From the heart of Damaris Secrian:
“Maturity starts with the willingness to give oneself.” In her book, Let Me Be A Woman, Elisabeth Elliot describes an atypical definition of maturity. I never knew the reality of this statement until I experienced it first hand in the mountains of Haiti. A small group from my church, including my husband and myself, accepted the invitation from a friend to come and help a group of orphaned children last June. Having been on short mission trips in the past (to the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Mexico, and Honduras), my husband and I excitedly anticipated another adventure. When we arrived there we realized that God did not want to show us another adventure, He wanted to test our willingness to give.
Life is not easy for the small mountain village of Jacmel. Thousands live in refugee camps, sleep on dirt, and eat boiled leaves to survive. Old age is uncommon, but when it comes many are left blind because of vitamin deficiencies. Others are left alone, unable to walk, lying in their feces. For just under two weeks, we spent 19 hour days serving breakfast, visiting the elderly, distributing food, and praying for a nation that seemed hidden from the grace of God. It was there where true maturity began for me. The adventure that I sought diminished to a need to give.
After our trip, our group established The Tower of Refuge, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the people of Jacmel, Haiti. From then on, our lives changed completely. My pursuit of MSW education is largely influenced by my pursuit to continue giving to Haiti. This personal statement will discuss my motivation, my expectations, the issue of poverty in third world nations, and ethical challenges that may compromise my pursuit of maturity.
My background is similar to many Americans in my season of life. My parents emigrated to the U.S. during communist times in Romania. My father still tells me stories about how they almost caught him and his friend at the border of Yugoslavia. My siblings and I were the first born American generation in our family. Working his way to provide for a growing family of seven, my father taught himself the engineering trade, hoping that one day his children could have the hope of a better life. MSW education will help me further reach my goals of growing in knowledge of the world around me so that I can more efficiently make an impact during my time on earth.
This was never something that I planned when I entered college, however at the end of my term for Child Development and Family Studies, it was something that intrigued me. I realized that I took all my upper division elective courses in sociology. Not only was my interest evidently there, but I excelled more in those classes than in my general education or even my Child Development and Family Studies courses. Without a doubt, the study of people sparked something in me that my other studies did not.
At that time, I was Children’s Ministry director at my church, struggling to balance school, part time work as a nanny, and my ministry duties. However exhausting it became, I did not want to let go of any of my responsibilities. God had placed a passion in me to help children and families, and I saw Him at work. More and more He was showing me that the passion of helping children and families could be used to help solve problems around me daily.
The Tower of Refuge
My husband and I were married last February. During our engagement, we went on a short term mission trip to Mexico with a local church. It was there that the question of mission work was brought up. Was this where God wanted us? We definitely had the heart for the mission field, but we wanted to support a ministry from our home church.
Only one month after our wedding, we were approached by a brother from our church about a new work God placed on his heart. He had gone to Haiti to help with construction of a church, but because of unfavorable weather, he found himself visiting the refugee camps. That day was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to a group of now 20 orphaned children. After visiting once, we knew that we could not forget what God had shown us there. We knew clearly the good we had to do not by our own strength, but by the One who instilled it in us. When we returned from our first trip we met with the group to strategize and see if we had a calling for this ministry. It was serious work and we by no means wished to take it lightly. The Tower of Refuge now has six in its board of directors. This organization is committed to helping the impoverished come to realize the love and life that is in Jesus Christ by meeting their spiritual, physical, and social needs. Our plans are to use the resources and time that God has given us, not for material gain, but for spiritual gain for His kingdom. Our first project is to build an orphanage in this small mountain village in Haiti. If God were to use us in other parts of the world, we are ready.
My strongest motivation for pursuing MSW education is to better equip myself for serving on the board of The Tower of Refuge, and more specifically in Haiti. We currently have 20 children in Jacmel under the care of our organization through a local pastor. I have served as sponsorship director since the founding of the organization. Currently, I communicate between sponsor families and children, helping to form personal ties. Creating a sponsorship system is proving to be a long learning experience. I continuously strive to find ways to improve this department, often getting ideas from well established organizations.
Being sponsorship director has allowed me to witness the legal side of how the system of social aid functions. Despite the lack of government involvement before the earthquake, the overflow of humanitarian efforts in the past two years has prompted the government to impose added restrictions when setting up an orphanage system in Haiti. My goal in pursuing MSW education is to learn more about the cross-cultural social structures between other countries and the United States. Furthermore, understanding those cultural implications will aid in learning the systems of solution to social problems. Ultimately, attaining these skills will help The Tower of Refuge succeed.
Faith and Education
I received my B.A. from California State University, Long Beach. I was not very mindful when selecting a university; I simply wanted to go to a university with a nice reputation and a nice campus. Faith and education were two separate things in my mind. It was only after one semester of secular education that I realized the potential detrimental effects school could have on my faith.
Classes at CSULB were as liberal as they could get. I remember sitting through a Family Studies course and listening to the professor give multiple definitions of marriage that just blew my mind. One could be married to his or her pet if you dug deep into the definition. The more time I spent on campus and the more I excelled in my classes, I realized that I was slowly being led to a liberal and God-hating mindset. My faith in knowing the One True God was on rocky ground. Was I blindfolded, like the rest of religion, feeling different parts of the same God? Does all faith lead to the same God? By the grace of God, I was led back to Christ by being deeply rooted in my church community.
Attending a secular school made me realize how important faith is in all parts of life and learning. I know that going back to school will be difficult. I am now married, which involves a deep commitment for my new home and family. I also anticipate that within the four year period of MSW education, my husband and I would want to have children. I know that this will also be an added commitment. Progressing within The Tower of Refuge will be another commitment of time and energy. Despite the expected weight of stress, Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Knowing that my time and effort in MSW education will be done in service for the Lord allows me to have hope and strength in knowing that my motivation is rock solid. The parent involvement that I never had growing up will be there in the form of my Heavenly Father, keeping me accountable for doing my best in my studies. Knowing that going to school will not be an additional stress through secular influence, but in turn will be a positive influence on my faith makes this commitment even lighter to bear. A Christian school was and still is my only option for furthering my education.
Poverty In Third World Nations
Applying for MSW education has proven to be an exciting time for me, as I find myself reading through journal articles, researching studies, and looking up APA formatting once more. The topic at hand now is poverty. This problem is of significant interest to me as I have seen it first hand in Haiti. How did the poor in third world countries arrive to their current state? Bourguignon & Pelskovi state, “Even though there probably are only a few pathways to economic prosperity, the number of routes societies can take to experience stagnation—even decay—are many,” (2004). According to Bourguignon & Pelskovi, the odds of economical decay are greater than the odds of having a prosperous economy.
Researching probable causes of world poverty, I noticed that most point to weaknesses in public policy. Though this is a major influence, I am unfamiliar with public policies of third world nations, outside of word of mouth from citizens of those countries. My perception of the causes of poverty stems from my trips to Haiti and other impoverished nations. It tends to point towards environmental influences as strong influences of poverty, rather than public policy.
One similarity between the four impoverished countries I visited is the way one earns a living. All of these countries are agriculturally based, an observation also noted by Bourguignon & Pelskovi. If the crop does not bring a good harvest, families and economies have no other means of income. The well being of the country is forced to be dependent on outside forces, such as weather, in addition to the controllable forces such as knowledge of technology and agricultural tools.
Another environmental cause of poverty is that the poor live in unhealthy surroundings, a fact that is both a cause and effect of their poverty (Bourguignon & Pelskovi, 2004). The poor are trapped in a cycle: because their poverty, they are forced to live in an unhealthy environment; and because they are unhealthy, they lack the physical abilities to maintain a healthy living. “Often the poor cannot move and are thus caught in a trap. But even if they were to migrate, it could be that they are unable to find employment,” (Bourguignon & Pelskovi, 2004). The poor often lack the resources needed for a better life.
Potential solutions of world poverty would require addressing the issue discussed earlier. No country should be solely agriculturally based. Relying solely on agriculture leaves too much room for environmental influence in the economy. Also, a change in the living conditions and a practice of a healthy lifestyle would promote a change in the type of people entering the work force to begin with. Speaking with citizens of Haiti, I could see their lack of hope for a better life. Very few are driven to break out of the cycle of poverty because they lack the motivation for change and the physical, emotional, and spiritual health to do so. MSW education would better equip me with the tools necessary to understand social systems around me and to know the areas in which I can better influence social change.
A Job, A Gift, A Privilege
Elliot once said, “This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.” I look at my new role as a wife, a leader of an organization, and a missionary as a privilege. I can offer my job gladly to God and be faithful in the work He has entrusted me with.
Bourguignon, F., & Pleskovi, B. (2004). World poverty: Causes and pathways. Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics, 159-195.
Elliot, E. (2004). Let me be a woman. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.