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It is a position in which Wolfe manages about 100 staff members who work in more than 200 villages in eight districts of northern Laos, a nation located near Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
‘‘Outworking’’ his Christian beliefs. At Halifax Area High School, Wolfe – son of Tom and Rosemary Wolfe, now of Fairfax, Va. – participated in various clubs and activities and set a goal to graduate as class valedictorian. In 1994, he did just that.
“It felt like a big accomplishment at the time,” Wolfe said. “Now, looking back, I wish I could talk to my teenage self and encourage him to learn for the sake of learning and not mostly for the sake of achieving.”
Wolfe then earned a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Allentown-based Lehigh University, where courses sparked his interest in international development.
In Uganda, a photographer for National Geographic magazine followed Wolfe for a few days to do a story on aid workers. That article, eventually was combined with one on the response to hurricane Katrina. “Hope in Hell” appeared in the magazine’s December 2005 edition and included Wolfe’s photo.
Wolfe’s next position was in Sri Lanka, off the southern coast of India, as district construction manager for the tsunami response effort with World Vision. He went on to work as the organization’s water and sanitation technical advisor in the region including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
From 2009 to 2010, Wolfe served as an independent technical consultant performing assessments and evaluations of water and sanitation projects in Papua New Guinea, South Sudan, Indonesia and Malawi before assuming his current posting with World Vision in Laos in 2010.
“In this way, the animal fund is ‘revolving’ and growing throughout the community,” Wolfe said.
World Vision also assists with construction of primary schools, teacher training and immunization campaigns in rural villages. Personnel offer health education campaigns on topics such as breastfeeding, hygiene and nutrition.
Wolfe budgets 20 percent of his time for travel, meeting with district government officials to ensure proper understanding of projects.
‘‘Love at the speed of email.’’ In 2007 a friend of Wolfe’s, a magazine acquisitions editor, learned about a single woman named Lisa McKay through her writings. The friend suggested Wolfe contact McKay because she and Wolfe led similar lifestyles.
McKay, a trained psychologist,
traveled internationally to lead workshops on stress, trauma and
McKay’s blog piqued Wolfe’s interest.
“Her essays – reading them was like a breath of fresh air to my spirit,” he said. “I laughed, I commiserated, I felt moved, I felt challenged. After reading her essays I wanted to get to know her better.’’
During a period of three months, while she lived in Los Angeles and he lived in Papua New Guinea, they got acquainted by email.
“During this time, we didn’t speak to each other at all,” Wolfe said, “So the foundation of our relationship was built entirely via email.”
The two exchanged 13,000 words the first week as McKay learned that Wolfe grew up on a small farm with a German-Puritanesque work ethic that remained with him.
Wolfe learned that McKay, a forensic psychologist, grew up on five continents since her father worked for World Bank; for this reason, she told him, she really is not sure how to reply when people ask where she is from.
He also learned that McKay had written a novel, ‘‘My Hands Came Away Red,’’ centered on the story of a youth group caught in local conflict while on a mission trip to Indonesia.
The two met for the first time at an airport in Brisbane, Australia Jan. 21, 2008. They married a year later.
McKay (she retained her maiden name) now has captured the story of their romance in her second book, ‘‘Love at the Speed of Email.’’
Challenges and opportunities. Dominic was born in August 2011. With a characteristic touch of humor, his mother blogs about the joys and challenges of motherhood and life in Laos at www.lisamckaywriting.com.
“There are great things about living in Laos, and there are also difficulties,” Wolfe said.
At five months old, Dominic broke his femur and had to be flown out of Laos to Bangkok, Thailand, to receive proper medical care.
“It took us about 30 hours to get to Bangkok after the accident,” Wolfe said, “(It was) one of our greatest fears as parents playing out right before our eyes.”
However, there also are unique opportunities. For instance, Michael and Lisa encourage their house helper to speak to Dominic in Lao, the native tongue of the Laotian people.
“Lao is a tonal language, which means that the way you inflect your voice changes the meaning of the word,” Wolfe said. “This is different from English, and it is very difficult for native English speakers to properly hear and pronounce the different tones. Maybe exposing Dominic to Lao will enable him to hear things that most people can not.”
According to Wolfe, he and McKay are grateful to have the opportunity to live in and serve one of the world’s least developed countries – at least most of the time. While they are settled in Laos for now, they don’t know what the distant future may hold.
“We’re thankful that we have a bunch of ‘blue passports’ and that we have the freedom to pack up and live somewhere else,” Wolfe said. “We’ve already put those blue passports to good use in the past. And I hope we’ll continue to put them to good use in years to come.”
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