I remember the day of April 11, 2013—the day I found out that I was going to Colombia. The announcement e-mail was short and nonchalant, but I was a puddle of tears. It explained that with two more last-minute applications, our group was Colombia bound—without them, it would be too small to depart. I was determined in that moment to board the plane in July and not turn back on my decision to serve abroad.
Growing up in the Mennonite Church, I was constantly surrounded by a culture of service. Every time I saw a video that highlighted the work of Mennonite missionaries, I was convinced that those individuals were the super-heroes of the church.
Within my own family, I grew up hearing of my cousins’ adventures in Tanzania and of my aunt and uncle’s service there. Local service was also celebrated when church and community members spoke of their decision to participate in alternative service instead of the military. Through these stories, I learned how service can be a powerful alternative to war and a peaceful way to assist those in need.
Following high school graduation, I continued to gravitate toward this culture of service, and chose to attend a college that mirrored my values. At Goshen (Indiana) College, I encountered many people who had served abroad. As students and faculty shared in chapels and classes about their experiences, I realized that most of my service experiences had been with those who, in many ways, resembled myself.
This realization pushed me to serve for a month in Barranquilla, Colombia, through Mennonite Mission Network’s Youth Venture program. I had learned of the program through a high-school friend, who had previously served in Bolivia. When she shared with me about the relationships she formed in Bolivia, and her genuine desire to return, I was inspired.
My time in Colombia was filled with learning tours of our host city and the neighboring area, time with our host families and members of the church, conversations about cultural stereotypes, and the ongoing effects of war. In the short span of a month, I formed close relationships that made the process of leaving Colombia surprisingly difficult.
My final Sunday in Colombia was bittersweet as our host congregation said goodbye to both the Youth Venture group and two young adults, Wendy Palencia Olivares and Aldo Lemos, who were preparing to serve in Ecuador and Guatemala through the Mennonite Church.
Amidst the hugs and tears, I thought back to the countless individuals who supported me through prayer, Scripture, and well wishes before and after my service trip. I was reminded of the importance of both communities of support and their dedication to serving others.
Although my decision to apply to Youth Venture in Colombia felt random at the time, every part of my experience, before and after, cultivated this culture of service that has surrounded me my entire life. With encouragement from family, friends, and the wider Mennonite community, my journey to Colombia was a wonderful experience and a catalyst for my passion for a lifestyle of service.