NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – The Youth Venture group bound for Barcelona, Spain, needed something more than rounds of Dutch Blitz played in airport terminals to break the ice between the newly acquainted participants. Their breakthrough came while trying to catch a pigeon.
The six participants and two sponsors that made up the Youth Venture Barcelona group came from the United States and Northern Ireland. While they had spent time together at airport boarding gates and exploring the streets of Dublin during an extended layover, they had yet to let down their guards and open up to each other after arriving in Barcelona.
"The first couple of days were very quiet," said Susan Nisly, who served as a sponsor of the group. Nisly is the director of the Service Adventure program at Mennonite Mission Network. She recalled that during a planning session in a park, one of the participants announced that they were going to try to catch a pigeon. Soon, other participants joined in and roamed the park together, searching for birds. "That was the moment that got everyone to believe that we could have fun together," said Nisly.
While no pigeons were caught, friendships were forged that would last the entire trip.
The goal for the team's two weeks in Barcelona was to help with an English camp hosted by the Comunidad Evangélica Menonita congregation, and led by Alisha and Joshua Garber, who have served with Mission Network since 2013, and in Barcelona since 2017. Throughout Europe, English camps are a common way for churches to connect with community youth who are interested in spirituality but might find a traditional church service intimidating.
"Alisha and I have been working in such camps since our first missional project in the Czech Republic in 2010," said Joshua Garber. "Our community's young people are really keen to learn English, so it made a lot of sense."
Comunidad Evangélica Menonita invited church youth to the inaugural week of English camp, with hopes of expanding the camp as an outreach into the community in the coming years.
Throughout the week, the Youth Venture group and the church youth played games, engaged in daily worship sessions, and spent time sharpening conversation skills together, eventually making a short film as a final project.
The two youth groups quickly grew close, despite initial interactions tinged with shyness. They continued eating meals, sightseeing, and working on service projects together even after the week-long camp had officially concluded.
"The relationships that sprang up between the two respective youth groups were the most significant part of [the trip]" said Jason Boone, who served alongside Nisly as a sponsor for the Youth Venture team. Boone is the coordinating minister of the Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Mission Network.
Together, the two youth groups helped lead songs and share experiences with the congregation of Comunidad Evangélica Menonita during Sunday worship services.
"It was exciting seeing people in Spain worshiping the same God I do," recalled Erika Stutzman, a participant on the Youth Venture team. "I was able to see a new way of worshiping – it was all glory for the same God."
Youth Venture is a short-term service program of Mennonite Mission Network that empowers teams of young adults to explore and engage in God's work around the world. For more information about Youth Venture and other Mennonite Mission Network programs, visit MennoniteMission.net/Serve.