The darkest time for me in the last year was a place where the sun shines more than 350 days a year.
I went to Botswana with hopes of serving and of immersing myself in a new culture. I loved the Peace Corps, having served for two years in the late sixties. My wife harbored a dream of the Peace Corps for more than forty years. It was a gift to be given this opportunity.
Cracks began to form in that dream from the moment we set foot in Botswana in September. I struggled to match the dream with reality. The cracks grew. By May, we knew things had to change. We wanted to be effective, and under the circumstances in which we found ourselves, it was impossible. I felt boxed in by bureaucracy, more constrained by the Peace Corps than by local customs and politics.
I wanted to serve, but could not be effective. Our situation became increasingly dark. We told the Peace Corps things had to change. The response was that no changes could be made. We had a few days to leave the country. The dream was over.
And yet there was grace. We had planned a vacation with our daughter Annie and her husband Nick in Spain. We had ten wonderful days with them. After that, we had no plan. On the spur of the moment, we walked a segment of the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James.
Fifteen days walking from village to village through spectacular countryside was a blessing. As I walked, I thought about God’s plan for me, meditated about what went right and what went wrong; considered the people I had met and friends I had made. I walked – with my wife, with friends we made along the way, with complete strangers, and sometimes alone. I prayed.
I came to realize that there was little I could have done to make my service in Botswana “work.” I released resentments toward people who made decisions I did not like. I considered their circumstances and put my Peace Corps experience in the context of their situations. God released my anger, toward the bureaucracies of the Peace Corps, the school, and the Botswana Ministry of Education. I let go of the dream that turned out differently than I had hoped. I came to see leaving before the end of service as a blessing. I accepted the sadness.
Blame, anger, resentment are all easy for me. Yet I learned not to blame. Not myself, not the bureaucracy, not the “system.” I asked to let go of the things that were beyond my control. God did the rest. Through grace, I will always treasure friends I made with Peace Corps Volunteers, with students, teachers, villagers, with the small Quaker community. I will remember the things that went right, and put aside, in sadness and without bitterness, the things that made life dark. Out of this experience, my life is bigger. I am grateful to God for the gifts I received during this long journey.