From left, Susan Nisly, former director of Service Adventure, a program of Mennonite Mission Network; Rick Lee Service Adventure unit leader in Jackson, Mississippi; Michael Oyer, unit leader in Anchorage, Alaska; and Eric Frey Martin, recruiter for Mission Network's Program Human Resources, engage in a role play during a unit leader orientation in Newton, Kansas, in late July. Photo by Laurie Oswald Robinson.

By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Thursday, September 23, 2021

When the Kansas prairies endured a 100-degree heat wave in late July, at least one person was happy to soak up the heat. 

Michael Oyer, who is beginning his third year long term as the leader of the Anchorage, Alaska, Service Adventure unit, made the trek down to the Midwest to participate in this year's Service Adventure leader orientation. Oyer said the orientation, which took place July 27-30, gave him the resourcing and fellowship he needed to fuel his soul for the upcoming 10-month program term. 

Oyer welcomed this year's participants, ages 17-20, into the Anchorage unit home in August. As they form a unit family, they will serve in volunteer placements and relate to Prince of Peace Mennonite Church. 

As part of their orientation for the new program year, beginning in late August, Oyer joined four other unit leaders, former program director Susan Nisly, and administrative and recruitment staff at Mission Network's offices in Newton, Kansas. During their day in the office, July 28, they received resourcing on both antiracism and hospitality, ate lunch with Newton staff, and engaged in sharing and reflection. 

"I love the mentoring aspect of the unit leader role, because you have the sacred privilege of watching 18- and 19-year-old youth grow and change," said Oyer, who works as an elementary teacher, while serving as a unit leader. "They are still so malleable at this stage, and it's incredible to witness the depth that they can have as they are processing their experiences." 

The other unit leaders said that, like Oyer, they are eager to begin accompanying young adults in their Christian discipleship and formation journey. 

Rick and Debbie Lee are returning for their second year of leadership with the unit in Jackson, Mississippi. The unit is hoping to welcome four German participants in November. 

"I am really looking forward to this cross-cultural experience," said Debbie Lee, who will teach English as a Second Language in Jackson public schools during the school year. "We have already bonded very strongly." 

Every year, a distinctive group comes and forms a community, Rick Lee said. 

"This year is no exception," he said. "It will be a whole new challenge, as we strive to help the young men and women gain a full experience here, in Jackson, and learn from exposure to other parts of America through our travels." 

Rick Lee added how sharing food in their neighborhood has forged connections between people of different cultures. 

"One time we distributed some corn a church member had picked," he said. "We shared some with our neighbors. One of them said she was going to fix us some fried corn. We had no idea what that was but soon found out. Another time, we shared some fresh eggs with another neighbor, and soon, plates of catfish were coming over our backyard fence for our participants.  

"We were just sharing food in simple ways. And yet, important connections were formed." 







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