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Is the Peace Corps a good option for Christians?

Posted on Monday, November 2, 2020
Paul Van Der Werf

"In contrast to the Peace Corps, GoCorps’ model and mission is that Goers integrate their faith into all aspects of their life and overseas placement: friendships, their profession, their service and calling."

Most Americans are familiar with the Peace Corps, and many Christians serve through the Peace Corps each year.  The Peace Corps is an attractive option for recent grads because it has positions all over the world, provides training, financially covers all transportation, stipend and re-entry expenses, and is nationally known and trusted, ensuring a solid resume entry upon completion.  However, is the Peace Corps a good option for Christians?

Below are three differences between GoCorps placements and the Peace Corps that Christians should consider.

Difference #1 - Freedom to Share Christ

Whether serving through GoCorps or the Peace Corps, you’ll be taking on the toughest challenges you've ever faced.  As you take on the hard challenges that await you, wouldn’t you want to be 100% free and encouraged to bring your faith, prayer and convictions with you?

Peace Corps Volunteers are free to believe and practice their religion personally and privately, but as it relates to the work, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer requires you to compartmentalize your faith.  Why? Because the Peace Corps’ mission is strictly agnostic in terms of religion*. 

GoCorps’ model and mission is that our Goers integrate their faith into all aspects of their life and overseas placement: friendships, their profession, their service and calling.  Goers are encouraged to be authentic in communicating their faith, life experiences and world views through their relationships and in everyday life, including the work they do in their placements.  

Difference #2 - Model of Mentorship

A second difference between GoCorps and the Peace Corps is the day-to-day leadership and mentorship structure.  This difference is especially important if you are in your early 20s and it’s your first time serving overseas.

“The single most important thing that determines the success and effectiveness of a Goer’s experience on the field is ability and availability of their team leadership and the health of their team.”  From the GoCorps Team Selection Criteria

GoCorps highest priority in ensuring the success of our Goers is to carefully vet and hand pick each team and project with one core criteria:  Is there a team leader on the ground that is gifted in leadership, successful in their work and has a vision and availability for mentoring young adults in the work?  All of our Goers are placed in locations where the answer to this question is yes.  Further, each Goer is assigned a ‘track supervisor’ who mentors them in the day to day of their professional position overseas.

GoCorps team leaders are Christians who are experts in communicating cross-culturally and living out their Christian faith in an overseas context.  If one of your goals during your overseas service is to grow in living and sharing your faith cross-culturally, this is an especially important consideration.

Conversely, while the Peace Corps has a leadership and mentoring structure in place during service, it is unlikely your leadership will be Christians and share your values, beliefs and world view.  What this means is that Christians who serve through the Peace Corps have to find their own mentoring as it relates to spiritual growth and mission.

Difference #3 - Built-in Christian Community

When you are doing hard things, stretching yourself more than you’ve ever been stretched, having Christian community is crucial to thriving and persevering!  A third significant distinction between the Peace Corps and GoCorps is that with GoCorps, Christian community is built-in as a part of our model, whereas with the Peace Corps it is hit or miss.

When you are doing hard things, having Christian community is crucial to thriving and persevering! 

GoCorps Goers are placed in the context of a multicultural team of other Christians who are a part of their placement project.  This means that there is always a structure for regular prayer, study, discussion and relationship.  One especially cool thing is that GoCorps teams are made up of people from multiple countries, so you get a mosaic of cultures and the experience of working closely with global church leaders! 

Because the Peace Corps is not a Christian organization, finding Christian community and being mentored by a Christian is not built-in.  Instead, Christians who serve through the Peace Corps must seek out and build a community and network of believers, if available, and create and maintain their own plans and rhythms of community and prayer.  

GoCorps: A Viable Alternative for Christians

The Peace Corps can be a good way for Christians to serve globally, as it offers good training and its positions are all alongside host country nationals each step of the way.  Peace Corps experience on your resume is an especially good leg-up if you are looking to be involved in government or community development work as a career option, so for Christians wanting to serve in those ways should definitely consider if the Peace Corps is a good fit.

For many Christians, GoCorps is a good alternative to the Peace Corps.  GoCorps is designed for Christian young adults entering their first significant overseas placement.  GoCorps offers built-in Christian community and mentoring by team leads experienced and gifted in integrating faith into global work, service and mission.  And all placements are in the context of teams where you’ll be encouraged and mentored in sharing your faith.  And at the same time, GoCorps offers a sending timeline and student debt assistance on par with the Peace Corps.

My Experience After College

When I was in my early twenties, I knew that following my passion and calling in life meant that I was going to live overseas and work among the poor.  At the same time, I never put myself in the traditional missionary category because I didn’t see myself as a pastor working in a jungle or an orphanage. 

I wanted to fight injustice and serve the poorest of the poor, and create structures that would alleviate poverty and provide long-term opportunities and health.  But at the same time, I wanted to bring my faith into every aspect of addressing the physical needs, knowing that true peace, healing, justice and life to the full is only found in Christ.  So, I was in a gray area… not a missionary but also not content to focus only on physical needs and solutions.

Because I didn’t see myself as a missionary, and also because I had no desire to raise personal support, I decided that I’d probably find my best contribution with a relief and development agency, and pursued employment with USAID and some other governmentally funded programs.  I figured that I’d be able to share my faith and live missionally in whatever role or organization I joined.

During this season of applying, I was in the middle of my second year-long stint overseas with a mission organization.  I was focused on economic development in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods along the US-Mexican border.  As I struggled to reconcile the injustices and extreme poverty that I was dealing with on a daily basis, I was struck by the immense benefit of being a staff member of a Christian organization, where all of the staff had a shared Christian worldview and values as we tackled some of the hardest poverty situations as well as great spiritual openness that we’d ever face.  I was grateful to be with an organization that was built around sharing and integrating the gospel in both word and deed.

For those reasons, I ended up deciding that the best way for me to serve overseas was in the context of a Christian mission organization.  Several years later, I saw the need for an organization that would help recent grads who didn’t fit the traditional missionary mold.  So, in 2009, my wife and I started GoCorps to help young adults who wanted to have their faith fully integrated in their work and service, but who had skillsets different than church planting and evangelism.    

With GoCorps, it’s possible to invest two years overseas using your degree in the context of deeply committed believers who will be your co-workers and mentors.  Does that sound like you?  If so, then set up a time to talk to one of our coaches and see if GoCorps can help you find your place in God’s global work.


*From the Peace Corps website: “The Peace Corps forbids Volunteers from proselytizing or participating in other religious activities that could impair their effectiveness as Volunteers.”  Christians can be Peace Corps Volunteers, but Christians and people of all other religions, aren’t able to share their faith during official work and are not able to be fully open in praying and engaging with the spiritual nature of the situation they are working to improve."

Paul Van Der Werf

Paul Van Der Werf is the founder and executive director of GoCorps. Paul spent four years after college living overseas and serving through a Dutch NGO doing ministry in Amsterdam’s Red Light District and doing community development and ministry among overlooked communities in Mexico along the Texas border. His firm belief is that God’s mission is too important to be left just to the missionaries, and so he’s made it his life’s work to help ordinary Christians find their place in God’s global work.

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