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From a secure, undisclosed location outside our nation’s capital

November 3, 2013

Friends,

I have again been negligent in getting my blogging on, but I am once again back with hopes that I can post more regularly as a way to keep people updated about my life and improve my writing.  Writing is something I have always enjoyed doing but rarely practiced except for academic assignments and applications.  After reading far too many pages of scholarly books and articles in my first two months of graduate school, I am finding that the papers I write for class are beginning to mirror the less engaging articles I have read instead of the ones which truly gripped and informed me.  As a full-time graduate student with a flexible, part-time research assistant job, I have no excuse for any descent into academic mediocrity.  I will also try harder to avoid the minor but often ubiquitous grammatical errors which have long plagued my writing in all its forms.

That being said, the rest of this post is just another long-overdue life update.  Since my last post back in June, I completed the equivalent of a third- and fourth-semester course in KiSwahili, the official language of Tanzania, at the University of Illinois’s Summer Institute for the Languages of the Muslim World.  It was refreshing to re-immerse myself in this wonderful language, and I also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Islam through the program’s extracurricular programs.  Regardless of one’s theological disagreements with Islam as a whole or with particular strands within Islam, and as an evangelical-ish Christian I have many, criticism of Islam and Muslims that comes from a place of ignorance helps no one.  I become frustrated when individuals pull facts out of context to trash or “disprove” Christianity; in following Jesus’s Golden Rule, I hold myself to a higher standard, albeit one which I have often failed to measure up to.  My search to understand other people, cultures and faiths, or to at least realize how much I don’t understand, is a major part of what has drawn me to international affairs.

I also found time for some free spirited running.  In the aftermath of my marathon meltdown at Green Bay in May, I returned to running without much enthusiasm.  Yet somewhere within, I knew (and I still know) that running is so important to my physical health and my sense of holistic well-being.  I’m not very coordinated or athletic and never have been (if you watched any of my 8th grade basketball games, you know what I’m talking about), but through running I encounter myself, nature, and God in ways I’ve never been able to with any other activity.  This summer it took everything I had to get out there and run.  My planned weekend long runs on the farm roads south of Champaign-Urbana frequently turned into hope-crushing run-walks past endless cornfields without shade, and all the progress I had made in the run-up to Green Bay seemed lost.  I was back home over the Fourth of July for the annual Phillips Spirit of America 5k, and although I finished more than three minutes away from my goal of winning the race (seriously, winning the Spirit of America is probably most my most concrete life goal at this point), my top-10 finish was nearly two minutes faster than my 2010 attempt.  Somehow everything came together for me at the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley on August 10, when I ran 3:23:26, more than half an hour faster than Green Bay and 9 minutes faster than my previous personal best in the 2012 Kilimanjaro Marathon.  Obviously, I don’t believe times are everything, and if I did, I probably would’ve given up long ago, but my Paavo performance helped reaffirm the joy I find in not only running but in trying to run fast.

I was blessed to spend a few weeks in Ptown in August before heading out to DC for graduate school.  It was only fitting that, on the same weekend I ventured forth from the promised land of the Northwoods, my sister Maureen started her freshman cross-country season at Lawrence University, and my friend/life guru/co-conspirator/running partner/truth-seeker Jordan officially began his life with the Norbertine order of Catholic priests.  It was amazing to spend so much time with both of them this winter and spring after being gone, and it’s hard to imagine Phillips without them.

After spending time with Grandma and a number of friends on my way out east, I arrived in DC just in time for orientation at American University’s School of International Service.  It’s not exactly news, but as an introvert, I am not a big orientation fan, but once that was over and classes got rolling, I began to enjoy my return to the formal study of international affairs.  There is a lot of reading, but the subject matter is genuinely interesting to me, and it’s great being with professors and fellow students who get as excited about the world as I do.  (Note: Just because I don’t always outwardly express my enthusiasm for things doesn’t mean I’m not excited.)  Officially, I am in a two-year master’s degree program in international affairs focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and political economy within the Comparative and Regional Affairs sub-program. My four housemates are great, and I bike from our house to campus.  I also study German on Saturday mornings at the Goethe Institut, which is particularly satisfying because I spent the last two years in Moshi receiving email updates from the Goethe Institut in Dar-es-Salaam without being able to attend any of their events.  Despite my affinity for limited government, I did not cause the government shutdown, although I did fight the power last weekend at the anti-NSA rally.  Dad and Grandma took the train out here to visit me this past week, which was so much fun, and DC didn’t sustain too much lasting damage from our meanderings.

There’s so much more I could write about grad school, but I need to wrap up so I can get back on the study train.  I know I’ve been even worse at staying in contact with people than I have at keeping this blog updated, but I wish truly wish everyone reading this (particularly if you made it to the end of this nonsense) a grace-filled November.

May the Truth always set us free,

Andy

P.S. Today (Sunday) is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Please hold our brothers and sisters in prayer.  I dream of a day when all people everywhere are free to practice their faith as they please, free from government interference so long as they harm no one else.

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