ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — For years, Micaella Verro was separated from marginalized people by her TV screen. Now she works with them, hand-in-hand, thanks to Mennonite Voluntary Service.
The twist: Verro is not Mennonite.
A Vancouver, Wash. native, Verro grew up in a Presbyterian church. She felt that many in the larger church remained insulated and comfortable despite the inequalities across the street and around the world.
While studying sociology at Seattle Pacific University, Verro began to see the world differently. Beyond her TV screen, she now recognized the injustice around her and that it didn’t match the way that Jesus treated people. Her professorKevin Neuhouser, talked openly about his Mennonite beliefs and introduced Verro to MVS. The opportunity to find a placement working for social justice was one of the things that drew Verro to the program.
On the west side of Chicago, Verro now works in an afterschool program called the Erie Neighborhood House and helps children to perfect their English and reading.
Verro is one of a growing number of MVS participants outside the Mennonite Church. In 2005, there were 14 non-Mennonite MVS participants. Four years later, this number has nearly doubled with 26 out of 153 MVS participants coming from other-than-Mennonite faith traditions.
When it comes to recruiting MVS participants, word of mouth and the Internet are some of MVS’ biggest allies, believes Hugo Saucedo, director of MVS.
Del Hershberger, Christian service coordinator, attributes the increase of non-Mennonite MVS participants to the increased interaction of Mennonites and non-Mennonites both at Mennonite colleges and at secular universities.
Most of the focus in recruiting MVS participants happens in Mennonite institutions. However, universities such as Notre Dame in Indiana, James Madison in Virginia and Seattle Pacific in Washington are targeted as well because of their strong peace and justice programs said Jeremy Kempf, recruitment coordinator for Christian service programs.
Tonia Martin, MVS unit administrator, said that often an affinity to Mennonite theology is what draws non-Mennonites to the MVS program.
This was the case with HaQuyen Pham, an MVS worker in New York.
Pham hails from Dayton, Ohio, where she attended Catholic schools. Social justice has been one of Pham’s longtime interests. She discovered MVS through a friend, but after reading the Mennonite Confession of Faith, it dawned on Pham that she holds common values: peace, simple living and social justice.
In Manhattan, N.Y., Pham works as a paralegal at the Urban Justice Center.
Mary McSweeney, a devout Catholic, was encouraged to participate in MVS through her neighbor, a Mennonite pastor. McSweeney attends mass every week, in addition to attending San Antonio Mennonite Church three times a month.
McSweeney was drawn into the Mennonite church when teaching at a peace camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., which used facilities from both Catholic and Mennonite establishments. She values the sense of community, simplicity and social justice that is emphasized in the Mennonite church.
As a member of the San Antonio MVS unit, McSweeney works with the homeless at a Catholic Worker House.
Joining a variety of Christian traditions within an MVS household is both rewarding and challenging, said Hershberger. “It helps to bring a breadth to our view of God’s work in the world and our part God’s work.”