MVS participants Erin McWilliams, Anna Lubbers, Eden George, Polly Carlson, Claire Waidelich, Pamela Ortiz, Ashley Neufeld, Jillian Neufeldt, and Elizabeth Breckbill. Photo by Erin McWilliams.

By Travis Duerksen
Wednesday, April 27, 2022

NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) — On any given weekend, Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) unit houses host a wide range of activities. They can morph from bakeries and gyms to laundromats, restaurants and movie theaters in the course of a single Saturday.

From March 3-6, however, most of the unit houses were quiet, with locked doors and darkened windows. The San Francisco, California, unit apartment, however, was fuller, louder and livelier than the pandemic had enabled it to be in years.

On that particular weekend, MVSers from across the country gathered together in San Francisco to learn, share and worship together. The San Francisco unit served as hosts, introducing the other units to their local contexts of church, community and culture.

While the group was able to enjoy some quintessential San Francisco experiences together — including a day trip to Chinatown, a seafood lunch at Pier 39 and a cable car ride — the trip also served as a unique opportunity for participants to support one another. Whether over soup and salad at the unit apartment, or during a picnic in Golden Gate park, unit participants were able to share joys, commiserate in struggles, and swap stories with some of the only other people that had an immediate understanding of MVS' unique fusion of service and communal living: fellow MVSers. 

"No one truly understands the MVS experience, unless you live it," said Polly Carlson, an MVSer in her second year with the San Francisco unit.


The MVS group shared a breakfast hosted by Karen Kreider Yoder, one of the members of First Mennonite Church in San Francisco (FMCSF). Photo by Karen Kerider Yoder.

Naomi Leary, the administrator for both MVS and Service Adventure, said she was "particularly excited" for the units to be able to visit one another, since it was a specific request that came from the units at their orientation last fall. She described the MVS units as a close-knit community, bound together by their shared commitment to a year or two of service, despite their geographical distance. "Especially in a season [of the pandemic] when community and relationships can be so challenging to navigate safely, it felt particularly valuable for the units to find ways to connect as a broader MVS community."

The gathering was made possible, in part, through a grant from the Fidelia E. Plett Foundation, based in Inman, Kansas. Dave Balzer, one of the foundation's board members, said that the foundation works to support programs and organizations with ties to the General Conference Mennonite Church (now Mennonite Church USA), as well as those that promote service and support mental health, all things that Plett herself was passionate about.

"Mennonite Mission Network actually fulfills a couple of things that she would really have been proud of supporting," said Balzer.

Balzer's oldest daughter, Sarah, served with Service Adventure, another short-term Mission Network service program, from 2015-2016. Balzer explained that his family's experience with that program helped make supporting other Mission Network programs an easy decision for the foundation.

"We had that personal connection," he said. "We knew what [Mission Network] was, and what it did ... and so we felt pretty good about supporting it."

On Sunday, the last day of the gathering, the MVS group attended church with the San Francisco unit's supporting congregation at First Mennonite Church in San Francisco (FMCSF). The congregation has been central in supporting the unit since its creation, almost four decades ago.

"It was wonderful to meet some of the members of [the San Francisco unit's] supporting congregation," said Erin McWilliams, a participant with the Alamosa, Colorado, MVS unit. "It was beautiful to see the support and love that the people of the congregation have for each other." 

After a quick lunch and a final photo together, participants said their goodbyes to one another. The unit groups then returned home. A close-knit community, brought together under one roof for a weekend, spread back out into neighborhoods across the nation, renewed and energized to continue learning and serving, each in their own context.

 

 

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https://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4697/MVS-gathering-in-San-Francisco-is-a-time-of-connection-comradery-and-cable-cars

​Travis Duerksen is a writer and multimedia producer for Mennonite Mission Network.

 

 

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