Couple experiences shalom and community across the United States

“We love it. We are having a great time.”

That is how Carolyn Tice responded when asked how her Service Opportunities with Our Partners (SOOP) experience was going. She was describing the past six months, during which she and her husband, Enos, have served in six states, where they have grown, cooked and served food; repaired homes; driven a tractor with a front-end loader; and taken groups of 11-year-olds on nature walks.

That is just a sample of all the work they are doing.

Both Carolyn and Enos did short-term voluntary service as young adults before they were married. They remained active in their church as they reared their family, and when they neared retirement, they knew they wanted to spend a year in service. As long-time supporters of Mission Network, they contacted Mission Network’s co-regional director for North America, Arloa Bontrager.

“Arloa worked with us to determine the best placements for us and our specific needs,” said Enos. They wanted to serve for a year but not in one place; they wanted to travel and worship with different fellowship groups and experience different community cultures.

Mission Network’s SOOP program places volunteer families and adults age 25+ in locations throughout the United States, as well as international locations, for short-term service, with placements lasting a few days to several months.

The Tices packed their car full and started their adventure in January in Pennsylvania, their home state. From there, they have been to Mississippi, West Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, and they are now in Indiana. They are spending one month at each location. Carolyn said a month was enough time to get to know a place and make friends.

They said that the great need for volunteers at churches and other non-profit organizations was surprising to them. They were also surprised by learning new skills ‘on the job.’ Enos said you do not have to be an expert at anything, just be willing to try.

“SOOP hosting locations continue to be grateful for the many ways SOOPers walk alongside them in their local ministries and are eager to welcome more SOOPers,” said Bontrager.

Besides all the work, Carolyn and Enos have free time to conduct taste tests at local ice cream parlors in each new location and enjoy social opportunities like hikes, sightseeing and sharing meals with new friends.

The Tices found that people in the different cultural locations read and apply the Bible each from their own perspective. Enos said that understanding these differences can enhance our own understanding and application of what the Bible says. “That is, we need to contextualize the gospel’s eternal truths to our current situation.”

They are also learning about themselves. The nomadic lifestyle has helped Carolyn discover how little she really needs every day.

“When you pack and move to a new location every four weeks, you don’t buy very much food and you give away belongings that you don’t absolutely need,” she said.

Six months into their SOOP assignment, Enos already views the world differently.

“This experience has increased our awareness of what White privilege means. From stories we have heard, we see how people in power frequently find ways to take advantage of minorities or people with less power,” Enos said.

Carolyn and Enos recommend a SOOP experience for everyone, with whatever free time they have to volunteer. And they recommend bringing your own work gloves, specialized tools and packing clothes for everything from working outdoors to semi-formal events.

The Tices agree that they have been surprised at how much fun they are having and how flexible the program is. With all they have done and learned and all the new friends they made, they recommend “stretching out of your comfort zone” and helping restore shalom.

“SOOP is a wonderful way to volunteer and experience the broader church,” said Enos.

This article was originally published by Mennonite Mission Network on November 2.

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