Using "doubts" to serve

 

Phil Birkey '08
Economics major/communications minor

It took Phil Birkey '08 six months to fill out his application to serve with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), but not because of its difficulty factor.

"Every time I started filling it out, I would start doubting myself and whether this was what God was calling me to do," says Birkey in an e-mail from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he is serving in his first of three years as a socio-economist researcher. "The Phil Birkeystrange thing is that every time I started thinking about the application, someone from MCC would contact me the next day, and that would be enough to convince me to try again. I decided to finally finish it and send it in regardless of my reservations."

It wasn't until the night before midterm exams in two tough classes and a scheduled interview with MCC that Birkey knew without a doubt that this period of service was meant for him. While studying, Birkey overheard a friend next door struggling through a tough time. He spent the next several hours just listening and had a chance to talk about God and his faith with his peer, something Birkey had been praying for the opportunity to do.

"I realized in that moment that no amount of planning or worrying about what I can do for God really matters," says Birkey. "It became real to me that like so many of the characters in the Bible God uses us in spite of our flaws or doubts."

Originally tasked with creating an analysis program for the Research Extension Activities Partners (REAP) program, Birkey has been getting his feet wet by working on a side project. In September 2003, MCC Bangladesh in cooperation with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, began creating projects to help landless agricultural laborers during "Monga"—the October to December period when they do not have work or means to support their families. These projects enable households to raise gardens and rear some animals for sale, providing families with income especially during the season of unemployment.

"My position asks that I come up with ways of determining what kind of impact MCC's work is having in the lives of the villagers our partners work with so that we might have a better understanding of our work," says Birkey. "On any given day, I'm in the office researching, talking to co-workers about what they do or the Bengali culture, or visiting with our partners and the villagers they work with." These experiences are preparing Birkey to begin a larger assessment of the REAP program in the near future.

Read more about Birkey's experiences in Bangladesh at http://bangladeshphil.blogspot.com/.