​Deborah and Phil Siegrist with their children, Murina Joy and Jed. The family served with SOOP at El Colegio Americano Menno in La Mesa, Colombia. Photo provided by the Siegrist family.

By Travis Duerksen
Monday, October 9, 2017

NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) - Volunteers with SOOP have to balance many responsibilities during their service time, but few would describe creating homeschool curriculums, or managing passports and immunizations for their children, to be a typical part of their experience.

The Siegrist and Miller families described their experiences with SOOP as anything but "typical."

While both families worked through SOOP for placement and work assignments, their time was spent in very different locations. Phil and Deborah Siegrist, along with their two children - Murina Joy, age 8, and Jed, age 6 - took four weeks out of the summer to serve with SOOP in La Mesa, Colombia, as English teachers at a local school. Eric and Jodi Miller, along with their two children - Julia and Nathan, both age 12 - spent seven weeks in the late spring at the International Guest House in Washington, D.C., assisting with maintenance and housekeeping.

The Siegrists had two purposes for their trip. "We wanted to introduce our children to more service, and we also wanted to get them more immersed in Spanish," said Deborah. Since their children were already studying Spanish in school, they would be able to put their learning into practice in Colombia.

For the Millers, the drive to serve together as a family came from a similar palce. "We really like to get the kids out of [Walnut Creek] and see a different part of the world," said Eric, "to get them exposed and hopefully get a mindset of service on down the road for them."

During their service time, the Siegrists helped teach English at El Colegio Americano Menno, a local school, while their children attended classes in the same building. "We didn't want to rely on somebody to provide child care while we're teaching," explained Deborah. "So we said, 'We'll teach while the kids are in class, while they're with their peers.'"

"Before [our trip], I can't say I had heard [our daughter] talk more than one or two sentences in Spanish," said Phil. "But [in Colombia], she was having full conversations in Spanish, and she just blossomed!" To hear their kids tell it, the time outside of school was spent getting to know their host family, their host family's pets (including "a bunny and two baby turtles and three big turtles and a dog and a cat," according to Jed), as well as participating in youth soccer ("for real" football, Jed clarified).

For Eric and Jodi in Washington, D.C., homeschooling was the solution for their kids during the seven weeks away from school. "[The school] was very supportive of the idea," said Eric.

"Their one class was studying Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech, so obviously we went to the monument, we went to where he gave the speech, did more hands-on stuff," added Jodi. "The teachers were very much in favor of hands-on and learning experiences that they all said may be more valuable and helpful in the long run."

Homeschooling also allowed the kids to participate alongside Eric and Jodi in the myriad of housekeeping activities at the International Guest House. "My daughter and I did a lot of food prep," said Jodi. "Every morning we'd make fresh muffins for guests."

For both families, the extended time in close proximity was both a blessing and opportunity for growth. "You have to learn how to be flexible," said Phil. "You have to practice teamwork in your daily life before embarking on that type of adventure. It challenged us, as a family, in terms of teamwork and communication."

The experiences, both families found, were well worth the time and effort invested. "[Service] is just a great time to hit the resest button," Eric said. "To try to make positive changes in your day-to-day life that you really don't see when you're doing it day to day. For me, it makes me think [that] I don't want to be the guy who looks back and says, 'Boy, I wish I would have done something different with my life,' and so I'm looking more now into how I can incorporate service into my daily life or after retirement." 








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