Jodi and Eric Miller with their children Julia and Nathan hiking in Sabino Canyon, Ariz. The family served in Tucson, Ariz. with the SOOP program for two months this winter. Photo submitted. Download full resolution image.
Kelsey Hochstetler
Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – For two months this winter, Eric and Jodi Miller and their 9-year-old twins, lived in a 21-foot RV. They wanted their children to explore the world beyond rural Ohio, so they served with SOOP in Tucson, Ariz.

SOOP is a Mennonite Mission Network opportunity for individuals and families to serve in the United States and Canada.

Exploring a new service opportunity

Before their children were born, Eric and Jodi Miller served in Bomet, Kenya. During that time, Eric Miller trained medical students and practiced as a family physician at Tenwek Hospital, and Jodi Miller served as an accountant and grant writer at Tenwek Community Health and Development. Although 10 years have passed, this experience continues to be an important part of their lives.

Now, Jodi Miller is an accountant and Eric Miller is a family physician. When he joined a medical practice in Walnut Creek, Ohio, he negotiated a sabbatical every three years. During each sabbatical since, the Millers have served as a family with their children, Julia and Nathan. They served twice in Kenya and once with SOOP in Tucson.

In Tucson, Eric Miller volunteered at Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona (CHRPA). CHRPA serves low-income homeowners by repairing roofs, leaky faucets, and other housing concerns. Each morning, a group of volunteers gathers to split up the day’s tasks. Miller had little construction experience when he started, but the weekly trainings helped him to learn the practical skills he needed for this service assignment.

While Eric Miller put his hands to work, Jodi Miller was busy with Julia and Nathan. In Ohio, the twins attend Walnut Creek Elementary. But the Millers believe in the importance of serving as a family, so during these two months, Jodi Miller home-schooled their children.

“The principal and school board gave us the blessing to go as a family,” Jodi Miller said. “We feel fortunate that they recognized the value of our time in Tucson as a learning experience for life.”

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Tonia Widder, the twins’ third-grade teacher, gave weekly homework and online assessments so that the children wouldn’t miss a beat when they returned. But when Jodi, Julia, and Nathan Miller had a chance, they joined their husband and father to help paint a wheelchair ramp and volunteer at a food bank.

“In SOOP, it’s often not only about what you accomplish. It’s about the relationships you build and what you learn along the way,” said Arloa Bontrager, director of SOOP.

Exploring a new community 

To the Miller family, relationships were an important part of the experience.

Even before the Miller family set out for their trek to Tucson, people from Shalom (Tucson) Mennonite Fellowship reached out to them. The pastor, Bryce Miller, even posted Julia and Nathan's photos at church. He wanted other children to be able to recognize and greet them.

The Miller family was welcomed at church functions and in the homes of individual church members. They especially enjoyed gathering with other SOOP and Mennonite Voluntary Service participants each Sunday night to play games. 

“It was truly an intergenerational experience,” said Jodi Miller.

Exploring issues of faith and social justice

While the Millers built relationships, they also explored issues of immigration and poverty during their time in Tucson.

Working with CHRPA, the Millers saw systemic wealth and poverty. They talked with mothers and elderly people who deal with the consequences of poverty, and saw how complex the issue is. The people we met are hard-working and they are trying their best, said Eric Miller, but are still struggling to make ends meet.

“I don’t know how to fix poverty in America, or even if it’s possible,” wrote Eric Miller in their family blog. He acknowledged that fixing houses isn’t the answer. “But if nothing else, it’s important that I at least know about [poverty] and try to grasp the extent of it.” Eric and Jodi appreciated that CHRPA made an effort to empower those they served. If a homeowner has construction skills, CHRPA will supply the materials or hire that person to work with them. This respects the homeowners’ dignity and independence, but also works to build relationships with them.

Mennonite Mission Network shares this view of service work. More information can be found in the Missio Dei #22, Walking Together in Mission.   

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Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact
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