PHILIPPI, W.Va. (Mennonite Mission Network) — Walking through downtown Philippi, Rachel Lehman looked into bakeries and coffee shops, knowing her limited money would have to be saved. She had but $1.67 in her pocket – food money to last the entire day.
For Lehman, of Leola, Pa., this sacrifice of living for 10 months on a $30 a month stipend, with a daily $1.67 food allowance, is by choice. She is part of the Service Adventure program in Philippi, W.Va., through Mennonite Mission Network, which encourages simple living.
“Using resources gently”
During Cathleen Hockman-Wert’s year of service in Washington, D.C., grocery shopping could be a time of tension. The co-author of Simply In Season, a World Community Cookbook commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee, spent a year in Voluntary Service with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. Shopping, on their limited budget, is one of her most vivid memories.
The unit purchased food to last a week, but at times housemates would cook more food than they needed at the start of the week.
“By weekend, I remember a few occasions when supplies were pretty hard-hit, forcing whoever was cooking to be especially inventive to get supper on the table,” she said.
Due in part to her service experience, Hockman-Wert now attempts to live responsibly by purchasing local foods in season. She shops at a local farmers market where she spends extra money to know that the products she buys benefit local farmers and are not shipped from around the world at larger financial and environmental costs.
Allocating a greater part of the Hockman-Wert family’s budget on local and fairly traded food means having less funds available for other things.
Jonathan Yoder, who served with DEO (Discipleship, Encounter, Outreach) in 2004-2005, said the amount of resources used reflects a person’s values.
“Service provided me an opportunity to think about how I spend my money and reinforced my ideas about environmental issues. Participating in DEO raised my consciousness of what responsible living means. While with DEO, I walked to work most days. I continue to ride my bike often to school and for other errands.”
Hockman-Wert said our ecosystem has limited resources. Simple living is a way of using our resources gently.
Service Adventure participants serve in eight locations across the country in assignments that include urban ministries, YMCA after-school programs and Habitat for Humanity. Many of the young adults gain a deeper self and cultural understanding through this change in lifestyle.
“This is the first time in my life that for a long period of time I’ll be focusing primarily on other people’s needs and truly listening to them, instead of always having my own agenda in the back of my mind,” Lehman said.
Simple living is more than surviving on a limited budget. It involves seeing resources beyond just money and intentionally thinking about how you can use those resources to benefit others. Young adults in Service Adventure have given up their potential to earn money in order to serve others with their time and energy.
Daniel Foxvog, of Tiskilwa, Ill., also serves in Philippi. Foxvog wants to live a life based not on self-indulgence, but on service to God and others.
“Part of simplicity is trusting in God and not focusing on anxieties and always worrying and planning for the future,” he said. “That is the hardest part of simplicity for me.”
During the 10-month Service Adventure terms, participants live with other young adults and a unit leader in a single house. Simplified living for Lehman and Foxvog also means limiting their personal space, car use, time with their family and friends from home, free time and many other personal securities.
In Philippi, the unit’s van is not insured for young adults. So unit members always ride with other people or use alternatives such as biking and walking.
“I do miss just hopping in my car and going wherever I want whenever I want or need to. I’ve found that there are a lot of benefits to riding in a car with others,” Lehman said.
Carpooling saves gas, which saves the environment, she said. Conversations on the ride with housemates and people from her church are more edifying to her life than listening to the radio. It also helps her build on personal relationships, an important aspect for the service assignment and a key source for growth.
Lehman said community is a place where members come with their best face forward, letting their real selves show through. “(Everyone) learns to walk in hope, faith and grace every day, offering their individual thoughts, talents and emotions to the mix of life together,” she said.
Foxvog said, “Community means sharing your life with other people, giving up your time, labor, and possessions to support one another. But more importantly, community is about building true relationships with your brothers and sisters.”
Living simply does not stop at the end of the term. Former Service Adventure leader, Marc Schlegel, who served in Philippi in 2003, continues to live a simplified lifestyle, thanks, in part, to the budgeting skills he learned during service.
“I know what I am bringing in and what all my bills are. I never did that before service, and I am very careful about not spending what I don't have,” Schlegel said. “Partly due to being in service for a few years, I look for entertainment that is free or inexpensive.”
Service also increased his awareness of tithing. Because he knows his experience in Service Adventure was possible through others’ giving, his giving has increased.
Because of Service Adventure, Lehman has different values for prioritizing the important areas in her life. “Living simply has taught me the value of relationships over material things,” she said.