Senior Kristen McWilliams, an elementary education major from Lombard, served as a social justice intern and went on a mission trip to Peru with funding from the Niebuhr Center for Faith and Action. Below, McWilliams talks about how the Niebuhr Center helped her find her calling.
Word of Mouth
It was my friends that made me want to check out the Niebuhr Center. I kept hearing from them that it was a place where you could talk about your faith and learn about other faiths. They said it really empowered them to fulfill their goals and dreams. They were right.
Beyond the Comfort Zone
I went on a 10-day mission trip to Peru thanks to funding I received from the Niebuhr Center. I worked in Trujillo with Inca Link, a Christian aid organization serving Latin American youth in need. We handed out fresh fruit to street children who were gathering recyclables for money at a garbage dump. I had never been so far out of my comfort zone as I was on that trip. I really learned the power of prayer. I couldn’t communicate in Spanish, so I decided that if I couldn’t communicate my love with words, I would have to show it through my actions.
Confronting a Global Problem
Last year I was the Niebuhr Center’s Gandhi Social Justice Intern. I researched human trafficking around the world and spent January in Thailand learning more about it. I worked in a children’s home there for kids at risk for trafficking. I learned that trafficking really is modern-day slavery.
Spreading the Word
Part of my role as a social justice intern was to communicate to the campus community about the issue I researched. At first, I was nervous about having to speak in front of people. But I saw that I could really interest people in the topic. I’ve improved so much as a public speaker. It’s important to me to help people understand that trafficking isn’t just an overseas problem. It’s in our backyard too.
Learning from Others
I’ve become a better listener, too. A lot of that comes from the interfaith perspective you get at the Niebuhr Center, where you hear so many different viewpoints. When I first came to Elmhurst, I always thought I was right and I had all the answers. Now I’m much better about embracing differences. That way, we can all learn from each other.
In the Classroom
I’m looking forward to teaching in elementary school after I graduate. I’m student-teaching now in Elmhurst with a class of fourth-graders. I’m definitely putting those public-speaking skills into practice!