“The place God calls you to is where you deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederich Buechner).
In general, Life Together fellows are placed to serve where the need is greatest. However placements are also conduits of engagement where fellows practice work that speaks to their heart, challenges them to ask big questions, and brings them joy. At Life Together, one of our favorite ways of communicating and connecting is through storytelling. Each fellow’s experience in their placement is unique, and the depth and richness of their stories is impossible to capture fully. One of our 2013 fellows shared her experience with us and generously allowed us to publish it here.
Reflection on My Site Placement | Samantha Akwei, Life Together Fellow 2013
In life, very few people land their dream job. I am one of them.
Ask me if I love my job and I will tell you that I’m more like a married person. I have a deep passionate love for my work, committed staff partners and occasional minor stresses, but overall my heart manages to smile most of the time. How? Well first, it’s for people that look exactly like me and it is inspiring to know I have something to offer my community. Second, its for a cause that affects all of mankind – everyone needs a job! But let me warn you, if you’re looking for a job or need help with your resume, do not come by my office and expect to receive direct services only. Nope, I’m sorry. You will be transformed.
I view resumes not just as pieces of card-stock listing qualifications but also a person’s values and potential. Thus, I ask more questions than the even the FBI because I need to know what lies at the heart of a person’s desires. What have they always dreamed about doing? Of, course I could choose to simply help them build their skills to get any ole’ job, but I am more interested in hearing their story of self and what they desire to give to the world. To me, that’s most fascinating.
Deep listening is highly valued in the Life Together Community, and it allows me to extract what we call ‘cultural icebergs.’ Being trusted by the people I serve reminds me of the need to build genuine relationships. I give them the ability to ask for what they need despite their Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI), and they subconsciously feed me doses of humility. Nonviolent communication (NVC), another framework I have learned through Life Together training, is another tool I dare not leave home without. Sometimes my clients appear reckless and rude as a result of their challenging circumstances, but I know responding reciprocally will only escalate the matter. So, I try to prayerfully remain calm and keep the three letters “NVC” on deck. It’s difficult at times! Imagine reaching out to a person who wants to close the door on your face because every one in the world has closed the door on theirs. But, thank God I am not alone.
The three men that I work with are not only right by my side in helping every client, but they also help me to understand clients issues, as they once wore same shoes. So they work from their souls and I appreciate the “real” experiences they serve from. Working in a tight community with a small staff, gives us no choice but to work together. And as the only woman, I must say that the male ego is an interesting thing. Especially from the black male perspective, which is accustomed to being imprisoned physically, mentally and spiritually. Yet these men, by God’s grace, have been freed to take a lot of pride in giving back and I understand. I understand that no one is perfect and that everyday we are growing together.
Even in the midst of transitions in leadership, we have worked ten times harder to support one another. I am proud to say we are working together more effectively than ever. We are about strategy, development and coalitions. We don’t work in silos or exist merely for the sake of getting a grant. We are strictly about people power! Constantly endeavoring to embody God, practicing unconditional love, leading from my heart, learning about others values and how they may be different from mine, and advocating for jobs and justice is what truly makes me come alive. Sure, some may just call it “living into LT’s mission” but I think it’s more like God’s calling. Ironically I would have never imagined being here but somehow I feel purposely placed. Overall, working at my site has not been about what I can get but ultimately what I have to give, and that has made all the difference!