You only live twice: Stepping into a monastic life of Strategic Intelligence and ministry - Zachary Lee

For those of you who missed the Q, the title was a reference to an old James Bond movie, starring Sean Connery. Anyway...

Hello everyone. My name is Zachary Lee and I am a rising Junior and second-year Collegiate scholars student. It is a pleasure and honor for me to offer up a post detailing my experiences at two unique, yet equally exciting camps this summer. While the rest of CSP may have (hopefully not) blown things up in Physics class, closely examined the hardships of being a male in society, and been amazed by the bathos of Professor BG, I (with my excused summer) lived in North Carolina (at Duke Divinity School!) for a week, lived in Oklahoma for a week, and interned with the NSA (National Security Agency).

Okay...maybe not all of that is 100% true...but I still did a camp where I got to experience God in a deeper way and choose an alias and eat good food and stop a simulated terrorist attack and…

Hmm….okay….maybe I should start from the beginning:

As I stepped out of United Airlines Flight 3560, a queer aura of apprehension overwhelmed me. Though the flight barely scratched the 3 hour mark and I had gotten plenty of sleep, I still felt slightly fazed, as though I could not quite believe that I was in North Carolina, about to spend a week at Duke University with 25 other students who came from all over the nation. That similar overwhelming feeling would be replicated throughout my next week at Duke, but rather than a feeling of timidity, it would be a feeling of astoundment and amazement.

The camp I went to was entitled Duke Youth Academy, a rigorous one-week residency program that was centered around theology and church history. Every day, I would be taught by special speakers, participate in special workshops, and open my eyes to the new ways I could experience God and use my gifs to serve his kingdom. Through Duke Youth Academy’s rigorous “monastic-like” schedule, I challenged my mind in the morning, body in the afternoon, and my spirit at night. Having to wake up at 6:00 every morning was an unpleasant adjustment I had to make, but one that I gradually got used to as the week went on. I also took on a “water challenge”, and attempted to drink nothing but water during my time there (even though the numerous sweet teas, sodas, and juices wished to claim my taste buds). The day would usually begin with breakfast, and then morning prayer. Walking through Duke’s colossal chapel humbled me as I would be reminded about how in the grand scheme of things, my Earthly concerns mattered very little. Lectures given by top notch theology professors would proceed after that, with snack, worship workshops, lunch, and free time all stacking up in perfect harmony and synchronization like tower of Jenga blocks. An anthropologist, comic book artist, and spoken word poet all offered their life stories and showed how they were engaging in ministry work through the use of their talents. As an aspiring anthropologist, a lover of comic books, and a poet, seeing all of these passions come together was encouraging for me. I left Duke refined through the fires of faith, and eager to use my gifts for the betterment of God when I got back home. But first, I had to go through one last camp...

The rusty pick-up truck moved through the sylvan forest before finally bumping into the front of a large Jefferson monument-like edifice, decked with six giant stone pillars and grand steps that immediately required you to sit down and take a selfie before moving on. As I paid the driver, thanked him for his services, and put my foot (for the first time!) on Virginia soil (or rather, concrete) I could feel the pleasant ambiance shift into one of hostility and insecurity. From now on, every step I made had to be without suspicion. Every conversation, every interaction, and mannerism had to appear natural and above reproach. This marked the first day (of 5) where my name would be taken from me, my identity stolen, and I would begin a new life, severing all connections with my past self.

To give you some background, I participated in a Strategic Intelligence camp at Patrick Henry College, up in Virginia. For those who do not know, strategic intelligence is the process by which specific types of information important to national security are requested, collected, analyzed and provided to policy makers. The campus was quite modest compared to the gargantuan size of the University of Chicago. In total, there were probably over 160 students at the camp, a hefty increase from the small group of 26 I was used to at Duke Youth Academy. I along with the other members in my dorm wing were physically, mentally, and spiritually challenged during our time there. Following a rigorous schedule that began at 6:00 (I had adjusted to that time by now) and ended at 11:00, every nook and cranny of time was filled with activities, all of which were engaging and convivial. Intelligence experts ranging from retired air force officers to counterintelligence spy officials gave lively presentations that dealt with topics such as the moral ethics behind the US government, the technology that real-life spies use for missions in the field today, the history of hacking, and the geopolitical mistakes that could have easily been avoided in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and 9/11. In addition to these lectures, members of my team and I would have to respond to simulated threats against the US government using the strategies and skills learned in the lectures. I was surprised at what the real-life side of the intelligence profession looked like and how complex the problems were. These simulations could not be solved in a two hour action thriller, but instead had to be carefully thought out and planned.

On the final day of the camp, all of the campers took on various roles of the numerous intelligence agencies, and collectively we had to end World War III (The United States, Israel, and Japan vs Russia, Syria, and North Korea), stop a Cyber attack from China, destroy a biological disease that was sweeping through the nation, and make sure the acting president did not get impeached. All of these things in 6 days!

However, the crux and underbelly of the camp lay in secret identities. Prior to arrival, I was given a new name and backstory by the campus coordinators: I was now Daniel Barry, a 23 year old college student from Oklahoma City who was interning with the NSA. For that week I would be at camp, I would have to act on that alias the whole time.  I was warned that I needed to develop a complex and believable backstory about myself so I could survive (cue dramatic music) INTERROGATION. Men (and women) in black would often storm in during meal times and pull aside several unsuspecting campers to be interrogated, where the campers would be asked various questions detailing their identity. I myself was called by the interrogators one evening during dinner, placed in a dark room with one flickering light, and bombarded with questions designed to make sure I had really researched the NSA and Oklahoma City. The interrogators would ask questions about my address, what the city was like, and a plethora of other questions that I had to be ready to answer on command. It was a (somewhat) scary but also very entertaining and helpful for I got a glimpse as to what real interrogations were like. Campers were also tasked with uncovering as many “real names” of other campers as they could. The ambiance of competition and fear mixed in with feelings of camaraderie made for an amazing camp experience.

Going to both of these camps, I was extremely humbled at the dedication and passion the counselors and the on-campus staff displayed. As a CSP student, I was reminded what it meant to truly serve one's community and to use the God-given gifts one has received to pursue justice and goodness within ones residential area. During this time, I was reminded that as CSP students, we are all called to pioneers and explore the unknown. We must conquer the fear and trepidations that we hold and emerge from the tests of fire and adventure, more mature than before. I wish to place this challenge on all CSPers this summer. Whether they are taking a class they never had before, or exploring a new internship, I urge all of us to embrace the unknown and become pilgrims of adventure and excitement.

Zach Lee, CSP Class of 2016