The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 15, 2007

Couple sells all to join Peace Corps

Passion to serve opens new chapter for Nelsons

By Amanda Dyslin

MANKATO — Some might consider a 27-month commitment to doing Peace Corps work in Nicaragua to be enough of a sacrifice.

Greg and Carol Nelson see it another way. The Mankato couple decided the trip was a reason for a kind of rebirth, a good time to cleanse themselves of the material ties to their lives before Peace Corps.

For one, the house had to go. They put their home on the market and are hoping for a bite before they leave at the end of August. They’re also selling their cars and have already had a handful of moving sales to clear out many of their possessions.

“We’re downsizing to what can fit in the smallest storage unit,” Greg said. “That’ll be the fun part is to come back and not know exactly what it’s going to be like and building from the ground up.”

The couple also had no choice but to leave their jobs, Greg as clinical director of Lutheran Social Service and Carol as a fifth-grade teacher at Monroe Elementary School. Carol will return to teaching following the mission, but Greg isn’t sure what that next chapter will hold for him.

That’s really not the concern right now, anyway. Emerging themselves into their work and their new lives in Nicaragua is what the couple is looking forward to.

“For me, it comes back to a passion,” Greg said. “My passion is to still serve people, but it’s just in a different arena now. ... We believe we’re doing what we were created to do.”

On Christmas Day the Nelsons submitted their application to join the Peace Corps. They had thought about doing it before they were married 34 years ago, but it wasn’t the right time. All these years later, on Christmas, they thought it was the perfect day to commit to giving a gift in return for the gift they believe Jesus gave to mankind.

“I think it’s a new way to learn and to give and gain a new perspective,” Carol said. “Most people wait till they retire, but you never know what kind of health you’re going to have.”

The Nelsons are somewhat prepared for the conditions they will face. They did some volunteer work in Jackson, Miss., and New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina victims. Between the two of them, they’ve also traveled to Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia. And they visited their son and daughter-in-law when they did Peace Corps work in the South Pacific.

Carol will be working in two elementary schools in rural villages in northwestern Nicaragua following 11 weeks of training in Esteli. They will spend the training time apart with host families and are expected to immerse themselves in the language and culture.

Greg will be working as an agriculture extensionist, helping farmers garden to support their families, develop different kinds of crops and raise animals. Carol will be an aide in classrooms with between 40 to 50 children of all ages and abilities and one teacher.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, so Carol is sure there will be some culture shock. They’re unaware of their living conditions or whether they will have frequent access to Internet and other connections to the U.S.

“(I’ll miss) going to the Y and having my morning workout and visiting with my friends,” Carol said. “But they do have good coffee in Nicaragua.”