Laura McKillip Wood
Every November when she was a child, Rebecca Monnier and her family helped serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter in her hometown near Omaha, Nebraska. “While this was really small, it opened my eyes to the world outside of the one I was used to, and I really believe that sparked my interested in service,” she says. In middle school and high school, she did service projects with her church youth group, and these fueled her interest. It wasn’t until she went to Costa Rica that she experienced intercultural work. “We worked in a girls’ drug and alcohol rehab center, and it was then that I discovered my love for cultural exchange and relationship building.”
Interrupted by Ebola
That love has grown, and now Rebecca serves in the Peace Corps in a rural area outside Buchanan, Liberia, West Africa. She teaches science to seventh through ninth graders, supports the teachers, encourages student-friendly practices in the school, and works to increase literacy. She also promotes girls’ education and helps with malaria efforts. Part of her role in the Peace Corps is to integrate herself into the community and share American culture with the people there as they share their culture with her. That means much of her time outside of school is spent with her neighbors.
While Rebecca got to Liberia this past summer, this is not her first experience with the Peace Corps. She moved to Liberia in 2014, expecting to stay for 27 months. However, shortly after her arrival Ebola broke out in West Africa. She and the other volunteers were evacuated after having been in the country for just two months. Leaving her host family was challenging. “I had the opportunity to evacuate and flee from this horrific disease, but my loved ones were just trapped there.” She was placed on administrative leave and was allowed to return when the threat of Ebola ended. Rebecca is thankful that none of her host family contracted the disease, and she was able to reunite with them upon her return a few months ago.
Sharing Christ on the Job
Rebecca chose the Peace Corps over more traditional mission work because, “I appreciate and respect the type of development work the Peace Corps does. Peace Corps believes in capacity-building grassroots projects and community-based initiatives.” She admits that other organizations and more traditional missionaries do such work also but says, “I just felt like this was the right experience for me.”
Rebecca’s favorite part of her life now is developing relationships and exploring her new home. She already feels connected to her community. “I’m really enjoying living life with people: going to church, doing wash, hauling water, chatting, hanging out in the yard for hours and hours and hours, playing with the kids in the neighborhood.” She knows when she comes home she’ll be the same person but she’ll have an entirely different way of looking at the world.
As any work does, hers has some challenges. Rebecca sees many needs around her every day but realizes that she is only one person and cannot fix everything she sees. The Peace Corps has strict rules regarding handing out food and resources, so if she wants to help someone out with material needs, it must be done in exchange for some sort of work. “Many Liberians have been conditioned to believe that when white people arrive, they are usually giving something out for free,” she said. Peace Corps policies hope to reverse that thinking. Rebecca tries to focus on how she can support people in engaging in their own development.
As in any job in America, Rebecca has a variety of chances to be a positive example of her faith with her fellow Peace Corps workers, as well as with the Liberians she meets. She wants to be open and respectful of others’ beliefs, listen to them share their ideas about the world, and then share her faith in Christ.
Life After Peace Corps
After her commitment in the Peace Corps ends, Rebecca would love to stay in Liberia. She feels connected to the people there, particularly her host family, and can’t imagine her life without them in some capacity. She knows that Peace Corps opens many opportunities for her professional development and hopes to continue intercultural work in some way, even if that is not in Liberia.
If you’re interested in learning more about Rebecca and her work, you can email her (firstname.lastname@example.org) or read more about the Peace Corps by visiting their website (www.peacecorps.gov).
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).