ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Is service again becoming a trend? This year 227 young adults and people of all ages are choosing to invest their time in Mennonite Mission Network Christian service programs – a 44 percent increase in participants over 2007.
Last year in August, 158 participants had committed to serve through Mennonite Voluntary Service, Radical Journey, Service Adventure, SOOP and Youth Venture. And even with increased numbers, applications are still pouring in. Mission Network has received 307 applications in 2008, as compared to 232 last year.
“I think this is the future of the Mennonite church,” said Ken Regier, Mission Network’s program human resources director, who interviews service applicants. “People are reading Jesus and what he calls us to do and understanding that it means more than just going to church on Sunday. These programs allow people to put their faith into action and to get involved.”
A new online application and the tightening job market have helped numbers increase, but more significant is an increased interest in service as a vocation.
“I think in general throughout this country we have this move towards volunteerism in which young people really look at volunteering as a good way to test their call and to figure out what they want to do,” said Hugo Saucedo, MVS director.
Jordan Zickafoose of Lima (Ohio) Mennonite Church
is a new MVSer volunteering this year in Fresno, Calif. His interest in restorative justice and the testimonies of friends participating in MVS led him to apply.
“As I was getting ready to graduate I was thinking about what I wanted to do as a vocation. Something kind of sparked my interest in the restorative justice field in the past two years, and I thought MVS would be a good way to explore that interest,” said Zickafoose.
Zickafoose is working with Circles of Support and Accountability in Fresno. He will help facilitate support networks that provide accountability and community for high-risk sex offenders on parole.
Mary Jo Martin of Olive Mennonite Church
in Elkhart, Ind. received affirmation from her church family and parents that made her choice easy.
“My church definitely supports doing service and MVS. I’m sending update e-mails to them and they’re very interested in what I’m going to be doing. They consider it an extension of them, in a way,” said Martin.
And it’s not just the year-long programs that are seeing increased numbers. Short-term service programs like SOOP, which offers flexible service opportunities for adults of all ages, are also growing.
So far this year, 43 people have been placed in SOOP assignments, as compared to 25 last year. Five years ago, only 29 people participated throughout the entire year.
Youth Venture, a program offering young adults age 14-22 the opportunity to spend one-to-four weeks in service in June, July or August, also saw a significant rise in participants this year. This year 59 people participated, compared to 44 in 2007. This is the highest number of Youth Venture participants since 1992.
“The word partnership keeps coming up. Being willing to work with other leaders in the church and sharing the gifts that they bring while offering our connections and a defined program that’s flexible is great,” said Arloa Bontrager, director of SOOP and Youth Venture.
This year, 26 participants are spending a year living in community through Service Adventure. In its first year, Radical Journey has drawn 16 participants.
Bontrager noted that Christian service programs have also seen an increase in the number of participants coming from outside Mennonite Church USA who have found Mission Network on the web.
These programs provide opportunities for these diverse applicants to discover and become familiar with Anabaptist principles and to gain access to Mennonite churches and communities.
In addition, DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection), a partner program of Mission Network, hosted 3,052 youth and leaders for week-long service terms in its six cities-Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Hollywood, Miami, and San Antonio - making this the biggest summer ever. And Dwell, DOOR's yearlong program for young adults wanting to explore intentional urban ministry, is hosting 20 participants, as compared to 17 last year.
To learn more about Mission Network Christian Service programs, visit Service.MennoniteMission.net.