Graciella Odelia was planning to direct vacation Bible school last summer for her home church, Nations Worship Center, a Mennonite church in Philadelphia.
But when COVID-19 caused vacation Bible school to be canceled, Odelia and her pastor brainstormed different ways for her to serve the church.
She led a children’s Zoom teaching session every Friday, using songs, picture books, dance and video. She learned to create videos for church announcements and safely distributed groceries to community members in need.
Although services at Nations Worship Center are in Indonesian with an English translator, Odelia helped develop and promote an online English language worship service and youth program led by young people in her church.
Odelia was one of 25 participants in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Summer Service program last year who adapted to different ways of ministering through their churches and community organizations because of the pandemic.
Summer Service is a program for young adults of color, ages 18 to 30. It is designed for those who want to strengthen leadership skills as they get paid to serve churches or organizations in their home communities. In the process, they help strengthen the mission of the group they serve.
In 2021, MCC would like to support more Summer Service participants.
“The program is more important than ever in the face of the coronavirus,” said Summer Service national coordinator Shankar Rai, “because persons of color are the demographic which is most affected by it.”
Odelia said her leadership skills were strengthened by learning how to teach online and speak publicly. That became particularly helpful as she spoke to the youth group virtually about a biblical perspective on racism in response to national protests about the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man.
Applications are now being accepted for the summer 2021 program. Churches and organizations of color, especially, are encouraged to submit an application online at mcc.org/summer-service by March 12, describing how they would work with a young adult they already have identified.
“There are different ways of helping and working in the community,” Rai said. “From last year, it’s evident that you don’t have to be physically present to make a difference. You can make a difference virtually too.”
Last summer in Dallas, participant Josephine Kalondji partnered with the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian relief and resettlement organization, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to serve as a peer mentor for refugee children, focusing on their mental health and academic engagement.
“I think the most valuable part so far is learning about immigration and asylum seekers,” Kalondji said last summer in the midst of her assignment. “Oftentimes we only think about Hispanic people from Mexico, but it’s people from everywhere.”
Kalondji says her experience encouraged her to consider minoring in social work or international relations.
In Los Angeles, Michael DeCruz served at his Mennonite home church, LA Faith Chapel, where he worked as a caseworker for residents of the church’s transitional living home. He also organized groups to distribute food to homeless people.
These populations include many non-English-speakers, so DeCruz had to find ways to communicate the need for social distancing to people waiting in line for food.
“I feel like my communication skills have grown a lot, even outside of speaking — my gestures and being able to help people understand when they don’t speak your language,” he said.
In Flint, Mich., Anna Delgado worked at a food pantry at her church, Riverside Tabernacle, an Assemblies of God church, and at B Light Restoration Center, a program of Shammah Outreach & Consulting Services, a Christian organization that provides services for people in need.
Delgado said the center normally serves a continental style breakfast, but due to the pandemic she instead packed and handed out individual bags of prepackaged food outside the building.
Maintaining order among those waiting in line taught her to be more assertive.
“Normally I’m a pretty timid person, I don’t assert myself in some situations, and this summer I’ve been having these situations where I have to assert myself a little bit more,” she said during the assignment.
The 2021 program will begin with a virtual leadership training program in June and may conclude with an in-person meeting of all the participants in August, depending on schedules and travel and meeting safety, Rai said.
“When we talk about ministry of MCC, our ministry is often outbound, serving in international countries,” Rai said. “Summer Service provides an opportunity for young people in the U.S. to serve in their home communities. We don’t have to go international. We can serve at home.”