In September I'll board a flight, bound for the next year of my life in Chennai, India.
I can imagine clicking the lap-belt into place, shifting in my seat for a comfortable 36 hours of travel, maybe sending off a few last-minute texts and—leaning into the headrest with one long exhale—wondering, "What. Am. I. Doing. How did I get here? Why am I leaving behind a good career, great friends, and the city that for the past 5 years I've called home; and why on earth am I going to India?”
On a bright and cool December morning Josh and I strolled through the Mission district in San Francisco. We were killing a little time before Church and hunting for coffee. Earlier that week he'd sent me an email in that lovably vague fashion of his, "Remind me to talk to you about something." As we turned onto 21st street Josh clarified, "Look man, this is like, a nine, on the one to ten crazy-scale but… you should come to India." I laughed and told him no but go on. He explained how he'd been several times before and why he loved working with an organization called International Justice Mission, why he thought I'd be a good fit.
We kept walking and talking and I told him I'd look into it and think about it, but realistically there was no way I was moving to India. Maybe I could get involved in a way that was… less extreme? After we’d been chatting for a few minutes he tempered his enthusiasm, "I mean, I don't know what you have planned for your twenties…"
And I don't remember what he said next. Something about how "I'm sure you have other plans, I'm sure there're so many good things for you to be in San Francisco for." Something to that effect. "Anyway, we can chat more about this later, just… just think about it, maybe pray about it."
Think, pray: less extreme. I can do that.
As Sunday turned to Monday and I settled in to the rhythm of the work week, the phrase "what you have planned for your twenties" seemed to echo in my ears. It rattled around in my mind. It just stuck. And though I'd responded to Josh with a nod and a gesture that said "well naturally, of course I have plans", I began to wonder what exactly did I have planned for my twenties? What did I even have planned for year twenty-four?
"OK Josh, when's this India application due?"
Of course there’s something a bit more personal to this whole Move To India thing. Something that started when I was in jail. Well... at jail.
Over the past couple of years I’ve spent some time volunteering at county jail in San Francisco. Unlike California prisons, jails don’t have the resources for things like frequent exercise, vocational activities, or religious services. The reasoning behind this is that inmates in jail typically serve sentences shorter than one year. Though, in practice, the California prison system is so overcrowded that many county jail inmates languish for years without what you could call “the luxuries of prison." So I, along with a few other guys from City Church San Francisco, help to provide religious services. We host a Bible discussion and try to pray with, listen to, and—simply put—love the guys incarcerated in C-pod.
I can’t fully explain why I began going to county jail. But after getting involved it quickly became the most important part of my week: 2 hours on Monday nights. Within the scope of a 40-hour work week, that’s really not much. I began to wonder how I could bridge these two parts of my life: working and helping; doing good for others versus doing well for myself.
As someone who practices the Christian faith, I believe it's important to serve the poor, the broken, the outsider, the oppressed—the people Christ called “the least of these.” And I would say that list includes the trafficked, the exploited, the enslaved. I began to ask myself, “If this is the most important part of my week, how can I give more than 2 hours?”
Just to be clear, I realize that there are plenty of ways to help people that don't involve quitting your job and moving to the other side of the world. There’s good in earning a living, building and providing for a family, cultivating lasting relationships, planting roots in one place and helping that place to thrive. I cherish those things, deeply. But I also have an opportunity that others may not have: to go to a place where my 40 hours a week might have a significant impact. My skills and energy can help. I can go. That’s my ultimate freedom and it's a freedom I can share with people who need it.
So after three months of applications and interviews, I was invited to volunteer as a Communications Fellow with International Justice Mission (IJM), an organization that "brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.” I’ll move to Chennai for 10 to 12 months where I’ll work with a team of lawyers, investigators, and aftercare professionals. As a member of the communications team I’ll work to help tell the story of the injustice of slavery and human trafficking. The goal is to bring attention to the cause, to the mission of the organization, and to the plight of the victims and survivors. Though in a simpler sense, the idea is just to help, in any small way I can.
I head to Washington D.C. in the beginning of September for a week of orientation and training. After that, I'll fly to Chennai. You can follow along with this blog to hear all about my adventures and the work I'll be doing with IJM.