​2007-08 Service Adventure participant Tania LaMotte plays with baby Aubrey at Learn and Play Child Development Center in Albuquerque. Learn and Play Child Development Center was one of the many service placments that welcomed Service Adventure participants over the years in the Albuquerque community. Photo by Cara Rufenacht.

By Travis Duerksen
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

After 25 years, the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Service Adventure unit concludes, marking a quarter century-long grand adventure for its supporting community.

NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Every August, fresh-faced participants from the U.S. and abroad arrive at Service Adventure (a program of Mennonite Mission Network) units across the country, welcomed by local supporting church communities. The following July, these participants, once strangers, leave those same churches as fellow congregation members, mentees and friends. The months of May and June, then, are a time for units and supporting congregations alike to reflect and begin wrapping up their time together.

Since 1998, Albuquerque (New Mexico) Mennonite Church (AMC) has been a part of this rhythm, as the supporting congregation for the Albuquerque Service Adventure unit. This year, however, marks the first season in a quarter century that the rhythm is different for the church.

The Albuquerque Service Adventure unit concluded in July 2023, marking 25 years as a staple in the local community. AMC hosted a closing celebration on September 4 as part of an annual church retreat.

At a campground nestled in the Manzano mountain range southeast of the city, congregation and community members gathered to tell stories, share cake, and reminisce about the unit through photos and trivia.


The AMC community shared cake and memories during a closing celebration for the Albuquerque Service Adventure unit as part of their annual church retreat. Photo provided.

 "My goal was to have it be a bit of a learning time for people," said Carolyn Snyder, who helped plan the gathering. Snyder was one the co-leaders of the unit's support committee, and a member of AMC. She explained that over the unit's lifetime, AMC had seen a lot of changes. The congregation grew significantly, and the median age of its members had gotten older. Many of the people who now made up the church had come after the unit had been formed, so the history of the first decade of the unit was a surprise for them. Trivia questions, sourced from written and oral memories from previous unit participants and leaders, were a way to bring this history to light. For Snyder, who was connected with the unit for 24 of its 25 years, it was a chance to pore over the quirks, surprises and impact of a unit that had touched so many lives over the years.

Questions included:

What was the first vehicle that the unit had? (A brown and white VW bus.)

True or false: At one time, the unit lived in a house that was renovated by the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition TV show. (True!)

Who was the last unit participant who was born 'behind' the Iron Curtain? (A German participant who came through the program via Christliche Dienste, the voluntary service arm of the German-wide Mennonite conference Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Gemeinden). 


The final Albuquerque Service Adventure unit support group committee at the closing celebration: (L-R): Becky Zerger, Glen Kappy, Abby Smith, Amy Smith,Donna Detweiler, Carolyn Snyder. Not pictured: Carolyn Johns. Photo provided.

The Albuquerque Service Adventure unit was born out of an initial desire by AMC members to start a Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) unit in the community. Donna Detweiler was one of these members. She recalled that three people, her husband Jeff Books and Carol and Warren Siemens, had been keenly interested.

"All three of them had done some sort of volunteer service with Anabaptist organizations as young adults," she wrote in an email. "And [they] wanted to pass forward the opportunity to a new generation."

Once the group learned about the possibility of hosting a Service Adventure unit, their plans shifted. They got in touch with the program director at Mennonite Board of Missions (a predecessor agency of Mission Network), and the unit began in time for the start of the 1998-99 service term. Initially, the unit house was one half of a duplex house that Detweiler and Books, along with Ken and Leona Gingerich owned.

"We all loved the Southwest ethos on the fringes of 'Mennoworld,'" wrote Detweiler. "and [we] welcomed the chance to introduce Menno youth from The Heartland to it."


Donna Detweiler and the 2018-19 Albuquerque Service Adventure unit peel roasted chilis together at the unit house. L-R: Donna Detweiler, Rudy Moyer-Litwiller (unit leader), Sophia Amstutz, Tjorven Lichdi, Andrew Ness and Florian Herrmann. Photo by Michelle Moyer-Litwiller (unit leader).

Carolyn Johns, the support committee co-leader alongside Synder, was a host parent for unit participants starting with the group in 1998. She and her husband routinely invited participants over for a meal, a day trip, or even just a chance to relax in a space that wasn't the unit house.

"We became very close to these people," Johns said. "And we almost felt like they were our own children. Luckily, we've been able to stay in touch with some of them."

Some past participants are now parents themselves. Others are deep into careers that they were able to dabble in through their placement or their free time. One of the participants they hosted was "a real motorhead, like my husband," Johns recalled. They would spend a lazy weekend together working on cars and engines. Now, that participant works for Cummins Diesel.

In total, more than 100 participants and unit leaders came though the Albuquerque Service Adventure unit over its lifetime, a fact that Naomi Leary, the director of Service Adventure, noted in a letter she wrote for AMC's closing celebration.

"Service Adventure Albuquerque has been a wonderful blessing," she wrote. "Most importantly, we want to thank you all, the supporting church, for providing this place of transformation and service.  Over the past 25 years, your unit has blessed 104 participants and leaders, who in turn have blessed the broader Albuquerque community."


Attending the annual balloon fiesta was a rite of passage for each Albuquerque Service Adventure unit. For years, participants would help crew for the balloon pilots that came into town for the fiesta. Pictured is the 2009-10 Albuquerque Service Adventure unit (L-R): Gabe and Bethany Bauman Baker (unit leaders), MaryBeth Cornelson, Sam Miller Jacobs, Joseph Arbaugh. Photo provided.

In the months after the closing, as the paperwork was finalized and accounts were closed out, the support group made the decision to give finances that were earmarked for the unit to the wider Service Adventure program, a final gift to the program they helped build and sustain for a quarter century. "Those unit funds were not required to go to the larger program," Leary explained. "Instead, it was a very generous gift from the support committee towards the future of Service Adventure; one that will benefit future participants for years to come."

Leary acknowledged that while the closing of a Service Adventure unit can bring a sense of loss, she believes the Albuquerque unit is a beautiful example of the healthy lifespan that a unit can have in a community. She also sees it as an opportunity for other congregations to discern what supporting a unit might look like for them.

"Hosting a Service Adventure unit is a way for a church to create deep, lasting connections with the community around them," she said. "They work with nonprofits in the community to manage participant placements. They explore the neighborhoods around them alongside participants. And they get to welcome young people into their congregations, their social circles, and their families year after year. While participants are only there for a single service term, the relationships that are formed stretch much farther than that."

 

 

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

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