From left to right: Service Adventure participants Naomi Graber (Leary), Jenna Weaver, Mary Welsh, Jacob Potsander, Matthew Thomas, and Craig Miller (unit leader) in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2007.

By Naomi Graber Leary
Monday, March 11, 2019

When people ask me about my time in Service Adventure, I've got my quick answer down pat: "I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, with a group of five young people ages 18-20 with a young adult leader sponsored by the local Mennonite church, Prince of Peace.  I volunteered full-time with a Salvation Army homeless shelter for single fathers and two-parent families." Usually that fulfills any interest they had in my experience, but every once in a while, someone needs a further response.

"Actually, it wasn't as cold as you'd think!  The ocean keeps the temperature reasonably mild.  The dark and light seasons were far more dramatic."

"I chose Anchorage because it was the furthest away I could get without learning a new language, which I find valuable but extremely difficult."

I haven't found anyone that was so interested they asked me about how the experience shaped my later adulthood.  So when asked for a reflection, I unexpectedly found myself searching for words on a topic I typically find easy to talk about.

As I look back on my young adulthood, I think a lot of the selfishness of this time of life.  We are taught by society to focus on ourselves, on our education, on our career, on our growth.  Success is not defined by how you contribute generally, but how you end up.  As I look back at Service Adventure, I realize how far outside of this individual and selfish focus that experience was, and the paradox of how much I personally developed by focusing on things outside myself.

I wish I had a great story to encapsulate my meaning.  But I think the deeper truth is that the short, easily told story isn't the experience that changes you fundamentally.  I was able to learn what it meant to truly live in community because day in and day out I lived with people who had different preferences and made different choices than I did.  I was able to learn what service meant because even when it was cold and dark, I forced myself out of bed to work beside others for a cause I respected and supported.

So much of my life has been shaped by my own desires.  And I'm not so selfless that I regret that.   But I'm also deeply grateful that I chose to start my young adulthood by setting aside my own ambitions and goals to embrace the world around me.

I'm now on the other end of my young adulthood - married, steadily employed, and expecting a new baby.  As my life shifts away from focusing only on my own goals, and instead the future of my growing family, I see the promise ahead as well.  The promise lived out by our own Christ Jesus:

"Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . . who emptied himself of self . . . and being bound in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross."  Philippians 2:4-5, 7-8


​Naomi Graber Leary and her husband, Kevin Leary



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