A Different Perspective

Michael Dumas Experience, Fall 2019

Many of the happiest and most successful people attribute their prosperity to a shift in perspective. Whether it was just meeting someone with different life experiences or surviving a crisis, there’s always a different way to look at things, which can help you grow into the person God meant you to be.

Growing up in rural Cullman, Alabama, Stephen Edwards knew the logical step after high school was college, but he wanted to enroll somewhere other than the local junior college. Which brought him to the University of Mobile.

A self-described “lazy student,” Edwards’ only plan for the future was to worry about it later, and while he did well in his classroom, it wasn’t until he took Philosophy 101 his sophomore year that things started to come together in his mind. That was when he met Dr. Ted Mashburn, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of humanities.

Edwards — who has found contentment leading humanitarian efforts in some of the world’s most impoverished and war-torn countries — says Mashburn was one of the more excited teachers he ever had at the university. He remembers the professor challenging his students to ask questions and think for themselves.

“He didn’t have a specific place that he wanted to get you to,” Edwards said. “I just remember him having high expectations of the engagement of his students.”

Mashburn shared tales of living in Israel in the 1970s, and his belief that for someone to fully understand themselves and their own culture, they needed to spend a significant amount of time overseas, immersed in a different culture. In other words, to change their perspective — a concept that would change the course of Edwards’ life.

The following summer, he took his first international trip, to Ecuador. Edwards was intrigued by the variety of people and cultures he was exposed to, so after graduation in 2009 he moved to central Africa for a few years, volunteering and scratching together enough money to pay his bills.

A friend referred him to a job with a refugee resettlement agency in Nashville, so Edwards moved back to the States. It was the first time he’d learned about the lives of refugees, why they migrated and the situations they fled to seek better lives elsewhere.

“It’s probably the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had,” he said.

Studying ethics at the University of Mobile, he’d learned about the concepts of justice and mercy, and over the next three years helping refugees through the World Relief organization, his passions crystallized.

By following his heart, and the initial sage advice of Mashburn, Edwards learned his skill set included the ability to be adaptable no matter his circumstances. He’s not overwhelmed by his surroundings, whether he’s working on small islands in the Caribbean or Mediterranean seas, or in Amman, Jordan, where he currently serves as the grant manager for World Vision International’s Syrian Response office.

The challenge, Edwards said, is maintaining the balance between work and empathy.

Ultimately, you have to do your job, but when it means helping meet the basic needs of some of the most vulnerable people in the world — most of whom are fleeing conflict and extreme poverty — it can be tough to keep everything compartmentalized. Luckily, he’s made friends all over the world, many of whom are as fulfilled as he is in their work.

“Encountering a different way of thinking, a different worldview, a different mindset, whatever that may be, teaches you about yourself,” Edwards said. “It can certainly be a hard experience for some people going overseas, but it doesn’t have to be.

“Breaking out of whatever bubble you always have been in is a good way of understanding yourself better.”

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Michael Dumas