Every organization has a purpose; an answer to the deceptively simple question, "Why?" At Mennonite Mission Network, that "why?" is to lead, mobilize and equip the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ — across the street, all through the marketplaces and around the world.
In this Q&A series, Mission Network asks staff members to think about the role they play in the agency, and how they see their daily work joining into what God is doing around the world.
In this installment, Naomi Leary reflects on her role as Regional Director for North America (Longer-Term Service).
-What brought you to your role with Mennonite Mission Network?
I have always been drawn to work that is more than just a paycheck. Out of college I did community organizing; my husband and I worked together at Camp Friedenswald with people of all ages to connect them to themselves, others and God.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I went through a career transition and was looking for the next way to work in the world to build something meaningful. When this position became open, I remembered how my Service Adventure experience was so formative for my life, and I couldn't think of a better place to engage with people from my faith community and in the broader world.
-What is your favorite part of your role with Mission Network?
Definitely running retreats with young people!
I do a lot of administrative work, which is good, but I do it because I want people to have rich experiences. When I can spend time in-person with program participants or leaders and talk with them without a timeline, without an agenda, and just share space with them, that's what motivates me to go back and do the administrative work that needs doing and that I'm happy to do.
-How has your perspective on Mission Network changed over your time with the agency?
So, when I was in kindergarten, my family moved to Elkhart, Indiana, from Ohio for my dad's job.
It was only when I was an adult that I realized that my parents picked up three kids and moved to a new place because my dad took a volunteer position with Mennonite Mission Network.
That was a huge leap of faith, and it made me think that this place must be worth working for.
He then went on to have paid roles at Mission Network, and I participated in a Mission Network service program after high school.
For me, Mission Network has always been a way that I and my larger faith community can participate in God's mission in the world, whatever that looks like, in whatever place.
Since working here myself, I have been energized by the fact that this isn't the same place that my dad started at decades years ago. It contains the same mission and values, but new people and new generations have come in to be committed to anti-racism and to inclusivity.
I am glad to be in a place and with people committed to following Jesus in transformative ways.
-How do you view your role with Mission Network fitting into God's mission for the church?
After I graduated high school, I flew 2,000 miles to live for a year in a new faith community through Service Adventure. I served in a homeless shelter. I lived with other young adults in a unit house. These were all experiences that shaped me. Through them all, I learned that it's OK to make brave choices as you follow God. And the support of a faith congregation is what can allow those brave decision to happen.
I see my job as working to enable those brave choices; to foster a place where young people can practice making brave choices that follow God. As a network of mission, this agency provides them the support and connection and community they need to do that.
God’s mission for the church is to follow Jesus and his teachings. That’s an incredibly brave choice. In order to do that, the church has to be able to look beyond itself; to embrace a willingness to be transformed. I believe my role helps young people to join in that transformation.
-What is something that has surprised you about your role with Mission Network?
I bring together people from different places, and I expected that to be hard. And it is hard, but it's actually easier than I thought it would be.
People who are committed to building relationships across distance have more tools now than they've ever had before. Embodied, in-person experiences are still essential to building meaningful relationships. But Zoom is great, email is great and texting is great. I have been surprised about the possibilities of building strong relationships across distance.