Top left, clockwise: Renee Neufeld, Lizzie Schrag, Mariah Denlinger, Alex Navari, and Tyler Gehring have fun as the Service Adventure unit in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by Kim Martin. Download full resolution image.
Kelsey Hochstetler
Wednesday, September 10, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – As many young adults flock to school for personal and professional growth this summer and fall, more than 2,500 service participants chose to buck the trend and gain life experience by serving others.

The directors of DOOR, Mennonite Voluntary Service, Radical Journey, Service Adventure, and Youth Venture are dedicated to helping participants break out of their personal, professional, and spiritual comfort zones.

“I’ve seen how much I grew throughout my service experience, and want to empower others to experience that same growth,” said Sharon Norton, director of Radical Journey.  

Reflecting on their own journeys, Norton and the other program directors would like to challenge new participants to grow in five ways:

  1. Get out of your comfort zone and learn something new.

    This year, 25 Service Adventure participants, ages 17-20, left home—many for the first time.

    Susan Nisly, director Service Adventure, understands the fear of leaving a comfort zone. When she left to serve for a year in Pittsburgh, Nisly questioned her choice to move to the city. But her determination to embrace new experiences resulted in a love for youth work and the ability to drive a 15-passenger van (full of junior high students) through Pittsburgh traffic.

    “I learned … that I can do a lot of things if I just trust myself and trust that God is right there with me.”

  2. Look for God at work.

    In early September, seven Radical Journey participants, ages 18-26, began 10 months of cross-cultural learning and service in South Africa and Southeast Asia.

    In her own mission experience in Germany, Norton remembers recognizing God at work during a conversation with a non-Christian friend. Her friend often visited a cemetery, because it was a place where she felt a higher power. “Some [from a North American culture] might see this as creepy, but I could sense that it was God tugging at her heart, trying to get her attention,” Norton said.

    “Look for ways to incorporate the teachings of Jesus in everyday life, and watch for God at work,” said Norton.

  3. Expand your world.

    This summer, 30 youth, ages 13-22, joined Youth Venture teams to learn and serve together for three weeks in places like Botswana, Ecuador, Japan, Philadelphia, and Spain. Sometimes the service was a pile of potatoes that were sorted; other times it was in the faces of new friends. Whatever the activity, participants expanded their worldview by trying new foods and getting to know people from another culture.

    Broadening perspectives is something that Arloa Bontrager, Youth Venture director, learned about when she served for a year in Philadelphia. As a farm girl from Indiana, Bontrager crossed cultures daily, because she worked and lived in primarily African American and Latino communities, respectively. For that reason, Bontrager was especially excited to return to Philadelphia with Youth Venture.

    “When I returned to Philadelphia in preparation for this year’s Youth Venture trip, I remembered how much that year in Philadelphia shaped who I am and started a journey of exploring cultures and people.”

    She hopes that Youth Venture participants seek opportunities to interact with people from different cultures in an effort to expand their worlds.

  4. Prepare for what’s next. Reflect.

    Mennonite Voluntary Service welcomed almost 50 participants to neighborhoods around the United States this August. They will spend the next one to three years living in intentional community and working in a variety of fields like public health, immigration law, and home repair.

    Reflecting on his own service experience, MVS director Nathan Penner understands how service can help prepare someone for their future. His interests in community development and the role of a neighborhood church were shaped during the three years he spent in Gaborone, Botswana.

    “A big part of my own development during that time was my relationship with a mentor who helped me adjust to Botswana and open my eyes to the beauty of the culture,” said Penner. “In MVS we encourage participants to pursue mentors, [regularly] reflect on their experiences, and get involved with their host congregations to help in their vocational discernment and to grow in their faith.”

  5. Don’t just do service … choose to be a servant.

    This year, DOOR welcomed almost 2,400 participants in six cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Hollywood, Miami, and San Antonio. Among the three DOOR programs (Discover, Discern, and Dwell), participants are invited to spend a week, a semester, or a year serving in the respective programs.

    As the participants prepare to serve, Glenn Blazer, DOOR’s director, is aware that many DOOR participants are joining the neighborhood for the first time. The temptation is for them to put in their time and return home to lives as if nothing happened, Balzer writes in his blog post, Service versus the servant.

    “When Jesus called his disciples to wash each other’s feet, it was much more than a call to do. It was also a call be,” wrote Balzer.“Who we are is much more than what we do for a week [or year]. The call of Jesus is to become a servant to all.”



For immediate release

Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact


 ways to grow during a gap year



Border prayers, vigil voice solidarity with persevering migrants,-vigil-voice-solidarity-with-persevering-migrantsBorder prayers, vigil voice solidarity with persevering migrantsImmigration
Journeys through the unfamiliar: reflections on life in Service Adventure through the unfamiliar: reflections on life in Service AdventureReflection
Lee Heights Community Church celebrates its 63rd anniversary Heights Community Church celebrates its 63rd anniversaryCleveland, Ohio
A missed opportunity missed opportunityAnti-racism
Returning volunteers celebrate repurposing of former Hopi school volunteers celebrate repurposing of former Hopi schoolHopi school repurposed
The Christmas story, our story Christmas story, our storyBlog