To celebrate World Senior Citizens Day, August 21, we honor two incredible SOOP participants: Larry and Maxine Miller, who have spent their retirement years serving others in many capacities. Even though we honor these SOOP participants on this day, we emphasize that SOOP is for people of all ages!
Since retiring in 2007, Larry and Maxine Miller have been caretakers at a guest house. They have also served with Mennonite Mission Network's Service Opportunities with Our Partners (SOOP) multiple times. SOOP is a program designed to offer flexible service terms for individuals and families of all ages. Whether you want to serve for two weeks or four months — or even longer — SOOP has diverse and rewarding opportunities.
The Millers started the Mashulaville Dormitory, a hospitality house in their hometown, Macon, Mississippi. "SOOP kind of came to us," Larry Miller said. SOOP offered placements at Mashulaville, which led the Millers to interact with Arloa Bontrager, the director of SOOP, on a regular basis.
Larry and Maxine Miller's first SOOP assignment was 14 years ago, at the International Guest House in Washington, D.C. Since then, they've served with numerous other Mission Network partners, including their current placement at Menno-Hof in Shipshewana, Indiana.
Menno-Hof is an information center "that teaches visitors about the faith and life of Amish and Mennonites." The Millers begin their days by unlocking the doors, turning on displays and preparing the place for visitors. When the public arrives, the Millers act as tour guides and help visitors learn more about Amish and Mennonite heritage.
The Millers are retired elementary school teachers, but they would claim that they still teach. Once a teacher, always a teacher, is the Miller's philosophy.
One of the best parts of their service assignment is the opportunity to meet people, the Millers said. Whether it's meeting Menno-Hof visitors or having dinner with Amish "cousins," as the Millers call them, the Millers relish the opportunity to connect with more of the family of God.
When they are not serving with SOOP, the Millers spend their time in Mississippi, where they have lived for half a century. They describe their life there as a road of adventure, decisions and disappointments. During those 50 years, the Millers have seen the incremental development of civil rights in Mississippi — with so little progress and many backslides. Since the pandemic began, they've seen the quality of education plummet. "It's better than it was 50 years ago, but it's not anywhere near where it should be," Larry Miller said.
Seeing these trends in their home state is part of their inspiration to serve — to give back and share what they've learned.
"SOOP has been really good [for us]," Maxine Miller said. "… it's an opportunity to come away. We really enjoy it." She went on to say that, for them, even teaching is a way of service.
One of the most meaningful experiences they've had at Menno-Hof was with a couple from the Niagara Falls area. They were exploring their newly found Anabaptist faith, having recently come out of the Wesleyan tradition. The Millers became surrogate parents for them, visiting them at their campsite, having conversations and answering questions. The couple returned home with greater empowerment in their faith and are now attending a Mennonite church. "Sometimes you really hit the jackpot," Larry Miller said.
"SOOP allows us to gear down and still be productive," Larry Miller said. "We're carrying our load, but we're not in the fast lane anymore. We're not coasting."