This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Reflections reveal growth during Service Adventure

Aaron Zimmerman from the Johnstown unit. 

Photo: Aaron Zimmerman of the Johnstown, Pa., Service Adventure unit wrote that the trust and honesty of the children he has been working with at a public preschool has helped him to understand why Jesus said we should be like children in our faith. (Photo by Susan Nisly)

Seeing God and service in new ways, while feeling change within themselves, are common themes that Service Adventure participants have reported four months into their terms.

Service Adventure offers young adults 10 months of service, learning, and growing spiritually. Participants live in community with other young adults and a unit leader(s) at various locations around the country. Sponsored by a host congregation, participants and unit leaders get to see how God is at work in the world and how they fit into that work. Units are in Anchorage; Colorado Springs; Albuquerque; Albany, Oregon; and Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

In November, participants shared reflections and updates on their experiences so far. Most of the “narratives” were written, while others were in the form of videos or photo essays.

Luca Hildebrandt, who is serving in Albuquerque said that the people he has met have been like a gift from God, and that he has noticed positive changes within himself.

“Serving others teaches me to be patient and empathetic,” he wrote. “I have learned not to judge people by the first impression or by how they act.”

Peter Harris, who is serving in Anchorage, recapped his typical day going to and from his Habitat for Humanity volunteer site. Harris wrote that he has been serving alongside five to 12 volunteers, including members of families for whom the homes are built. About 20 homes have been constructed.

“We are currently at various stages of construction on the last five homes of the neighborhood from framing to insulating to siding,” Harris wrote, adding that he learns something new each day.

Sarah Balzer of the Colorado Springs unit sent a video blog. She joked that it took about 20 takes for her to get it right. She reported being inspired by her encounters with various people.

“I’ve really seen God stand out in people,” Balzer said, referring particularly to the host congregation, Beth-El Mennonite Church. “Everyone there is really service oriented. They are super supportive of us.”

Balzer also mentioned her experience with people at the Family Day Center, which serves people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes. Balzer told of a woman who is a recovering drug addict. Her husband left her, and she was at risk of losing her house, but the woman still talked about how good God has been to her.

“It was really amazing to see someone who is in such a rough situation still have so much faith,” Balzer said.

Susan Nisly, Service Adventure director, said the narratives help participants think more deeply about the difference they are making as they serve, as well as how serving may be shaping them. To help the participants express their thoughts, Nisly prompts them with the following questions:

    • Where have you seen God in your Service Adventure experience?
    • What are you learning about yourself?
    • What are you learning by serving others?

“I love hearing directly from participants about their experiences and what they are learning,” Nisly said. “When someone opens up to learning from a different congregation, or discovers that people who are different from them have something to offer them, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Aaron Zimmerman of the Johnstown unit is an excellent example of an 18-year-old who is growing. He works with children at a public preschool.

“I finally understand what Jesus meant when he told us we must become like children in our faith,” Zimmerman wrote. “These kids are so trusting, innocent, and will always be straight up about everything. If you want an honest opinion about how you look, these kids will tell you! If we trusted God as much as these preschoolers trust their teacher, and we practice our faith and tell others about it…we would be a way more successful religion in the field of evangelism.”

Franzi Klause, who is serving in Colorado Springs, produced a photo essay. Pictures show her cooking with her host family, at Sunday school with children, as well as breathtaking scenic views. Klause said that she initially thought service was about work, but now understands that it is really about people.

“Serving now means for me to help other people as well as I can,” Klause wrote. “It also means use your gift that God gives you.”

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