Cross-cultural trip inspires missions work for EMU alumnus

By Tom Mitchell, Daily News-Record

For years, Africa quietly summoned Patrick Monk. So quietly that, for awhile, Monk himself didn’t hear the call.

“When I was younger, I don’t think I ever saw myself going to Africa, and serving or living overseas,” said Monk, a Bridgewater native and 2000 Turner Ashby High School graduate.

Two years ago, a taste for adventure drew Monk to South Africa for a cross-cultural experience, one requirement for graduation at Eastern Mennonite University.

Last year, he returned to the world’s second-largest continent for a mission in Uganda.

Haunted History

A turbulent past, in which the country was led in the 1970s by the cruel rule of dictator Idi Amin, left Uganda with social and economic woes that still haunt the country. Some of Uganda’s present problems stem from broad ethnic strife, Monk said, and such struggles are a huge part of what brought him to a nation of more than 33 million people, who are as varied as Uganda’s terrain, which ranges from beaches to deserts.

Monk, 27, recently finished the first year of a three-year mission in Hoima, Uganda, for Mennonite Central Committee, a non-governmental, faith-based group present in numerous developing countries throughout the world.

In Hoima, a rural town in western Uganda, Monk works as an adviser in a program called Living With Shalom, which promotes peace among Uganda’s high-school-aged residents by bringing together young people from different tribes in a Christ-centered setting. MCC created Living with Shalom to spread inter-tribal harmony, something Uganda historically has lacked.

Lasting Impression

His trip to South Africa stirred in Monk a curiosity for how other cultures practice their faith, and an earlier stint as a youth pastor prepared him for a similar role in Uganda, he said.

“Throughout my university studies, I [was] interested in Africa long term,” Monk said.

“The interaction and relationship between religion and culture in our world is a fascinating thing.”

Monk’s mother, Margaret Jones Monk, sensed her son’s excitement for Africa when he returned from his EMU trip.

“The cross cultural [with EMU] really clinched it,” she said. “He knew he wanted to go back.”

Brother’s Legacy

Patrick Monk credits the life of younger brother Jeremy with helping to shape his own views on missions. Jeremy Monk, a UVA-Wise grad and a behavioral-management counselor with Crossroads Counseling in Harrisonburg, died on Oct. 9, 2008, at the age of 23 after a six-month bout with bone cancer.

“Jeremy’s life had, and will continue to have, an immense influence on my life,” Patrick Monk said. “Jeremy’s arms, heart, mind and soul were always open to people.”

Though personally different in many ways, Patrick and Jeremy became close in Jeremy’s final years, said their mother, Margaret Monk, 61, a retired Rockingham County teacher.

The rest of the Monk family includes two daughters and another son. Patrick’s father, Edward, 73, is a retired telephone repairman.

“Both Patrick and Jeremy were good influences on each other,” she said. “Pat has such an openness for people.”

Others outside Patrick Monk’s family foresaw his missionary path. Nancy Heisey, a professor in EMU’s Bible and religion department, taught Monk. Heisey recalls Monk as a good student at EMU with a “deep sense of calling” to mission work.

“Even before he did his cross cultural, Patrick had a sense of where he wanted to go,” Heisey said. (In 2007, Patrick placed second in EMU’s Haverim Writing Award with his scholarly essay on “Reaching Across Rubbled Walls: Emerging from the Galatian Baptism with a New Identity.” Read more…)

Monk’s present path may bring him closer to home. When he returns to the U.S., Monk hopes to work with inner-city youth and possibly write children’s books. He also intends to return to his favorite place abroad.

Said Monk: “I would like to maintain some connection with Africa.”