In a small office on the campus of Indiana University, Kirk Harris stares out a small window. This is where he spends most of his time these days. He finds his life, starting a Ph.D. in Political Science, feels quiet--a "night and day" difference from the sounds and smells of the past five years. In 2006 Kirk sat at a table surrounded by the passionate voices of tribal and community leaders who shared stories of hardship and betrayal amidst a violent ethnic and religious conflict. Despite deep differences, they were gathered on common ground, to nurture peace and rebuild their countries. Kirk, a Krista Colleague who served in Kenya as a Young Adult Volunteer with the Presbyterian Church, served with an organization that facilitated Muslim-Christian dialogue between these competing ethnic and religious groups. He remembers and cherishes the friendship and solidarity of "being welcomed by people who are very different from me, of being drawn outside of myself in pursuit of a common calling."
At that time, he wrote to the KF: "By participating in these discussions I am now able to analyze violence and peace more comprehensively, taking into account country-specific obstacles to the resolution of conflicts as well as cultural and theological nuances that affect how they unfold." But the depth of complexity left him longing for an even deeper understanding.
To hone his thinking, Kirk wrote an article on reconciliation in The Global Citizen journal. He seized an opportunity at the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Liaison Office in New York, focusing on Congo and Sudan. After two years, Kirk moved to Khartoum to work for the Sudan Council of Churches in on behalf of MCC. In each position, Kirk was humbled by the issues the communities were facing. In his search of a better framework, Kirk applied to a Ph.D. program.
Graduate school has brought new opportunities and challenges for Kirk, whose goal is to reinvest his degree in service of the people he served in Africa. "I am continually reminded of what I was doing a year ago-working with Sudanese churches who are trying to heal their country in the wake of conflict and stave off new violence." As he seeks to integrate his experiences, cultivate community, and steward his education, Kirk has come to see that "balancing the tension of the mind and heart will take time, and that God's grace, which has sustained me through service, will also sustain me in learning." He reminds himself: "Only 5 and ¼ years to go."
Know someone who has wrestled with the culture shock of transitioning from service to grad school? Share comments or encouragements below.