Whitley Raney, a recent graduate from Wilmington, has won the 2013 Presbyterian Outlook magazine Church-College Partnership Award for her essay on the topic, "How My Education at My PC(USA)-Related College Has Prepared Me for Significant Service and Leadership."
More than 30 students from colleges across the country entered the annual contest, which carries a $1,000 prize, an article in an upcoming edition of the Presbyterian Outlook, and publication of her essay in the Presbyterian Outlook 2014 Guide to PC(USA)-Related Colleges and Universities.
Raney graduated with honors in anthropology, and a Latin American studies major. She has for many years concerned herself with the plight of Latin American immigrants. Her senior honors thesis was titled "Maternal Health of Latina Immigrants in North Carolina."
Last summer she was an outreach worker for the N.C. Farmworker Health Program, conducting health education classes in Spanish on nutrition, pesticide exposure, and heat illness. She also completed intensive training on farmworker issues in the Southeast, and developed community awareness presentations about farmworker issues.
During summer 2011 she was an intern on the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C. She edited and translated primary sources documents of immigrant testimonies, and researched and published information about indigenous land rights, maternal health, and special military forces in Guatemala.
Raney studied abroad at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, in Quito, Ecuador, for the school year 2011 to 2012, and served as an assistant teacher in Davidson's Department of Hispanic Studies.
I was sitting in my advisor's office a couple of weeks ago, on the edge of a meltdown. Another article had been published that morning; one of the ones that makes me want to scream or cry or both. It was detailing the stories of more undocumented North Carolina families who had been recently separated by deportations. My friends were being deported, and the real reason I was upset because I couldn't figure out what I am supposed to do with my life next year.
In applying for jobs, I kept coming back to the frustration and passion that I felt around issues of injustice that I see in my own state. I couldn't shake the feeling of obligation to stay here and do something about it. At some point in the middle of this outburst of debate, my professor stopped me asked,
"Do you know what your problem is?"
I blabbered something about the fact that I am graduating in a couple of months, and although I have a pretty good idea about what I want my life to look like, I don't know what I should do next year.
"No", he responded. "You're just too darn Presbyterian."
He's a Presbyterian minister, so I guess he's allowed to say that, but it didn't necessarily help my qualms about what I was being called to do. Sometimes I think that he overestimates my knowledge of Presbyterian theology, but his point was a good one. He told me that these doubts and my struggles are good problems and they are very much in line with my reformed tradition.
My education at a Presbyterian college has allowed me not only to critically consider the world and the actors and the inequalities that are present in it, but also to consider where I stand in that world and what my role is in those injustices. Using these concerns and an awareness of the world and the mission to bring heaven to earth, I look for my calling. I am deeply concerned about how my faith and my life are related and what my responsibilities are to those around me, something that the church and my school teaches is very much a part of what my purpose is.
I had to articulate recently why I was drawn to the non-profit work that I have been involved in. Although it didn't seem entirely professional to me, I had to answer through the lens of my faith and my Christian tradition. My education has shown me that everything I do is framed through my ultimate understanding of who God is. Being a missionary to the world means more than being employed by the church.
It means more than going to seminary or becoming a minister. It means living every day through the light of my faith and that I can be whatever I am called to be, as long as I am good at it and I approach it through the goal of living out the gospel message in the world.
In a religion class that I took my freshman year, we read an essay by Calvin that talked about Christian vocation. I am an Anthropology and Latin American studies major, and although those two might not seem explicitly related to faith, I see them as being very much a direct extension of it. The Calvinistic tradition challenges us to engage in the world and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our own societies.
The ways that I engage and the feelings of frustration or of responsibility that I feel called to are intimately connected to my understanding of my Christian tradition and the way that it has been nurtured throughout my college experience in what I have studied. I still don't know where I will be living next year or where my life will ultimately take me, but I know that it will take me to a place where I am engaged in the world as a missionary and as a Christian.