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A bilingual and bicultural Christian young adults blog //////////////// 青年華裔基督徒的博客

Interviewing Edith: Getting a Taste of the Life of a World Changer

Linda

Office conference room after lunch. Edith with her usual tall thermos of caffeinated liquid. Me with my fingers poised to type on the slick keyboard of my MacBook. What followed was an interview that whetted my appetite for the oh-so-clichéd but still vastly appealing aim of “making a difference.”

Who is Edith Watt?
She was in a Masters program at Trinity Western University, while interning for Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church. I knew of Edith for a few years before I actually met her. She had been working at the time with International China Concern (ICC; http://www.chinaconcern.org), an organization that provides care, support, and education for disabled children and their families in China. On several occasions during Sunday service, I saw her report on ICC’s work in China, raising support for the organization. She also got to travel often (which is one of the reasons I’m so interested in what she does), and when she was in China, she provided spiritual care for the field workers, so that they don’t get burnt out. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

I started by asking Edith how she started on this path, and in reply, she warned me that it is going to be a long story (and that God played a big part in it). I’ll try to make it shorter on paper (but God’s part stays in). She was working for the City of Vancouver’s Parks and Recreation—she graduated in recreation management—and was getting sick of the four walls of the office and the predictability of it all. She always had a sense that she needed to do something for God in the world. So, she led a team of youth on a mission trip to Mexico, where they could only shower every four days—and she loved it. When she got back home, she knew this is what she wants to do—mission work. It didn’t happen right away.

ICC years
Fast forward four years (yes, four!), she knew two things: 1) do something in China and 2) do something for the disadvantaged. So, she knew she had to see China first. Upon hearing about ICC, she signed up for a short-term team. During her time there, she fell in love with the children and the staff and proceeded to do full-time work with them for five years. It sounds short and sweet on paper, but it was really more gradual than that. This was not a quick or impulsive move—she said it took four years for God to prepare her internally for this. One thing I learned is the need to be patient (a recurring lesson for me, I assure you, as patience is certainly not my forte), to be sure of what I want to do, and to be courageous when a decision needs to be made. In Edith’s case, that decision meant quitting her job and earning financial support from private donors, which as I soon learned, was the next tough test of her faith.

Money
Money is not something I like dealing with. Oh, don’t get me wrong—I like making money as well as the next person, but it’s the way money makes people act weird that I don’t like, especially when you’re asking them for money. So for me, what Edith had to do while working for ICC, would have been an extremely difficult challenge. A life of any volunteer missionary means that there isn’t a monthly paycheque from your employer—you needed find your own sources for financial support because your employer has to do the same thing for the organization you work for. It was the same for Edith. She had to build trust and relationships with people—private donors and churches—and communicate her mission to them in hope that they will partner with her and enable her to do the work she’s been called to do. For two years, she lived on a support amount of $700 a month with $400 a month going to rent. Yet, Edith says, there was always money in the bank. It was a desperate time, yes, but she never landed in the streets. Money always came when it was needed. Her faith in the God who provides carried her through.

When she returned to school, the network she had built for support was lost. She finished school this past summer and returns to the field with another organization called Links International (www.linksinternational.ca), Edith will have to resurrect those old relationships and garner support once again. Truth be told, this kind of takes the “glamour” out of mission work. Sure, you get to travel to a lot of places, you get to work face-to-face with the people you dream of helping your entire life, you are making a difference through effort rather than just finances, and yet, it is a hard life. And honestly, I’m not sure if I have the nerve or the faith to handle the uncertainty and lack of “monetary compensation.” My family isn’t even considered middle-class in Canada, but I’m used to a certain standard of living that I know is in the top 20% of the world. One definitely needs to be realistic about one’s expectations–if one wants a comfortable North American lifestyle, this definitely isn’t the way to go about securing one.

Getting hired
Not to discourage you from considering mission work, the next section outlines some of the things Edith feels are essential. A volunteer organization is not picky about who they choose, but there are definitely some transferable skills that would benefit you. One, sound administrative skills. It could potentially be a nightmare for you and for anyone else working with you if you are weak in that area. So, learn to write reports, coordinate projects, and organize, organize, organize! Two, good communication skills—and not just in languages. Overseas missions deal potentially with many different countries. Since not everyone can be fluent in six languages, learn to be clear in the one(s) you do know. In addition, Edith found that her degree in recreation management helped tremendously when she had to head a number of projects and lead several teams. There are many aspects of business administration and management in these positions—organizational behaviour, marketing, strategic planning, revisioning, promotion, and fundraising.
Of course, to work for a Christian mission organization like ICC or Links, you first need to be a Christian. You most likely have to provide a statement of faith and your references are not so much as assurances of your ability as testimonies of your character. ICC also takes a psychiatric evaluation of the applicant for long-term overseas positions. Spiritual and emotional maturity is essential because on the field vulnerabilities and fears come out. For those less self-aware, what they see and deal with would be very hard. Links, on the other hand, because its mandate is the empowerment of locals and has no long-term overseas staff, does not have such a developed evaluation structure.

Mission organizations often hire through networking. Rather than having people apply through postings and potentially have to sort through many applicants who are not what they are looking for, these organizations tend to hire through relationships. That is how Edith got the job with Links—through ICC.

Advice
Finally I asked Edith what her advice would be for someone like me who wants to work in any social concern or social justice organization. Her answer is to have a balance of justice and mercy. What you see out there, she continues, the injustice can make you really, really angry. The anger will consume you when it becomes just a cause and nothing more. For Christians, Edith says, God is the source of mercy and the fight is His. To get started and build experience, Edith recommends volunteering locally to gain compassion for people. Watch the news and get informed about the world and what’s going on in places and who needs help. Attend conferences to educate yourself. Talk to people who are missionaries. However, doing all of that is not enough unless you simply go. Get out of North America and go on a service trip. See what it is really like.

Manila
The worst place Edith has seen is Manila, the capital of the Philippines. There were families living in shacks beside garbage dumps. They sift through them, walk in them, and when the monsoon rains come, they are up to their knees in water, water that is dirty with waste and feces.

That’s why I didn’t ask Edith why she was doing what she was doing.

You can meet Edith in person at her Lens of Hope Photo Exhibition and Fundraiser. Sat, Nov 21, 2009 | 1-5pm | Tenth Avenue Alliance 11 W. 10th Ave. Vancouver | Photo exhibit from her trips, silent auction and live music.

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Welcome

"Double-edged"is bilingual blog in affiliation with Truth Monthly, a Chinese Christian monthly print publication based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

This blog features mostly original writings as well as comics, poetry, and other works of art by local Christian young adults.

For more information or to submit your own writing, please email tm.double.edged@gmail.com

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