​The 2016-17 Madison MVS unit and local leader, from left to right: Mikhail Fernandes, Joe Friesen, Sarah Geiser, Tabea Fink, Neil Richer (MVS director at the time). Photo by David Fast.

By Zachary Headings
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Correction: Mennonite Mission Network regrets having credited Tonya Ramer Wenger with the initiative to open the Mennonite Voluntary Service in Madison, Wisconsin. It was, according to Ramer Wenger, her husband, Jonathan Wenger, who initiated the contact with Mennonite Mission Network. 

The Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Madison, Wisconsin, has closed its doors. On this Oct. 18 of this year, alumni, local leaders and church members gathered virtually to celebrate the unit's history.

ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) — With a rich history, spanning from 2009 to 2017, the Madison Mennonite Church (MMC) decided to close its Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) unit. Over the course of those years, the unit housed more than 20 service participants and many MVS associates.

The Madison MVS unit's story began in 2003, when Jonathan Wenger reached out to Mennonite Mission Network and expressed interest in opening an MVS unit. At the time, Mission Network was not equipped to add additional units. Undeterred, Wenger and the MMC community began fundraising anyway.

MMC hosted a garage sale in the fall of 2004 to secure funds and household items for the soon-expected MVS unit house. Wenger, a former MVSer and husband to MMC's pastor Tonya Ramer Wenger, led the fundraiser. In 2009, the church secured a unit in a three-apartment complex that served as the first MVS "house."  The complex wasn't perfect, but it was home — and representative of a mission which the MMC community had strived to achieve for the previous six years. The next year the unit moved into a separate house with just as much character.

"Despite the bees and the creepy basement and the funky wood-burning stove that they wouldn't let the MVSers use, the Madison Mennonite MVS unit called 315 N Ingersoll home for the next seven years," recounted Matt Eberly, former local leader for the Madison MVS unit.

Eberly stated that through those first eight years of operation, MVS volunteers helped dozens of nonprofit organizations in the Madison community.

"Madison's MVS unit had an outsized impact on our church, considering the relatively short period of time MMC hosted a unit," said Joe Friesen, the unit's local leader. He expressed that the ripple effects of the MVS unit are still being felt today: a surge of spiritual growth in their community.

Friesen, a former MVSer, reflected on how participating in the program has changed his life. He stated that he entered the program without knowing what he wanted to do, where he wanted to live, or with whom he wanted to spend his life. His service in MVS helped answer those questions.

"MVS played a critical role in shaping who I am," Friesen said, "and I can't overstate my gratitude to MVS for providing the space to catch my breath after college and dedicate myself to meaningful volunteer work."

Current MMC pastor Valerie Showalter celebrated the contributions MVSers brought to the church saying, "As young people joined the unit and explored their work placements, they also brought their gifts of leadership and vision to MMC through involvement in worship, committees, and general congregational life."

MVS director Marisa Smucker said that MVS is just one example of how MMC and Mission Network can partner together. "As the mission agency for Mennonite Church USA," Smucker, in a letter read during the celebration, stated, "we look forward to future opportunities to connect and new possibilities of partnering." She offered blessings to MMC as they look forward to new ways that God may call them into partnership and service.

Though the MVS unit is closing, its effects on the MMC community are long-lasting and far-reaching. "We are a stronger, more vibrant community from our partnership with MVS," Friesen said. 






​Zachary Headings is a marketing associate for Mennonite Mission Network.



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