Moffat: A journey from Katrina to Hinton to the Peace Corps
October 25, 2019
“In the three summers I’ve been a part of Hinton Center summer missions, it’s been a joy to get to know our summer staffers. It’s always exciting to hear how God continues to call them into lives of service and we like to share that news! This week’s blog is from Jane, who I got to know well my first round of Hinton Center summer missions, and who has an amazing story of how she ended up at Hinton and where she is now.” — Dawn Livingston
Greetings from Namibia! My name is Jane Moffat and I worked on summer staff from 2015-2017. Hinton holds a very special place in my heart, and I have many fond memories of the three summers I spent on the hill and the people I was fortunate enough to work with.
Currently, I am finishing my final weeks as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the southern African country of Namibia. I serve in a rural village in the Zambezi Region and teach English, the national language, to a class of bright and energetic grade 7 learners. Since I am nearing the end of my 27-month stint, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the past two years and the choices that brought me here. At the center of those choices stands the Hinton Center.
To tell any story correctly, one must start at the beginning. The transition from Hinton to Peace Corps actually begins in 2005, ten years before I loaded my first tool box. At that time my family and I were living a fairly normal life in New Orleans. One day in August, everything changed and the cause of that change was Hurricane Katrina. My family and I spent six weeks evacuated from our home and totally dependent upon the kindness of family, friends, and complete strangers. We moved back to our house, which had miraculously survived the widespread flooding, on October 10, 2005. We were beyond lucky.
The odd thing about natural disasters is that in the wake of all the destruction, chaos, loss, sadness, and confusion the most incredible thing happens— you get to see the world at its very best. Tragedy and trauma in the wake of disaster have a way of uniting people and revealing the depth of human compassion and love. Help from all over the country, and some far-flung corners of the world, swooped in to remind New Orleans and the Gulf region that they were not alone. In our darkest hour, there was a light.
I was eleven at the time of the hurricane, but still remember it as if it was yesterday. Over the next few years our church hosted countless mission teams who came from all walks of life to assist with the rebuilding effort. My parents opened our home and hosted weekly dinners as a small way to say thank you. I cannot recall how many people stepped through our door, it has to be somewhere in the high hundreds, but there is no way to forget the impact their compassion has had on my life.
In August 2010, my family and I moved to Clay County, North Carolina. To say I experienced culture shock would be a great understatement. It was very hard to connect to my new surroundings—the people, school, and way of life were quite foreign to me and adapting and adjusting was challenging. So, I joyfully left for college two years later—ready for bigger and better things (from the perspective of an 18-year-old), completely unaware that those bigger and better things would one day bring me back.
By the end of my sophomore year I had selected Political Science as my major and the bulk of my classes were concerned with international aid, development, and disaster relief. In the spring of 2015 I was on the hunt for a summer job that included work in aid and development. Since moving to Clay County, I had become aware of the poverty in the area and the much-needed efforts to help those in need. I noticed there was a job opening for Service Ministry Leader, and thinking back to all the help and support my family and I had received years before, I decided it was time to return the favor, so I applied. (Actually, I had applied to be on summer staff back in 2013 and didn’t get it, so be persistent…)
There is a stark difference between reading about poverty and actually seeing it firsthand. My first couple weeks at Hinton were eye-opening. The thing about Hayesville, North Carolina is the same for most small towns—everyone knows everyone, so working with homeowners who knew the same people I did and went to the same places I did was sobering. Not 3 miles down the road from my house was a situation that needed help and could be helped.
After the initial shock wore off, I came to love working at Hinton. I was doing what had been done to me years earlier—showing I cared, recognizing the humanity of my neighbor, and giving a helping hand. Above all, I was connecting with people in a way that only comes from serving in the name of God. I never wanted to leave, so I stayed for two more summers, but all good things must come to an end.
During my post-grad job search I was looking for organizations that did grassroots based international aid with a focus on relationship building. One of the great draws of Hinton was that it works where it has been asked to come, and I was hoping to find a similar model on an international level. And just as God called me to Hinton, He called me to Peace Corps as well.
Peace Corps serves only in countries it has been asked to, and only with organizations that seek out partnership. Namibia invited Peace Corps to work with schools, clinics, and business in the country within one week of gaining independence in March of 1990, and to this day organizations must apply for a volunteer. Like Hinton, Peace Corps seeks to build relationships, not just offer a helping hand. I can teach about verbs, pronouns, poetry, and grammatical structures until the cows come home, but the most important work, in my mind, has been connecting with the people I came to serve. For me, those people are my learners. They are full of potential and intelligence, attitude and desire and they are, by far, the best part of Peace Corps and the best part of Namibia. At Hinton the homeowners and the volunteers on my team played the same role.
As it was during my first few weeks at Hinton, my time in Namibia has been a challenging endeavor. The level of poverty in my village is……actually I can’t really think of an adequate way to describe it. But I will say that the baseline of poverty hits at $68.44 a month ($1,000.00 Namibian dollars), unemployment hovers at 35%, and income inequality is one of the highest in the world. Traditional mud huts with thatch rooves sit just down the road from lodges and resorts that cost a couple hundred dollars a night. In the face of all of this, teaching English may seem misguided, but it is what I have been asked to do, and is therefore infinitely more rewarding.
So, long story short Hurricane Katrina brought me to Hinton, and Hinton brought me to Peace Corps. Over the years I have been on the receiving and the giving ends of aid and assistance in the face of adversity, and I have come to realize that the helping hand that does the most good, is the one that is empty, the one that takes another hand and says, “I am with you.” Hinton is that hand, and so is Peace Corps.
‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40
Interested in serving as a Hinton summer staffer? Be a valuable part of our team! Every summer Hinton Center hires college-aged young adults who are passionate about living out their Christian faith, building relationships with others, mentoring youth, leading teams on home repair sites, and facilitating programming / activities with youth and adults. We equip and train our staff, and provide a lot of leadership development opportunities. Although summer staff live on campus (and get to eat yummy food!), they have separate lodging from youth/adult groups. The great news is our staff don’t need to be skilled in home repairs, but flexibility, positivity and motivation are musts!
We’ll soon begin the application process for summer 2020… If you’d like to be notified when applications are open, please contact Dawn at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know someone who would be a great fit, share the info with them!