For the second year in a row, all five Service Adventure units, with some Mennonite Mission Network staff, spent a week together serving with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). This year I was struck by the spirit of the week. It was an exhausting time, due to not only the full schedule but also the tiring, hard work; yet everyone seemed genuinely happy, even joyful, to be serving because we were serving together.
“I always love having the opportunity to serve with others my age,” said Jessica Porr, a participant in the Anchorage, Alaska, unit. “To see us coming together to serve the Lord in this way just warms my heart.”
The church where we were stayed in Bloomington, Texas, was filled with voices and laughter each evening as people shared their stories, played games, or simply relaxed together. Service Adventure participants are used to serving on a regular basis, but this work – mudding drywall, installing insulation, and painting houses damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 – felt special. Young adults who didn’t necessarily have construction skills made a big difference in a community and in the lives of families who had lost so much. Throughout the week, I saw instances of new skills learned and projects completed. This was not because participants necessarily found them fun, but because they recognized the need and stuck with it. The pride in daily work accomplishments was tangible.
One of the most meaningful experiences of the week was the time spent alongside local people of Bloomington, listening to their stories of loss, resiliency and hope. One couple, Lupe and Roxy, brought in a meal and shared how they lived through Hurricane Harvey. Now that their home is complete, they want to help others.
A county official met with us one evening to give the history of Bloomington. Many of us had good conversations with homeowners and their family members on the job site each day.
“It was refreshing to see the resiliency of the community members,” reflected Jenna Baldwin, a participant in the Colorado Springs, Colorado, unit. “It was interesting to see that often those who had lost almost everything in the hurricane or the events immediately following, were the ones that jumped right in, helping their fellow community members.”
On our last day together, I overheard many times how hard it was for the participants to say good-bye to each other and part ways. When I asked, “Is it too painful? Should we not do this?” There was always a resounding, “No! Please continue these trips!”
In addition to serving, there was great value in the Service Adventure participants and unit leaders spending time with others who understand what they are doing this year. They were able to encourage each other to finish their service terms with strength and grace in the upcoming months.
Each evening as I sat back and reflected on the day and the people surrounding me, I was filled with genuine love. I am thankful for the work that I get to do. Working with Service Adventure, I get to know incredible young adults and unit leaders who are willing to take time away from the beaten path so they can serve, learn, and be challenged.
Emma Zuercher, a participant in the Colorado Springs unit, spoke for many of us when she said, “From our MDS trip, I found more ways to see unity in people and found value in trying new things. I also was forced to rethink the way our intentions affect others. From new discoveries to saying good-bye, the trip leaves pleasantly warm, bittersweet feelings – good memories, friendships to keep up, and new ideas to investigate.”