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* On gaining a better understanding of vocation, as confusing as this can be at times

August 2, 2015

I still remember a lecture in high school English that encouraged us to “hitch our wagons to a star.” Somewhere about that time I was suddenly much more aware of the injustices of the world I was growing up in the middle of while living in absolutely beautiful (nature-wise) town of what was then still called Fort Dauphin (now Tolagnaro), Madagascar, given the poverty so many people were faced with. And then I met someone from Church World Service who was just visiting our corner of the island. Asking him what he did, he told me it was a variety of things, but mainly helping provide shallow wells in another part of Madagascar. Asking him what training he had for this, he said he was a Civil Engineer. And so then and there I thought I’d figured out what I was going to be when I grew up.

appropriate technology

I started at the little Lutheran college of Augsburg in pre-engineering and labored my way through one math, chemistry and physics course after another. After two years of this I transferred to the U of Minnesota where my engineering courses began. Several years later, now half way through a Masters in what was then called Agricultural Engineering (I was focusing on what then was called “Appropriate Technology” for any of you who remember that), I realized with a bit of a start that

1) I actually was probably never going to enjoy math as much as I needed to if I was going to be an engineer for a living and

2) I was more interested in the interface between engineering and people than in the engineering itself.


I shared this with my advisor who said that was all fine and well, but that this close to finishing my Masters, I needed to finish this first. It was great advice. As I neared completion of this degree my wife and I were invited (understood as “Called” within the Christian faith I seek to follow) by the Malagasy Lutheran Church to work in Madagascar, something the then still existing American Lutheran Church sought to support. So I finished school, my wife finished up her teaching, we sold most of what we had and moved to Madagascar in December 1982. While it took a few years to sort things out once there, over the next 10 plus years I very, very much enjoyed the realities of working cross-culturally in mostly another language (Malagasy with bits and pieces of French included in the mix) with a variety of gifted Malagasy colleagues as we sought to be of assistance to some of the poorest of those living in rural Madagascar. In so doing I moved from the engineering side of things to focusing on the broader challenges of community and leadership and eventually organizational development. Not so much theoretically as day-to-day, with the theory sort of collecting in “puddles” of wisdom over time. I had found my Calling.

And then very suddenly it ended. Our youngest almost died from a very severe asthma attack while I was away on tournée (french for “Safari”) and two weeks later we were back in the US per our doctor’s request and a month after that doctors in the US told us we would not be able to return to Madagascar.

what comes next

And thus became a whole series of what at times have felt like unending transitions and questions that for me are still going on, now some 20 years later. Much of it based on vocation, though it’s quite a bit more difficult than that. I often describe it as my Tigger (of Winnie the Pooh) story, of when Tigger sought to figure out what Tiggers do best?!

I started not so long after we came home to the US in 1995 in the area of evaluating and researching various types of positive youth development programs. Which after 5 years transitioned into higher ed, which I’ve been doing now since 2000, teaching mostly in grad (Masters) programs in Leadership and Management. Which, as noted below, I’ve done with varying degrees of successes and failures.

Since I was let go from my last full-time faculty position in 2010 (downsizing–higher ed is in quite a lot of transition these days), I’ve been teaching part-time, unsuccessfully (thus far which feels like forever) getting back into nonprofit work. When asked these days what I do, my reply, an attempt at humor, is, “I teach. Allegedly. As not all my students agree with this statement.” Actually, I what I seek to do is facilitate learning opportunities with my students, some days with more success than others.


Is this my new calling? Or even my Calling?! So far the most honest answer I can give is  “sort of.” When we found out we had to leave for the US in about a week way back in 1995, most likely not to return, I went to my mentor, a very wise Malagasy colleague named Razafimandimby. He listened to what I had to say and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. He said that he believed I had been Called to Madagascar to work alongside my Malagasy colleagues these past 10+ years. That he had watched me attempt to respond to this Call (again, some days with more success than others). But I was not only Called to my work, but I was also Called to my family. And it was time for the latter to take precedence over the former. And so that’s been my primary Calling for these past 20 years. During which time I’ve also been seeking to better understand and find my niche here in this oh so complex US world (Minnesota version).

From → Faith, Vocation

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