Editor's Note: Ken Regier, director of Program Human Resources for Mennonite Mission Network, was invited to write this personal reflection on Father's Day.
I began working for Mennonite Mission Network as a personnel counselor in 2002. In my role, I encouraged hundreds of young adults to consider taking time from their normal routines to serve others. Often, that meant that they would leave home for a year or more, sometimes to places outside of the U.S. We felt excitement, thinking and talking together about the possibilities for exploration and growth.
Fast-forward nine years. That's when I found myself on the other side of the equation, as my oldest child applied for Service Adventure. At that point, all my "protective dad" questions emerged. For example:
"She's not used to riding her bike at home in the countryside, let alone in a big city. How do we know she'll be safe?"
"She's from a small Kansas town — how will she navigate a big-city bus system and not get lost?"
Those and many other thoughts ran through my mind. I didn't verbalize them much, but they felt dissonant with the way I had talked about the same types of service with the many other young adults I had counseled in my role at Mission Network.
I learned a lot that year. I learned that I could drive away from a scared, but excited, 18-year-old, and we could both survive. I learned to trust that others would watch out for my child, including the two guys from the shelter for houseless people, who helped fix her bike one day and the guys from the shelter who looked out for her and cheered her on when she jogged downtown.
These positive experiences helped me learn that the things I promised other young adults rang true for my own young adult.
That year provided my family with so many blessings we didn't expect, including my daughter's experience with another example — beyond her childhood church — of how a faithful congregation looks and acts. She learned first-hand about education and discovered that she loved social work (she's now an elementary school social worker).
Fast-forward two more years, when we sent another child off, this time to South America. The curve ball, for me, emerged early on, when we were video-chatting, and my son introduced me to his "mom and dad." My immediate thought was, "Hey — wait just a second — I'm the only one who can be your dad!"
What I didn't realize was that my kids expanded my world as they built relationships. Our whole family visited my son and his host family. As we became acquainted, I began to understand the amazing gift we had been given. This family had taken my child in, cared for him, loved him and protected him. Our family tree had grown to include a branch we just hadn't met yet.
New understanding and accepting the exploration my young adult children desired didn't come easy. Saying goodbye was hard. I learned that I had to trust that God would equip us to deal with whatever happened and that it was pivotal to pray fervently. Our kids came back changed, and we watched as they struggled to adapt to being back in the culture where they grew up. We saw their discontentment with the way things had always been done, because their experience and insights changed them. But that discomfort is something that God calls us into.
In both of my kids' experiences in service, Jesus' words from Mark 10 have rung true — that leaving home and family to serve others meant that they received gifts they didn't expect — many times over. And the surprising thing was that it extended to us, as a family, and to me, as a father. I have realized that the growth and exploration I promised to other young adults in Mission Network service assignments is what I also received.