Wanted: Volunteers in Mission

Published March 1, 2000

Canadian Volunteers in Mission meet in Tanzania. Back row, from left, David and Patricia Dunnill, Barry Campbell, Olwen Elliott, Iain Elliott. Front row, from left, Michael Elliott, Jonathan Campbell and Linda Campbell.

Gillian Clarke fully expected to experience culture shock when she left her Vancouver Island home in January 1997 and travelled to Tanzania to work as a Volunteer in Mission at a theological college.

And she did.

The extreme heat and humidity of Dar Es Salaam hit the retired school teacher immediately. She also discovered death and disaster – drought, floods, a massive bus crash soon after she arrived – were everyday events in the slums of Tanzania that had grown up around the compound she lived in. A tutor colleague she became friends with at St. Mark’s College died of malaria while she was there.

“Somehow, when you get there, you expect to find everything different,” Ms. Clarke said in a telephone interview from her home in Parksville, B.C., a year after her return. “Somehow you absorb it. It’s part of your new environment.”

What Ms. Clarke was less prepared for – even though she’d been warned – was the culture shock she experienced when she returned to Canada after her two-year sojourn. It was a couple months before she began living “like a normal person” she said.

Her parish provided a wonderful welcome but “I wasn’t prepared to find myself really totally unable to talk about it for a while. That exhaustion lasted far longer than I thought it would.”

Speaking publicly about her life as a volunteer throughout the parish and the Diocese of British Columbia helped. So did the re-entry program she attended seven months after she returned. It was organized by the Canadian Churches Forum for Global Ministries, the same group who ran a three-week orientation Ms. Clarke attended before going. She found the contact with others in her situation invaluable.

In Canada, Ms. Clarke found it difficult to readjust to “the sheer excesses of everything – the food, the waste, material things. You see on TV people wanting more of everything. This is really difficult to take. I’ve come back as a changed person, there’s no doubt about it.”

Always interested in social justice issues, “I now have no choice but to be involved in them,” Ms. Clarke said.

But she hastens to add she is extremely glad of the experience.

“From the moment I arrived, the welcome was absolutely fantastic. You felt you were needed, you were accepted. The students were fantastic.”

She made many friends and had company all the time. Ms. Clarke was struck by the Tanzanians’ acceptance of their lives. “There was very little complaining about it. They had so little yet they were far more thankful than we are.”

Ms. Clarke encourages other Canadians to think about becoming volunteers. “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” she said.

Jill Cruse is co-ordinator of the Volunteers in Mission program run by the Anglican Church. She hopes people will heed Ms. Clarke’s words.

At the moment, 15 adults and two children are on missions around the world; of those, 10 will be coming home this year. One new volunteer- Lorna Reevely of the Diocese of Toronto – has just headed out to the Solomon Islands.

The program has received lots of inquiries but there is currently not a single applicant for any of the 42 positions available in Anglican dioceses around the world. “I can’t believe that there are no Canadian Anglicans called to this ministry,” Ms. Cruse said.

What kind of person thrives in such a job? It helps to be adaptable, Ms. Clarke found. She was on her way to teach English as a second language at the theological college.

“The night I got there, I was asked if I could also teach a theological subject,” since a teacher had left unexpectedly. Ms. Clarke agreed to teach church history. She had friends in her Canadian parish send her materials as the college’s library was not particularly well stocked.

It also helps to be patient. It was a year from the time she first wrote to Ms. Cruse till the time she left, Ms. Clarke said. Mail to Tanzania moves slowly. But she was also busy organizing her life so she could be away for two years – dealing with her pensions, health coverage and government forms. Neighbours agreed to look in on her house periodically.

Shortly before Ms. Reevely left Canada, she spoke about her preparations.

A friend of a friend agreed to rent her house and look after it while she was away. Luckily, he was able to be flexible about when he moved in.

While it was settled that the newly retired school librarian would work in the library of a theological college in the Solomon Islands, getting work and residence permits took a long time.

The plan is to help develop the college to degree-standing so it will no longer have to send its clergy candidates abroad.

Travelling as a single person has its advantages, the women and Ms. Cruse agree, including being able to leave Canada at any time without having to worry about family obligations. The down side is that there’s no one on hand to share the terrors and joys of the experience with.

Travelling as a couple or family brings a host of extra complications – more money to raise, affordable and appropriate schooling for children and the necessity of both spouses being able to take time off at the same moment. Retirees have an advantage in that respect.

The most trepidation for both Ms. Reevely and Ms. Clarke was asking their parishes to help them raise the money for their mission. Volunteers are not permitted to put up more than half the cost, which can vary anywhere from about $20,000 to more than triple that for two years.

Yet, both women found that once they developed a support committee – also required by the Volunteers in Mission program – the money began flowing in.

“It’s a really difficult thing to go to your parish and say, ‘Can you raise $25,000 so I can go to Africa for a couple of years?'” Ms. Clarke said. Her parish of St. Anne and St. Edmund is largely a retirement parish and not wealthy, she said. “It was just incredible. I was so lucky. They got right behind me. We got the money incredibly quickly ? The joy of that system is that it’s not just me that’s going. It’s almost going as a representative of them.”

The members of her committee sent cards, letters and packages throughout the time she was there.

As long as a potential volunteer is well connected to a parish, there should be no problem raising the money, Ms. Cruse said. She isn’t aware of a single applicant who has had to cancel due to lack of funds.

The Campbell family is currently in Dar Es Salaam – Barry, Linda and son Jonathan, who has just turned 14. The tiny parish of Alberton – O’Leary in western PEI has managed to raise $69,000, the entire cost of the Campbells’ two-year stay which ends this August. Again, a committed support group was the key, Rev. Frances Boutilier said.

The family is well known in the community and this corner of P.E.I., though far from affluent, is always raising money to help its own, Ms. Boutilier said. Farmers unconnected to the parish also donated to the project as the Campbells were going partly to develop a farm that had been given to the Anglican church there. Mrs. Campbell has become headmistress of the local school.

Fundraising was not limited to the parish but extended throughout the diocese and even further afield. A parish in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., has been sending regular contributions and corresponding with Mr. Campbell. Parishioners send packages and mark birthdays and anniversaries.

It’s that connection that makes Volunteers in Mission unique, Ms. Reevely said. She’s travelled overseas with different programs four times. Never has she felt better prepared than this time, however.

“This time I’m going as a partnership with my own parish.”


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