Candler/IRD Intern Peggy Jean Craig, who is serving<br /> in Laos, took this photo of food distribution at a <br /> local school.

You never know where a few good courses in biblical studies might take you. This summer they are taking Peggy “PJ” Craig, a rising third-year student in Candler School of Theology’s Master of Divinity program, to Khammouane, Laos. She will be traveling there as one of three Candler students selected to serve as 2011 interns with International Relief and Development (IRD), Inc. Craig’s internship, like those awarded to Candler students during the summers of 2009 and 2010, is funded by a grant received by Candler from IRD.

What does traveling to Laos have to do with biblical studies? For Craig, everything. In 2008 she spent six months in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, living in an intentional Christian community and planting a church. In Laos, where the government is by no means friendly to Christianity, this is a bold undertaking. When she returned to the United States and enrolled in Professor Brent Strawn’s Old Testament course and later in Professor Luke Timothy Johnson’s New Testament course, she read the text with new eyes and began to see the relationship between it and her life. “I read Acts 2 and 4 differently, because the community I had lived in was very much like the early church. The text became real,” she says. “This interconnectedness is what really interests me.” 

The experience made Craig yearn to return to Southeast Asia to find new ways to make the gospel come alive in that part of the world.  In Laos, Craig hopes to combine her Candler studies and her undergraduate degree in communication from Fordham University to change lives and perspectives. She will produce three documentaries about IRD’s work in that country, and will be responsible for all aspects of the assignment, from camera work to conducting interviews to editing and final production. She is looking forward to speaking to those most directly affected by IRD’s efforts to make formal education possible in rural Laos. 

While Craig is in Laos, her classmate Jonathan Navas (MDiv ’13) will be in Florencia and San Vicente del Caguán, Colombia, aiding internally displaced persons — Colombians who have lost their homes to paramilitary activity and/or drug violence and who live as refugees in their own country.

Pursuing a vocation as a teacher of theology, Navas knows his success depends on real world experience.  “I believe this work in Colombia will complement my studies at Candler well since I will be exposed to people most affected by the world's violence,” he said. “Ultimately, everyone is responsible for this violence. But, everyone is also responsible to act justly and compassionately toward one another.”

Compassion will be a major component of second-year Master of Divinity student Marques Harvey’s IRD internship in Mozambique. Using his background in public health, he will work at the intersection of non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, and faith communities to increase HIV prevention and to care for orphans and other vulnerable children.

Craig, Navas, and Harvey follow 12 other Candler students who have participated in the IRD summer intern program over the past two years, some of whom have had their lives permanently changed by the experience. Maria Presley (MDiv ’11), who spent the summer of 2009 in Mozambique, will start full-time work with IRD in June as an associate officer in the Community Stabilization Program.

“My IRD internship gave me the opportunity to apply a Candler education invested in reflection and systemic engagement to the real world. My theological education provided me with a fresh perspective from which to examine complex realities on the ground, helping me approach narrowly defined situations more broadly,” Presley said.

The IRD internships are just one way Candler empowers the international engagement of its students. Approximately 40 students each year take part in academic exchanges from Australia to Switzerland, internships from the Bahamas to Mozambique, and travel seminars across five continents. Candler also has pioneered a number of innovative courses including “The Church on the Border,” which takes students to other countries to work with congregations on immigration, and most recently a real-time distance learning course with students and faculty from Methodist University of São Paulo’s School of Theology. In addition, Candler has received a $325,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to create an international model curriculum for accredited North American seminaries.

Navas, who sees his work in Colombia as a natural extension of both his theological education and his Christian faith, sums up the reason international engagement is critical in today’s world of the church. “The understanding of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood lies in a practical implementation of love for one's neighbor, which is of the utmost concern for Christ's ministry, locally and globally.”

Follow this year's IRD interns and read about previous interns' experiences on the Candler IRD blog at