By Eric Thomas
Most of us desire to make an impact on the world around us. Few get the opportunity to do just that. Sometimes, the experience not only impacts those around you but also forever changes you.
Meet Katie Evans. An Arenzville native and 2014 graduate from Triopia High School, she attended the University of Maryland (UMD) where she graduated in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in history and social studies education. While a student at UMD, she got involved with Lutheran Campus Ministries and became interested in Young Adults in Global Missions (YAGM) through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is through the alums of the program and the various recruiters who visited the campus that Evans saw an opportunity to discover how she could make an impact.
Upon graduation from UMD, she spent a few weeks in Chicago preparing for her assignment through YAGM. “My options were the Jerusalem/West Bank program or the Madagascar program,” reported Evans. “You interview with the program to see where you fit best … because of the focus centering on education, I felt called to Jerusalem/West Bank.” In addition to Evans, four other women and two men were assigned to the West Bank. All seven focused on education in one part of the placement, but some worked with other organizations such as an environmental education center and Meals on Wheels. Some also helped to edit English publications for a local university.
Through the missions group, there was a total of 70 volunteers assigned to 10 different locations, including: Cambodia, Australia, Central Europe, Jerusalem/West Bank, Madagascar, Senegal, Rwanda, Southern Africa, Mexico and Argentina/Uruguay. The nature of these mission assignments centered around a variety of issues, including migrant rights, female empowerment, environmental justice and working within churches.
For Evans, the goal was to accompany the Palestinian Christian community by living, learning and walking beside them. Evans specifically taught English at Dar al Kalima Lutheran School in Bethlehem. “This school is open to both Christian and Muslim students,” stated Evans. “I taught sixth-10th grades and also had an English club after school for the eighth-graders.” Evans was challenged to challenge the more advanced students. “Honestly, some of my students spoke better English than me,” she quipped. The focus was on teaching the next generation in order to best prepare them to go to university and improve their communities.
Part of the Global Missions focus is for participants to return to their communities and help educate others about different peoples and their cultures. In this instance, Evans was doing so about Palestine and the Palestinian Christian community. While there for 10 months, she lived with a Palestinian host family in Bethlehem. “The resilience of the Palestinian people would probably stick with me forever,” she recalled. “They live under occupation day in and day out … never giving up.” That determination has been a game-changer for her.
“My year was challenging, eye-opening, and a life-giving experience. It forced me to look outside of my own safe bubble and learn from the Palestinian community that I otherwise would never have known anything about,” concluded Evans. “I now have two homes: one in Central Illinois and one in Bethlehem.”
Evans is now serving as the Program Assistant for the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Maryland. In this position, she works with college students in a program called Humble Walk. She oversees student volunteers in after-school programs for local immigrant populations. One final aspect of her duties is organizing Sunday worship, mission trips and service opportunities. Evans has not only made an impact on those around her, but also this experience has impacted her life going forward.