin. I was surrounded by wonderful people, grounded in mission. I was then led to a job for a for profit healthcare group and only stayed there a year. My heart was not full and I felt uneasy about the company's goal to make money then help people. I wanted to find a place where helping people came first.

And that I did! I have been working at The Texas Pediatric Society for almost 3 months under a state funded grant to provide medical students with summer mentors. I work with first year students who are interested in pediatric healthcare and coordinate about 200 summer match placements throughout Texas with other general pediatricians. Through PIM, I learned that having mentors when you are still growing and finding your passion allows for growth and discovery.

Most of my students are my own age. It brings me great joy to connect them with a mentor that could potentially change their entire career. As there is a shortage of pediatricians in Texas, this mentorship program is crucial for our future. Being a part of something bigger is humbling. Though I will never be a doctor or complete 6+ years of education, I get to help people accomplish their goals. And for me that is just enough.

Photo: Medical School visit recruitment, speaking to students and meeting pediatricians at UTRGV in the Valley. 

Dylan Welchman – Urban Ministry Center – 2013

Mechanical engineering student at UNCC

Christopher was a young man in his mid-twenties who I met at Urban one day while I was shadowing a counselor.  I remember being puzzled as to why he was there, his clothes were clean and he looked well kept.  As we begin talking he explains that he has no ID, no home, no job, no anything; just the clothes he was wearing and a folded envelope with a name and phone number on it.  When I asked why he didn’t want to stay at the men’s shelter, he explains that rumored sexual assaults and drug use are common, and that he doesn’t want to be involved in either.  I then asked if he had any family in the area that he could stay with.  In response, Christopher began to explain that his father used to abuse his mother, but has since died and that his mother is in a mental institution, unable to think coherently because of the beatings.  Christopher told a story from his childhood of watching his father push his mother out of a second story window and seeing her body fold in half as she landed on a fence. 

Christopher and many others taught me a lot in a really short amount of time that summer.  They taught me about privilege; how privileged I am and how it has sheltered me from so many hardships throughout my life.  They taught me about giving; how even if you have nothing material to give you can always give with love, laughter, and friendship.  They taught me about gratitude; how fragile life is and how each and every new day is a blessing not to be taken for granted.  Finally, they taught me about dignity; how everyone deserves it, but how rarely it is actually given to strangers. 

As our current society and political environment seem to be persecuting strangers for their differences rather than celebrating them, voices from Christopher and the many others that I met during PIM remind me to live a life of giving while being full of gratitude and treating everyone I meet with the dignity that they deserve.

Darian Bucher  Friendship Trays – 2013

Elizabeth Cooper – Loaves and Fishes; The Grove Presbyterian Church – 2013

Designer and event planner for Dixon Hughes Goodman

At the Loaves & Fishes pantry, I would re-stock the shelves, chat with the volunteers and help the clients shop around for their weekly grocery meals. Early on, I began to recognize there was a different type of feeling, a feeling of love and inclusion that I hadn’t really ever been exposed to. Whether it was the older men who had worked together for over 30 years, making me laugh or the client who was adamant about not leaving the pantry without cake mix so she could ensure the tradition of a home made cake for her son was not lost, even though money was tight. 

I began to view the clients I interacted with as my peers, not just someone I was there to “help.” I slowly began to realize that the area of town that had been “off limits” my whole life was considered “home” to my 9-5 peers. At the beginning of the summer I feared crossing my two worlds and by the end of the summer I couldn’t have been more ready to merge them. 

Today I work two blocks from the First Presbyterian pantry and my mind drifts back to that summer almost daily. I think about the days I spent, the people I met and the lessons I learned. Love, and loving your neighbor well, truly is a beautiful thing. It's deeper than a card, a phrase or a gift. It's waking up each day celebrating what God has given you, looking past your present circumstances, and stretching yourself just enough to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

I attempt to challenge myself daily to how I can show love like my friends and peers at the pantry showed me that summer.  Because in the end everyone, from your co-worker to the homeless man you pass during your lunch break on the street, craves some form of love. And if the impact we can leave on this world and our people is that we love and loved well, then isn't that what God asked of us to do as his children in the first place? 

Jordan Schriefer - The Grove - 2013

Abbie Henderson – Urban Ministry Center - 2013

Taylor Brookhouse - A Child’s Place - 2013

Hannah Henderson – Crisis Assistance Ministry – 2014

Ross Hobson – HousingWorks – 2014

Suzanne Moyer – The Urban Ministry Center -2014

Morgan Ferone – Urban Ministry Center – 2014

Pre-med Student at UNC

Serving as a PIM set me on a different course than I could have ever imagined. If I were to attempt to summarize my experience that summer, it comes down to two things: kinship and compassion. Kinship with the other PIMs, with the Stapletons, with Carla Leaf, Petra Wahnefried and Julia Watkins. Kinship with the inspiring staff at the Urb. And significantly, kinship with the neighbors I worked with. At first I moved by the impact I could have by simply remembering a neighbor's name, but then I was surprised by how moved I was when a neighbor called me by name. And throughout the summer, the glue that forged all this kinship was compassion. Compassion flowed throughout my life that summer, pulling and pushing me in all different ways, permeating my soul to a point that it is still the lens with which I choose to meet the world.

Now, officially a senior in college, I don’t know what my future holds, but I do know that the core values of service, compassion, and human dignity that I developed over my PIM will be the guiding principles and foundation of any journey I embark upon.

The city of Charlotte and the youth of Covenant will never be the same as a result of these past 20 years. I am so grateful to Covenant for facilitating this opportunity, and for Carla, whose expansive heart knows no bounds.

Bishop Saunders – HousingWorks Garcia – The Center for Community Transitions – 2014

Student at NCSU majoring in Accounting - Financial Analysis

In my placement with Scattered Site Housing and MeckFUSE, I got the opportunity to engage with clients everyday and get to understand their story without being told it. I was touched by their presence so significantly because I had been overlooking their lives that were happening right down the street from me. In the beginning it was difficult dealing with the plethora of feelings; guilty about my success versus theirs, shameful because of the place in higher society I come from, frightened because I have never been subjected to a life like theirs in my own community, and hundreds more emotions I cannot bring to words.

Although I was coming to help and to learn, I felt like the bad guy. But I figured out why I had this dark feeling in my gut, because I was choosing to see the dark over the soft light that is ever present. I was subconsciously choosing to see a human with no hope versus someone that has hope, but needs a little assistance to find it within themselves. Homeless , although similar in spelling, does not mean Hopeless. That is what myself and many others struggle to see, but it is also what the thousands of social workers and consistent volunteers can see past just as I learned to do.

Seeing that hope within a person as well as seeing it within yourself can be the hardest thing to do sometimes and it may take years and years to find it. Some people may never see the light at the end of the tunnel. But what matters is the fight to get to that point; the relationship you build with that person that may impact theirs lives so much that they want to push harder and harder to get out.

Genny Ward – Friendship Trays; Salvation Army - 2014

Abbey Rogers – Crisis Assistance Ministry – 2014

Student at UNC

Alex Garcia – The Center for Community Transition – 2014

Student at NCSU

Sarah Campbell Tucker – Crisis Assistance Ministry –2016

Student at Brown University and will be working with Habitat for Humanity Charlotte this summer

My summer at Crisis Assistance gave me a view of poverty in Charlotte that shattered what I though I understood. There is a misconception that if someone works hard and follows the rules, they will succeed. Although I understood this in theory, working at Crisis showed me that idea in practice. It is hard to succeed in a system that was not built for many of the people who passed through Crisis. 

Perhaps the most meaningful experience of the summer was planning and observing talks as part of the work of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force. Crisis clients shared their thoughts on Charlotte's most pressing needs. Too often people in power make decision on behalf of a populace they do not listen to. The talks opened a conversation in which people actively listened to the needs of Charlotte's most vulnerable residents and made them feel like their opinion was important. Poverty takes its toll in many ways, but perhaps the most insidious is the loss of agency and the loss of voice.

When I returned to school, I switched my major to Development Studies, which aims to address  global issues like poverty, education, and political empowerment in a sustainable way. Although I do not think just switching my major is creating waves of change, I hope that my studies will prepare me to interact with socials issues in a similar manners as my summer with PIM. There is so much work to be done within our own communities, and PIM only highlighted the importance of engaging early and often. 

Duncan Richey – Urban Ministry Center – 2016

Student at UNC

I am only one summer removed from my time as a People In Mission intern but despite the short amount of time, it has had an incredible impact on me. I can't say it showed me all the secrets to a good, full life or that it answered all the questions we go through life asking. What I can say is my summer working at Urban Ministries and growing with the other interns gave me insights into myself, others, and society. 

Last summer taught me to look for the best in others despite the circumstances you find them in. It showed me that everyone has their own, unique story that isn't always written by them and always has its twists and turns. I've seen this ring truer and truer since my internship ended in August. It taught me the skills to recognize and tap into the human condition that allows me to make meaningful and sincere connections with people from all walks of life.

The internship opened my eyes to the broken, unjust reality for many in my city and country. People caught in a system that was created and is perpetuated by people in positions of power and in the local community. A system that is broken but can be fixed.  

Over the last year, I've found the faces of and interactions I had with "neighbors" at Urban enter my mind at the most unexpected times. Reminding me of important lessons they taught me, laughs we shared, or sobering moments of reality that make me gracious for what I've been blessed with. 

The further removed I become from my PIM summer, the luckier I count myself as to have had it. Today, I am a more compassionate, grateful, and determined individual. It permeates into my life to this day and I am confident it will continue to do so well into the future.

Helen Hobson – The Center for Community Transitions – 2016

Kristen Roehrig – Friendship Trays – 2016

Student at UNC and will be working with Caldwell Presbyterian as 2017 summer intern

I was nervous about starting a new job and rather intimidated by the fact that I had been told my times that People In Mission would change my life. 

At Friendship Trays, I found that my job throughout the day was to find every way in which I could help other people. Obviously this is what you expect from a nonprofit organization. But what I’m talking about goes beyond the hungry and homebound clients. It also applies to every single person I encountered while at work and every person I have encountered since. How can I best serve you? The answer to that question is where I find my purpose, and People In Mission showed me that we will never finish answering that question. There is always work to be done. Injustice we must fight. Dignity we must foster. Lonely we must visit. Sick we must take care of. Naked we must clothe. Hungry we must feed. Jesus calls us to action. He calls us to be doers just as much as speakers and believers.

So yes, People In Mission did change my life. It opened my eyes to the needs of this city and this world and helped me see the ways I which I can fill those needs. I learned that wherever I go and whatever I do today or in the future, I can find purpose in serving other people.

Our current 2017 interns

Aubrey Bader – Friendship Trays – 2017

Student at Tennessee; architecture major

Virginia Koonce – Crisis Assistance Ministry – 2017

Student at Davidson College

Wheels Moyer – Center for Community Transitions – 2017

Student at UNC

Harrison Ferone – Urban Ministry Center

Student at UNC

Ian Goodson – HousingWorks

Student at UNC

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