I served in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in Service Adventure right after high school. For me, it was a year of feeling the freedom to "find myself" in a new place with people who didn't have a clue who I was. It was an exciting challenge to figure out how I wanted this new world to perceive me, the real me.
During that year, I became more confident in creative leadership in my job placement as the head of a third-grade classroom in an after-school program. I became a better mediator through challenging times with housemates. I used my God-given gifts of guitar playing and singing at church. I was inspired to reconnect with God by witnessing the unfailing devotion of my German housemate, Anni. I gained confidence in my cooking skills as a meal provider. I figured out how to deal with accountability and divided responsibilities in my shared household. I wrestled with God as I walked alongside my housemate after she heard the news of a family tragedy. In the end, I became more whole. And because of my enormous gratitude for this transformative year, I decided to contact Mennonite Mission Network, years later, to see if there were any openings for Service Adventure leaders.
My husband and I were accepted and were sent to Albany, Oregon, to first lead a group of five young women, and then a smaller group of both male and female participants. My previous experience gave me an interesting perspective, and many moments brought me back in time to my years in Johnstown. Similar to my experience as a participant, they surprised themselves in finding new strengths, and grew in their relationships with each other and with God. They also were able to create safe spaces, as is necessary when you're in a house full of strangers and are asked to take on responsibilities you've never done before. Like the time someone prepared a dish with a cup of salt instead of a teaspoon … grace was extended, then commiseration, and then laughter. I appreciated times like these because it reminded us of our humanness, the kindness we can show to each other, and the vulnerability we must bring if we truly desire to grow.
It's not as if these two years of leadership were a piece of cake, but the benefits outweighed the cost. There is simply something exceptional about living alongside others who are just beginning to figure out who they want to be. The joy of observing someone discovering themselves, and in turn becoming empowered, is unmatched. You, too, can be part of the transformation in a young adult's life. So, what are you waiting for?
Be a participant. Be a leader. Be the Gospel.