NEWTON, Kan. (Mennonite Mission Network) — For 10 months, the six participants in the DEO (Discipleship, Encounter, Outreach) program have examined themselves, their relationships to God and how they serve others. Now they are taking their insights home.
About 50 people gathered May 20 for a commissioning service at First Mennonite Church in Newton – the third such worship gathering in the last 10 months. DEO participants received anointings and prayers of blessings to send them into the last two months of service, spent at participants’ home congregations in ministry internships.
DEO leaders said the internship ensures that the young people reconnect and can learn from their sponsoring churches while allowing them to teach what they have learned during the service program. Participants also spend time with an adult from their home congregation that has served as their mentor for the year of service.
As the 2006-2007 program enters its final leg, DEO leaders are looking for applicants interested in connecting with God as a part of the 2007-2008 DEO experience.
Jared Widmer, of Washington (Iowa) Mennonite Church, said his time in Phoenix serving in ministry with the homeless opened his eyes not only to the realities of life on the streets but the realities of his relationships with others through Christ.
“This year wasn’t about me. It was about putting others first and sacrificing for others, whether it was in my house or where I worked,” he said. “Everywhere it was about others.”
God, for some, was one of those others who became more real during the year of discipleship and service. Jessica Penner of Harper, Kan., learned to experience ministry and God’s presence in all places. Angela Stauffer learned to communicate with God in different ways.
Stauffer, of Peace Mennonite Church in Burlington, Iowa, worked at Arizonans for the Protection of Exploited Children and Adults, a ministry for children who have been abused or are in danger of abuse in Phoenix.
Her first week on the job, she said, Stauffer made the mistake of asking a group of girls about their week. The first girl said her mom had left her, pointing to heaven to answer where she went. The second girl also said her mother had left. She didn’t know to where, but the girl thought her mother would never return. Later that night, as she did for most of her service, Stauffer took the girls to their homes.
“I spent a lot of those nights driving home in dead silence, asking the Holy Spirit to pray on my behalf because I just didn’t have the words to say [anything],” she said.
While three participants served in Denver, Stauffer, Widmer and Audra Christophel of Moundridge, Kan., who attends Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kan., lived in a home for people with developmental disabilities in Phoenix. Early one Saturday morning, Stauffer told worshipers, a Celine Dion song came blasting through the paper-thin walls of the room she shared with Christophel.
The two youths stared at each other, anger reddening their faces, as they prepared to confront the person with the overwhelming boom box. Until they heard a voice – one of the residents singing with Celine at the top of his lungs.
“Both of our cheeks started to instantly smile. Now we can’t be mad. He’s just loving this,” Stauffer said. Things, she continued, are not always as they appear. “You never know what causes people to be the way they are. They just need your love.”
DEO participants begin the program with two months of discipleship training that emphasizes both spiritual growth and social justice – learning about God and experiencing God – with an Anabaptist leaning toward following radical new thoughts.
In an online blog entry, Penner, who attends Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church in Harper and served in Denver, compared her experience to C.S. Lewis’ metaphor of the Christian life as a walk on the beach with a map. Watching the waves is a more real, more present experience than looking at a map, but the map is the result of thousands of people experiencing the ocean.
“I’ve had some of those beach experiences in my life, and (discipleship training) was definitely one of them,” Penner said. “But I know that until I get out that map and start pushing myself, trying to read more about God … I will not get very much except maybe a walk down the beach.”
Other current DEO participants returning to their home congregations include Kim Driedger of Leamington, Ontario, and Leamington United Mennonite Church and Mary Goering of Newton, Kan., and First Mennonite Church.
For more information, or to apply for the DEO program, visit www.d-e-o.org.