Brian Hamlett has been a wonderful addition to the Outside the Bowl international team. As a southern-California native, his adventures around the world not only strengthened his faith but equipped him to step into the role of account manager at our Port-au-Prince kitchen in Haiti. Learn more about Brian’s journey in the post below.
When I was younger, I never would have thought I would end up working in Haiti for a faith-based organization. I grew up in an upper-middle class family in LA County. Like others who grew up in a conservative Christian family, halfway through high school I wanted nothing to do with God and especially nothing to do with the church. I was a punk of a kid who did not appreciate what I had and was lost in a life without morals. It took a new perspective on the universe and a few big adventures to get myself to the point where I truly considered myself a Christian and eventually come to work for Outside the Bowl.
I studied at Azusa Pacific University, a private Christian school. As a kid just out of high school, my choice would not have been Azusa but my father was an associate VP and the prospect of free tuition made it the best option. Freshmen year I cared little about school and cared less about living a life aligned with the teaching of Jesus.
All of that started to change my sophomore year. I was accepted to study through an off campus program called High Sierra that blended the outdoors with humanities studies. We started with a weeklong backpacking trip through Ansel Adams Wilderness with philosophy professor Dave Williams as our guide. He talked about Christianity with a framework of reason mixed with faith which was a contrast to many of the Christians I grew up with. Up to this point, I thought all Christians were pretty foolish and narrow-minded, but this man, along with others I encountered during this academically rigorous semester, proved me wrong. They had solid arguments for morality, valid reasons for the existence of God, and were full of reverence for an unimaginably supreme being rather than a certainty in a tradition. It exposed me to a format of discussion and discovery that promoted inquiry and a sense of enchantment that was so new to me. I soon came to realize that this format was the grand overarching conversation that started thousands of years ago—philosophy.
The following semester I spent studying in South Africa. I fell in love with the diversity of the nation—the different people, cultures, animals, plants, landscapes, all blew me away. South Africa showed me how creative God is. I worked in townships and truly learned the value of a human being, things that one cannot come to understand through reading a book or having a philosophical debate. I was exposed to human nature that you cannot truly express in words, rather one can only experience, feel, and remember.
After spending back-to-back semesters off campus, I knew moving back to Azusa for the summer would be hard so I decided to go on a solo adventure. I got in my truck and drove across North America. After seeing how organizations were helping people in need in South Africa, I was curious to know what was taking place back home. I went to new cities and volunteered with nonprofits including soup kitchens and homeless outreach, a kid’s camp in Toronto, a Burmese refugee ministry in Denver, and church renovations in Chicago. In hindsight, working in all of these soup kitchens definitely helped prepare me for the work here in Haiti.
I thought this trip would be the end of my big adventures, but God had other plans. Azusa’s VP for Internationalization asked me to participate in the first Ecuador study program that fall. After debating going, I found myself in Ecuador living with a local family. I quickly came to love them as they showed me the immense hospitality of their people. Through an internship, I learned the struggle of commuting by bus (for more than three hours a day) while not knowing the language. I hiked volcanos, read books on the beach, played in the Amazon, and balanced an egg on the head of a nail at the equator. I could not have been any luckier, not only for that program, but a full year and a half journey that God took me on. I was transformed, from an embittered nihilist to an enchanted optimist, and began pursuing a life as a reverent follower of Jesus.
Following two summers of working in Alaska, first on the filet line at a salmon processing plant and then as a crewman for a commercial fishing company. Both summer taught me life-lessons and brought me to a truer sense of self and my identity.
All this to say, I was shed down to a much simpler me, a truer version of myself. Returning to the High Sierra program for a second time I rediscovered not only myself, but also philosophy, theology, history, and the people around me. I could listen to my peers, professors, and pastors without holding onto a strong prior disposition. I was enchanted again. I lacked certainty, but was filled with faith. I practiced reverence rather than pride. I listened rather than argued. I was set on a new path and I was hopefully to where it would lead.
I still did not expect that it would lead me to Haiti, though. After I graduated with my degree in philosophy, I had no specific plan. I was thinking about grad school, teaching, or getting involved with a nonprofit. When I heard about Outside the Bowl, I was very impressed with their model and how much they accomplish on a daily basis. I jumped at the opportunity to work for them and get involved with the work they were doing in Haiti. Since the Outside the Bowl model is so unique, I had no specific experience with what they were doing but I realized that most of my experiences worked together in a way that correlated. I had experience working in an isolating environment for long periods of time, I have worked within a similar level of poverty to Haiti, I have volunteered a lot of hours in industrial kitchens in the States, I took plenty of business classes in college, and my studies in philosophy provided me with a mindset to solve problems logically and think strategically. When I realized that I could put all of these skills and experiences to use for a company that I aligned with morally, it was an easy choice to take the job and move to Port-au-Prince. Though the job comes with its challenges and setbacks, it has been exciting making progress here in Haiti. I look forward to growing the capacity and reach of this kitchen to meet the needs of more people and partners every day. I am very thankful for this opportunity and am blessed to be a part of the Outside the Bowl team.