ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — For Service Adventure participants, community living encompasses the good, the bad, the ugly … and leaves room for grace.
For 10½ months these young adults live together with a unit leader while they serve in eight communities across the United States. While units have great adventures together, it’s not fun and games all the time. Conflict is inevitable in life and even more difficult to avoid when living communally.
“No matter how hard one may try to appease four people at the same time in the same place, such a feat is not only impossible, but futile,” said Caleb Miller of the Albuquerque, N.M. unit.
And it’s not easy to admit to being part of a problem.
“In the beginning I really had a hard time admitting that I make mistakes and that I’m not an angel,” said Anne Wahl of the Albany, Ore., unit. But living with others has taught her lessons she’s thankful for. “Direct and indirect messages throughout the year opened my eyes and showed me behaviors I have to work on.”
Unit leaders help participants think about their conflicts and how to reconcile with one another. Once a month the Albany unit sits down for a “sharing circle”, said Mary Lou Bonham, who leads the unit with husband, Rusty. Each person shares what they’re experiencing, uninterrupted. Problem-solving comes later, Bonham said, after each person has been heard.
“I believe Christ called us to community because it is the most efficient and direct route to encounter both what is sacred and what [needs work] in myself and another person,” Bonham said.
Monty Graber, leader of the Albuquerque unit, said communication is the key to success in community living. He hopes to guide young adults in figuring out how to work conflicts out on their own. Monthly one-on-one meetings with each participant give him a way to check in, while weekly house meetings are often the place to resolve problems.
Living in community is a lesson in patience, said Daniel Foxvog of the Philippi, W.Va. unit. Though at times this lifestyle has tested him, he’s learned how to love and respect others on a new level. It’s also made him take a new look at his own values, habits and priorities. “I have been blessed by the relationships that I have built at work, church and especially the unit,” he said.
In Service Adventure the household isn’t the only community young adults interact with. Local congregations that support each unit provide a wealth of opportunities for learning about living in right relationships. At Philippi Mennonite Church young adults play an important role in congregational life.
“Here I have been able to try out different areas in which to contribute to the church,” said Philippi participant Trish Hershberger. Because of her increased role in worship, Hershberger’s concept of church has been redefined. “The example they have set before me this year has given me the greatest and most profound view of true discipleship,” she said.
Each young adult in Service Adventure is assigned to a host family from the supporting congregation. These hosts help young adults feel connected by including them in family meals, special trips and providing transportation to appointments.
“Host families provide the bridge to the community and family that the participants left behind,” Graber said. Host parents can also step in if the leader is away and gives young adults a break from everyday life.
“Living in a household is actually the first occasion many young adults have in experimenting with the concept of compromise and negotiation,” said James Krabill, the Mission Network’s senior executive of global ministries. Yet the experience prepares these young adults for a life-time of problem solving and communicating with others.
Julia Patton of the Raleigh, N.C., unit said her year in Service Adventure has helped prepare her for living in a college dorm, dealing with family and getting along with neighbors.
“If we all put our heads together we will sooner or later get an idea of how to fix something, plan a trip or get the weekly house chores arranged,” she said.
And, Bonham said, the people she has lived, laughed and struggled with will forever hold a special place in her heart.
Mary Lou and Rusty Bonham are members of Albany Mennonite Church, Albany, Ore.; Daniel Foxvog attends Plow Creek Mennonite Church, Tiskilwa, Ill.; Monty Graber is a member of Faith Mennonite Church, Newton, Kan., and attends Salford Mennonite Church, Harleysville, Pa.; Trish Hershberger is a former member of Zion Mennonite Church, Hubbard, Ore.; Caleb Miller is a member of First Mennonite Church, Middlebury, Ind.; Julia Patton is a member of Dever Conner Community Church, Albany, Ore.; and Anne Wahl is a member of Ev Kirchengemeinde Weingarten in Germany.