ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – For three weeks in July, 14 French youth immersed themselves in North American Mennonite culture. Next year, youth from the United States will do the same in France.
“This was an opportunity to get to know about the culture of the Mennonites that’s very developed here,” said participant Luc Calache. “They have so many foundations and organizations established.”
The group encountered Mennonite culture in many different ways. During their stay, group members were hosted by families in the U.S. Many of the families had teenagers of their own living at home. Families and participants were able to “meet” each other before the exchange through Facebook and e-mail, and plan to continue using the Internet to stay in touch from their respective homes.
Host families and participants spent time together and taught each other pieces of their own culture. Alena Yoder, a U.S. high school student, hosted Sarah Ostertag from Saverne, France. They taught each other words in both French and English and shared stories from their own homes.
French youth also experienced a taste of Elkhart County through meals provided by several local families. They tried homemade Mexican food, an Amish meal served in Shipshewana, Ind., and bierocks, a German recipe for dough filled with ground beef and cabbage.
They group also spent time on service projects at the Boys and Girls Club in Goshen
, where they moved boxes, put up bulletin boards in classrooms and organized a library. They also worked at Amigo Centre
in Sturgis, Mich.
The idea for this exchange grew out of Joie et Vie
(Joy and life), a French-Mennonite association that is in contact with Mennonite Mission Network worker Janie Blough
, who works with her husband, Neal, in Saint-Maurice, a suburb of Paris. The organization, led by Denis Peterschmitt, hoped to put together an exchange for youth ages 14 to 17, in order to enhance cultural understanding between France and the U.S. and to allow youth to build relationships with other Mennonites around the world.
“There is so much one can learn and understand about spirituality and faith in an exchange with young Christians from another culture. Leaving one living situation or context for another that is radically different also enables a person to know himself or herself better,” said Peterschmitt.
Arloa Bontrager, Mission Network director of Youth Venture,
a short-term service program for youth, got onboard with the idea and helped to coordinate lodging and activities for the group.
“I loved the idea from the moment it landed on my desk because of the reciprocal relationships,” said Bontrager. “I hoped that youth and host families would be able to spend time learning about each other’s lives and faith and culture. It’s really not very complicated, which was another part of the beauty of it.”
Next year, youth from the United States, like Yoder, will have the opportunity to travel to France and experience French Mennonite culture.
“One of the basic understandings of Joie et Vie is the idea of reciprocity. We are already making plans for welcoming our young American guests next summer, so that they can discover our country, its inhabitants and culture, and what is being lived in our churches and youth groups,” said Peterschmitt.
American host parents Steve and Cheri Klotz from Olive Mennonite Church
in Elkhart hope that their daughter, Dani, will be able to stay with their guest, Barbara Woloszczyk, and her family next year. The Klotz family hosted a number of informal gatherings at their home, when French youth were invited to come over, watch movies and simply hang out with young adults from their own congregation.