Serge Apprentice Kathleen McAlister shares her top reasons to join Serge as an Apprentice. She is currently halfway through her two-year Apprenticeship in Ireland.
1. Endless Learning
Yesterday on a walk, I ran into a woman from my church who asked me, “How’s the new gaff?” Without thinking, I responded, “Oh, it’s grand. We’ve got the heating working finally,” and went on my way.
A minute later, my brain caught up and marveled that I completely understood a question that a year ago might as well have been in a different language. But I now know that “gaff” means house and that “grand” is the proper way to respond to any question.
As a deeply passionate lover of information, my time in Ireland has been a treasure trove of random knowledge that may or may not come in handy in the future.
While adapting to a new culture has its seasons of exhaustion and frustration, I don’t think I will ever not be delighted with a chance to learn a different vocabulary, observe the inexplicable (to me) ways of doing things here, and marvel at the vast variants of the accent of a tiny country, all of which have begun to sound normal and American accents sound foreign.
In learning to exist in another culture through observation and questions, I have begun to see the values behind the way others do things and, in turn, learned more about my own values and what I consider “normal.”
2. Good Anecdote Material
I love telling stories, especially when they can get a laugh or two.
While I certainly do plenty of awkward, embarrassing things, my favourite anecdotes are usually things I have observed in my wanderings through Dublin—whether on foot or by public transit—of real people doing really wild, unexpected things:
- A man sitting across the aisle from me on the train, brushing his teeth.
- A woman leaning out her second-story window, cutting her nails.
- A man walking out his front door, down the path, a coconut in his hand, and to his front gate, at which he stopped, bent down and smashed open the coconut on the pavement, after which, he returned to the house.
I have a whole list on my phone. People just endlessly fascinate me.
3. The Art of Making Tea (and Drinking Coffee)
Everyone has preferences about tea here—tea brands, milk first (which, I’m sorry, is wrong) or second, the strength of the tea, sugar or not.
As I have been accepted into my church, I have begun to be given the honor of being asked to make tea for events. It’s a lot of pressure, to be honest.
Most people, however, when I visit them, now know that I am not primarily a tea-drinker (though I do still enjoy a good cuppa), but would instead prefer a coffee.
Some people make great coffee. To others, however, a cup of coffee is a spoonful instant Nescafe. So in my year here, I have had to learn how to accept bad cups of coffee with joy and graciousness.
Hospitality—whether given or received—isn’t primarily about presentation or quality, but about the heart, about generosity, about love for others.
So whether it’s a great cup of tea or a bad cup of coffee, I have learned to be thankful for the chance to sit with people and listen.
4. Unlikely, but sweet friendships
Unlike many apprentices, I happen to work at a church in Dublin with a fairly large and vibrant young adults ministry.
In my first months here, however, the friends I made were all, well, not young adults. At my very first afternoon tea, an old woman pulled me aside to be, literally, a shoulder to cry on.
She, 91 herself, and her 85-year-old younger sister quickly became my favourite people, my biggest cheerleaders, and my first Irish friends.
My second Irish friend was an eight-year-old boy who kept the Lego car-pirate ship I built with him intact throughout lockdown.
I have, I’m happy to say, made other friends in my year and I honestly don’t know how or when those friendships happened, but those first friendships broke the ice and reassured me that it was possible.
Making friends takes time and can be a lot of work, a lot of putting yourself out there.
But, I guess, if you’re willing to cross an ocean and live with people you’ve never met before and give of your whole life in service to God, asking someone to get lunch or go for a walk doesn’t seem that scary.
And the friendships that God provides (because He will) during an apprenticeship are deeper and sweeter so much faster because of how helpless you truly are.
I don’t have time anymore to be anything other than earnest and eager. Cool and detached won’t cut it.
5. Shortcut to Vulnerability
In moving into a new culture, you can’t be anything other than vulnerable (well, you can try). I knew nothing about actually living in Ireland, didn’t know anyone in my area of Dublin, and had no clear idea what my job would actually entail.
But leaning into that neediness, I have learned the joy of asking for help and seeing how abundantly God provides. But it still gets ugly sometimes.
Our team visited the team in Bundibugyo, Uganda this year on the Apprenticeship vision trip. It was an incredible, broadening, challenging, and life-giving experience.
But we all got very sick. It was just the boring old flu, but I hadn’t had a fever in years until that week.
In fact, I hadn’t been sick in such a long time, that I didn’t really remember what it was like and just went everywhere, did everything with a fever for days.
It’s funny looking back at pictures now and recognizing that dead look in my eyes for what it was—not exhaustion, a new country, a tropical climate, but a virus.
The day after our return from Uganda, I traveled from Dublin to Kilkenny for my church’s annual weekend away, still shattered (a great alternative to “exhausted”), a little sick, and sporting a brand new haircut I had given myself.
The joy and love with which I was greeted by people from the church actually broke me open.
It was a chance, first with my teammates and then with my church family, to be seen truly for the messy human I am and loved nonetheless.
6. Have your vision of the kingdom of God expanded and love for the gospel deepened
The chance the Apprenticeship presents to move overseas and into a different culture, to experience life on the mission field alongside long-term missionaries and local ministry leaders, and be grown exponentially is unparalleled.
I have seen more of the world up-close than the small-town Midwest girl I was really ever dreamed of.
But what I am most grateful for has been seeing more of God and his kingdom up close than I had ever hoped for.
The Apprenticeship is a brilliant broadening experience.
You will leave with a widened perspective on the world as you see more horizontally—your neighbors in need, your friends with different views—in light of the vertical truth of the gospel relationship.
So, there are six of many reasons to do the apprenticeship. I could go on for ages.
But if you are searching, in this strange year, for something with purpose, with adventure, a radical life of hope, here is an open door.
Are you ready to step through? If so, I can’t wait to hear all your incredible (and funny) stories!