Molly Cook has no problem admitting that faith hasn’t always come easily for her.
“I am fascinated when learning anything about religion,” she says, “but it is having that gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, never-ceasing, blind faith that I have never quite succeeded with.”
Lately, though, Molly says faith has been getting a lot easier due in part to a decision she made to dedicate a year of her life to serving abroad.
Molly is participating in an ELCA churchwide ministry that provides young adults an opportunity to volunteer overseas as a servant-leader for this church. Through ELCA Missionary Sponsorship, 230 ELCA missionaries serving in nearly 50 countries are supported, thanks to the generosity of ELCA members.
In the young adults program, volunteers are placed around the world to work in community, grow in their faith and better understand their place in God’s world.
And understanding her place in God’s world is something Molly has definitely been learning a lot about.
Molly’s assignment has taken her to Kota Kinabalu, Sabeh, Malaysia, where she works at Sabeh Cheshire Home, a school that teaches people with disabilities some important life skills so that they may be able to lead productive, happy lives.
The journey to Kota Kinabalu, Molly says, has been eye-opening.
“This past May I graduated college,” Molly writes in her bi-monthly newsletter to friends and family back home. “And now, here I am, six months later in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. I have found happiness, friendship and most importantly a home on the other side of the world. I have a family here!”
In her first few months of service, Molly has already been on quite an adventure.
When she’s not teaching English phonics lessons to the students in the pastry skills certificate program at Sabeh Cheshire House, she’s attending retreats with other young adult volunteers in Singapore and Hong Kong, spending time snorkeling and exploring Malaysia with her new friends and colleagues, and trying lots of new cuisine.
“I have developed a couple of mottos since coming here,” Molly says. “The first is ‘always say yes!’ The second is to ‘live without expectations’ and the third, ‘eat first, ask questions later.’”
Molly has also found a home in a local congregation as a member of the Eklektos Youth Group at Basel Christian Church of Malaysia.
“I was very intimidated to attend their youth service on Saturday nights, and so, for the first few weeks, I didn’t go,” she says. “However, on the first night that I did attend, I knew it was going to be OK . I felt at home. I was welcomed in with open arms, and seeing their faces, hearing them sing, and enjoying their company has been my favorite part of my journey thus far.”
In particular, Molly has found the ELCA methodology of accompaniment to be a strong, guiding principle in adapting to her new home away from home.
“I have found accompaniment through walking side-by-side with the people in my new communities,” she says. “When I think about accompaniment in my own life, I realize how eager I am to learn, to grow, to understand the world around me. I ask questions, I listen, I interpret, and I learn. By asking questions of my own and offering answers to others I have built connections and relationships simply by being myself.”
Faith has been a journey for Molly, but the one thing she’s never struggled with is the power one person has to make an impact on another.
“Although there are plenty of reasons on the news each night to doubt humanity,” she says, “there are also countless moments every day where I am in awe of it.”
“The simple beauty in making someone smile just by saying ‘hi,’” she continues. “Knowing what can happen when people come together to do something great has always been inspiring to me.”
This faith in people and the power to inspire may be what brought Molly to Malaysia, but it’s her faith in something bigger that is transforming her experience there.
“I wasn’t ready for this change, to join the ‘real world,’” she reflects. “I wanted to grieve the death of adolescence instead of face my big, scary future. Little did I know that this ‘ending’ was just the beginning of something so much greater than I could have ever imagined.”