NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — When I stood before my home congregation and told them I was preparing to do a year of service, I was greeted with silence.
Granted, my home church congregation greets most things with silence, be it child dedications, music performances or tearful testimonies. For German/Russian Mennonites, it's practically our heritage.
The silence after my announcement, however, struck me differently.
One requirement that I had to meet for my year of service with Journey International, a Mennonite Mission Network program that has since transitioned into individual-focused service opportunities, was raising my own funds for my travel and lodging. As part of my announcement, I was asking my church community for financial assistance. As I sank down into my pew afterward, I couldn't help but worry that the stony faces that received my news weren't interested in supporting me at all. Did they think I was too old? Did they think I was piggybacking off another young adult who was also doing a year of service? Were they angry that by leaving the country, I would be cutting short my term on the board of worship?
In the days after my announcement and throughout my year of service, my fears were proven wrong. The congregation readily supported me through prayer. Our midweek Bible school classes sent me care packages filled with snacks and cards. The church showed my video check-ins during Sunday services. (One week, I remember, I walked them though the mango peeling method that my host dad taught me.) The congregation supported me through generous financial donations, as well.
When I returned home a year later, I spent an evening making my way through all the donation receipts that the church treasurer had processed, pairing each receipt with a 'Thank You' card, writing a quick note and making a pile of stuffed envelopes bound for church mailboxes. At the bottom of the stack of receipts was a list of each person or group that had supported me, along with the dollar amount they had contributed to the program.
Like many congregations, talking about money in our church is hard. Topics like giving, tithing percentages and asking for money sometimes feel like conversational land mines that may or may not explode, depending on which day you're forced to tread over them. On the Sunday when I made my announcement, I feared I had set off such a land mine. Looking through the donor list a year later, I realized I had an itemized list detailing exactly how those fears had been totally overblown. My home congregation was more than willing to support me financially. It had just been the spoken acknowledgement that was hard for them.
In the years since, I've slowly come to realize just how much my service term impacted different aspects of my life. It has influenced where I work, how I relate to others and my involvement in my home congregation. While I loathe putting dollar figures on relationships and experiences, my year of service was absolutely worth the money I put toward it. It would not be a stretch to view the donations my home church contributed to my experience as an investment in their church body. In a broader sense, the service program itself was an investment in the global church, the dividends being paid in broadened perspectives, enriched relationships and a more tangible connection to faith.
These days, on the Sunday mornings when a young adult shuffles to the front of the sanctuary and quietly announces they're planning on doing a term of service, I stare back at them, as happily stone-faced and silent as the rest of the congregation. I give them two things: a small journal, as a reminder to take time to process their experiences, and a spoken acknowledgement that I was more than happy to donate to their fundraiser.
Their time of service might be a period of growth and exploration. It might be lonely and difficult. Odds are, it'll be a bit of both. As a member of their supporting congregation, I'm excited to invest in their experience of spiritual growth and their awareness of being part of the global church.