Mennonite Mission Network COVID-19 precautions have resulted in significant shifts among the organization’s five Christian Service programs, including the closure of all Service Adventure units for the 2019-20 season. Directors hope to renew a full slate of volunteer opportunities in the fall.
MMN released details March 27 about program shifts and reflections from directors and volunteers.
Each Mennonite Voluntary Service unit is making lifestyle changes as participants continue serving in work placements.
“Please continue to pray for participants — those already home, those preparing for travel and those remaining in the units,” said MVS director Marisa Smucker.
Matt Peters, an MVS participant with the Aibonito, Puerto Rico, unit, said participants have been staying at home instead of teaching at Academia Menonita Betania or helping with Hospital General Menonita de Aibonito.
“Puerto Rico is extremely social, so not having events is rough for everyone,” he said. “But it has been great for our faith. [Our unit] now spends lots more time in God’s word individually, and we have had more Bible study and worship sessions together. God has a plan for all of this. And we are staying busy. . . . We’ve been gardening, and we just planted an orange tree.”
The Manhattan, N.Y., MVS unit has transformed from a home into an office, restaurant, bakery, gym and cinema after the usual 13 people living in Menno House shrank to seven.
“The New York unit members are . . . leaning on each other,” said participant Hannah Brown. “The support we are receiving from family and friends is also keeping our spirits high in this uncertain time.”
Service Adventure director Susan Nisly thanked churches and communities that nurtured units and welcomed participants.
“We fully intend to reopen the Service Adventure units this fall and are currently continuing to accept applications,” she said.
Albuquerque, N.M., unit leaders Michelle and Rudy Moyer-Litwiller expressed sadness at having to close the unit two months early but are grateful for eight months of building community and learning.
“Along with processing change we also had to process the frustration and anger of having to leave because of something over which we had no control,” Rudy Moyer-Litwiller said.
“We had good one-to-one conversations with the participants. We exhausted ourselves with trying to pack in as much togetherness as possible through early mornings and late nights.
“At the end of the day, we are sad but also very thankful for all the fun times and learning experiences we shared these last eight months.”
Anchorage, Alaska, unit leader Michael Oyer said that after many hours working with bookings and cancellations, the unit’s German participant caught what was likely the last flight to Germany for some time.
“My leader handbook recommended starting year-end conversations a month or two before the end of the term,” he said. “We’ve had to run through the entire process in just the last few days. Having to say goodbye this week was so hard because of the relationships that have been built this year.”
SOOP, DOOR and more
Several SOOP (Service Opportunities with Our Partners) participants have ended their assignments early, and MMN has recommended participants cancel any assignment between now and June 1.
Youth Venture canceled two trips planned for this summer, but so far no other planned trips have been canceled.
At least one group serving with the DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) Discover program left early, and other groups planning DOOR Discover experiences over spring break were canceled.
DOOR director Andrea Sawyer-Kirksey said updates will be sent to registered participants.
From reports by Travis Duerksen and Laurie Oswald Robinson of Mennonite Mission Network.