So You Want to Try Something New?

Mennonites have traditionally spent a great deal of time discussing the concept of “service.” We vary in how we live that concept out in our lives, but as a community – whether from the old guard or the new – the Mennonite organizations certainly provide us with opportunities to experience different types of service. This piece is an attempt to acquaint readers with some of those groups. It is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it is enlightening. A link is provided for each group. Other groups can be accessed through the main links. It is implied that each effort is attempting to show the love of Christ as we learn and share within the programs.

Let’s explore the main organizations out of which a variety of service groups are generated: MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) and MMN (Mennonite Mission Network. EMM (Eastern Mennonite Missions) also has similar programs.

  1. MCC – Mennonite Central Committee 
    • IVEP – International Volunteer Exchange Program – This program encourages a one-year voluntary service assignment for non-U.S. and Canadians to gain work experience in the U.S. Global Gifts has utilized this program which allows for participants to improve job skills and English so that they can be more marketable in their home countries. In exchange they get room and board, new friends, an intercultural experience and time with others who are doing the same program. My first babysitter was from this program so clearly – it’s been around a long time!
    • SEED – It’s not an acronym. It’s a concept. This is for 20-30-year-olds from many countries who are interested in spending 2 years in community while working within a larger community on issues such as violence, oppression, climate change, food insecurity etc. The idea is to bring people from different cultural, theological and political spectrums together to work on issues weighing on all of us.
    • SALT – Serving and Learning Together. A one-year experience for 18-30-year-olds from the U.S. and Canada who want to have an international cross-cultural experience steeped in putting faith into action. 
    • SWAP – Sharing With Appalachian People. Volunteers pay for the week-long opportunity to help Appalachian communities with housing repairs and learning about life in Appalachia.
    • Summer Service – This is a 10-week program for young adults of color. Its goal is to build leadership skills and capacity focusing on peace and justice and community engagement. It is done by collaborating with the local churches of these individuals. 
    • Washington Office Internships – There are three terms in a year enabling an interested college graduate to participate in the work done at the MCC Office in DC. Individuals must pay to live in the DC area, but they gain a close-up view of the efforts to serve through legislative means. 

MCC also offers many other short-term opportunities for older and younger folk, as well as service-learning tours to various places. 

  1. Mennonite Mission Network (MMN)
    • MVS – Mennonite Voluntary Service – For persons ages 20 and up. A myriad of opportunities to offer your skills and to learn – generally for one year – in needed spaces. Highly variable in experiences and in communities – generally associated with a local church.
    • Youth Venture – Ages 15-22. This is generally a 2-3-week experience for young persons in which they learn and serve in communities to which they have been invited. The experience is intercultural. We had several groups from FMC go to Colombia, South America a while back – 20 years ago!
    • Service Adventure – Ages 17-20, HS graduates. Here is a one-year opportunity to live in community and grow in leadership and faith with others your age. Participants have a variety of jobs, learn about the work world, and enjoy new friendships while learning. It’s a productive “gap” year post high school.
    • SOOP – a term for this mishmash of widely ranging flexible service opportunities lasting one week or more. Experiences are mostly for ages 25 and up. Retired persons as well as those looking for a new learning experience of any adult age are considered. You can look for an experience that uses your particular talents or simply expands your life.
    • DOOR – Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection, is a faith- based program headquartered in Chicago which offers experiences for groups or individuals ages 13-30. Participants focus on service, learning and leadership development within an urban setting. Our FMC youth have done a number of DOOR experiences. (MMN partners with DOOR)
    • Journey International – Ages 18-26 – An opportunity to support programs and learn from individuals in other cultures. This appears to be a one-year commitment. 

Above are just a few of the possible Mennonite Church sponsored programs one could consider as a volunteer opportunity. The major links can lead you to more possibilities. There is one separate set of initials, however, that still deserves a mention:

  1. MDS – Mennonite Disaster Service – This is a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that respond to disaster needs. It is open to all who can do the work. Some work is simply down and dirty clean up and some is highly skilled. Some people do administrative help, cook meals for workers, or assess damages. FMC has had numerous people participate in short-and longer-term efforts. 

Try a short-term effort through the wider church sometime. It’s a way to meet new people within the denomination who share your passion for learning and for justice. Explore these sites for other opportunities not mentioned here. As I read each description it seemed the overall hope was to help people grow through serving each other. 

About the author

Mary Liechty

Mary is a retired nurse and educator who experienced MCC voluntary service after high school and insisted that two of her children do Youth Adventure through MMN when they were in high school.  She has been involved with IVEP participants many times and appreciates the overarching view of these service agencies which focus on learning, loving and sharing as opposed to teaching, patronizing and insisting.