Sara Lowery will leave Albany Aug. 20 for a yearlong mission trip in Hong Kong as part of the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps. Lowery, who recently earned a degree in international and global studies and a minor in women’s and gender studies at the University of the South, will take part in the Hong Kong Diosese’s Mission for Migrant Workers program.
ALBANY, Ga. -- It's not that Sara Lowery's expectations are low as she prepares for a yearlong mission trip to Hong Kong to advocate for migrant Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers who are often subject to legal, sexual and financial abuses after leaving their families in search of a better life.
It's just that Lowery is a realist.
"At our training for this mission trip, a man who specializes in African and Arab relations and has trained more than 10,000 peacekeepers told us one of the hardest things about what he does is remaining whole doing something you're ultimately going to fail at," Lowery, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Sewanee, Tenn.'s University of the South, said. "He told us the story of a frog sitting before a growing bonfire who kept throwing drops of water on the fire, although they were too insignificant to have any impact.
"The frog said, 'I may fail, but at least I'll be able to say I did everything I could do.' That's the approach I'm taking."
Sara Lowery, whose father, the Rev. Lee Lowery, became rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Albany four months ago, will leave for her Hong Kong mission on Aug. 20 as part of the Young Adult Service Corps of the Episcopal Church. YASC is a division of global partnerships with the national Episcopal Church that focuses on connecting people through the Anglican Communion by sending young people ages 21-30 to serve as missionaries in foreign dioceses.
With a bachelor's degree in international and global studies and a minor in women's and gender studies, Lowery is well-suited to take part in the Diosese of Hong Kong's Mission for Migrant Workers. The mission provides, in part, a physical shelter and legal advocacy for domestic workers who have been all but enslaved by Hong Kong's aristocracy.
"Fifteen to 20 in the Young Adult Service Corps make mission trips each year," Lowery said. "When I signed up, I didn't say 'I want to go to Hong Kong.' I said, 'I'll go where you send me.' But I believe my mission trip worked out the way it is supposed to.
"My background in international and global studies and in women's and gender studies has prepared me to deal with just the kinds of issues that Mission for Migrant Workers is trying to address. Of course, I don't think I'm fully prepared to have a significant impact, but neither will I be fully prepared after I've been there a year. I'm a guest in a different culture, and even though I just graduated from college, I'm still a student, eager to learn."
Lee Lowery said he and his wife, Linda, are gradually coming to grips with their daughter's mission trip as her departure date nears.
"Yes, I'm the rector of the church here, but I'm a dad, too," Lowery said. "In Sara's case, I feel like I'm a dad more than a pastor. I keep telling myself Sara could get hurt in Atlanta or anywhere. I guess my biggest anxiety is that if she were to need me, it would take so long to get to her.
"But she's got a good head on her shoulders; she's a smart and talented young lady. And one of the great inventions of the modern world is Skype. I'll be able to see Sara's face as well as talk to her. Young Adult Service Corps also has a kind of support group for parents, so I think we'll be all right. I'm incredible proud of Sara, but I don't mind saying I'll breathe a lot easier when her mission is done."
Sara Lowery, who spent a semester studying abroad in Madrid, said that while she's excited about the adventure she's about to take part in, she's nervous, too, about the changes she's bound to experience.
"One of the biggest changes for me, I think, will be adapting to big-city life," she said. "There are so many people per square mile in Hong Kong, it's like New York City on steroids. I know I'm going to have to adjust to different kinds of food -- I may eat nothing but peanut butter for a year -- and it's a completely different culture. As an American, there are about a thousand non-verbal cues we unintentionally present in just about everything we do, so I have to guard against that.
"But I've known since February that this is where I would be spending a year of my life, so I've had time to deal with it. Still, as this becomes more and more real, I'm starting to feel a healthy amount of fear."
Since she is not allowed to proselytize during her mission trip, Lowery said she will heed the words of St. Francis: "Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words."
Lowery will speak during 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services this morning at St. Paul's, and she has planned other speaking engagements to share the story of her mission and to raise funds for the trip. Each mission trip costs sponsor Global Mission Service $25,000, and missionaries are asked to raise $10,000 of that total.
"I've raised around $6,000, and I'll spend the time between now and Aug. 20 writing letters and calling on family friends to ask for their support," Lowery said. "I'm more than willing to talk with anyone who will listen -- within the Episcopal Church or otherwise -- about what I'm doing. Sewanee sent me $1,000, and that meant a lot to me. I've been just amazed at the generosity of people who don't even know me.
"I feel that this sort of advocacy is my calling, and giving up this year of my life for something that means so much to me is not a sacrifice. I think this is what I'm meant to be doing, and there's no better time for me to go than right now."
Those interested in donating funds for Lowery's trip may make checks payable to the Episcopal Diosese of Alabama and send them to the diosese at 521 N. 20th St., Birmingham, Ala., 35203. The donations may be sent to the attention of Rob Morpeth, and each should note that the donation is for Sara Lowery.
Lowery may be contacted directly at Lowery.Saragmail.com, and anyone interested in following her journey may do so on her blog at forjusticeandpeace.blogspot.com.