NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – Service Adventure unit leader Cindy Headings says that not even a pandemic has squelched her passion for serving for a fourth consecutive year.
In fact, Headings says her longtime enthusiasm for leading the Colorado Springs, Colorado, unit was stoked even higher the first week in August. That's when she joined her fellow unit leaders in an online orientation retreat. Susan Nisly, Mennonite Mission Network's Service Adventure director, and other staff members and presenters led the eight leaders in program resourcing, anti-racism training, pandemic protocols, and an afternoon of fun.
"While I missed being in the same room with these awesome people, it was great to brainstorm together about how things can work out amidst a lot of unknowns," Headings wrote in a recent e-mail. "It is stimulating for us to strive to make this year as adventuresome and awesome as other years. This year may look a lot different, but it will still be life-changing for the participants."
After closing two months early last program season, Service Adventure is launching the new year in late August with its five units. Eleven participants are starting in the fall, with the possibility of several other participants from the United States and Germany arriving later in the year. Units along with Colorado Springs are:
- Anchorage, Alaska, with leader Michael Oyer.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico, with leaders Michelle and Rudy Moyer-Litwiller.
- Jackson, Mississippi, with leaders Debbie and Rick Lee.
- Johnstown, Pennsylvania, with leaders Eric and Julie Yoder.
Joining Headings' praise of online inspiration and excitement for the year ahead is Michelle Moyer-Litwiller, serving her third consecutive year with her husband, Rudy.
"I'm really excited about the possibility of many outdoor adventures," she wrote in a recent e-mail. "Many businesses/museums being closed, we may have to be more creative about what we do. I am hopeful we will get to explore new areas of New Mexico."
Moyer-Litwiller wrote that participants may have limited potential to meet church members in person at their sponsoring congregation, Albuquerque Mennonite Church. On the other hand, "online worship services of home churches will provide additional connections by bringing those congregations into the Service Adventure community," she wrote.
The pandemic has changed many things, except for this: hopes for how the Holy Spirit will work in the lives of 17- to 20-year-olds seeking to fill a gap/bridge year with service.
"It's been a challenge to have to re-arrange everything … yet I still believe the year will be full of learning and growing for participants and leaders," Nisly said. "By serving and living in community, people can join God's work in the world. It's also an amazing time for young adults to discern who they want to be."
Ken Regier, Mission Network's director of Program Human Resources, said, "I love the enthusiasm I see in all the leaders. Yes, there is going to be a lot of change. Yes, they will be adapting on the fly in many situations. Yet, they are excited to embrace new ideas for engaging participants in developing as young adults and as followers of Christ."
He believes Service Adventure is well positioned for pandemic-era safety; less people are in unit homes than are in college dorms.
"Another silver lining exists in how local leaders, support committees, and congregations have had to come together to prepare for participants," he said. "They have had to communicate very closely, and that will certainly pay dividends."
One upside for the unit leaders is how Mission Network models faithful resiliency and creativity in uncertain times.
"Yes, this year will be different, but different is not bad," Moyer-Litwiller wrote. "'Different' takes creativity, hopefulness, and some intentionality, but Susan [Nisly] and her staff stand beside us and encourage us to take those steps together."
Headings wrote: "I'm so glad that Mission Network didn't cancel the year. … Service Adventure is … giving these young adults who lost so much in their senior year of high school the opportunity to take control. To do something. To serve."