KANSAS CITY (Mennonite Mission Network) – As they cleaned and priced shoes at Adelante Thrift, participants from three different youth groups during a Servant Project on July 5 chatted as if they had known each other all their lives.
It was befriending strangers that made the afternoon memorable, a couple of teenagers said. At MennoCon19, the norm is to stream down giant hallways with one's tight-knit home group while remaining anonymous to hundreds of other teenagers going in the opposite direction.
Not so this afternoon, once they left the Kansas City Convention Center for Adelante.
At the thrift store, youth group members from Eicher Emmanuel Mennonite Church (Wayland, Iowa), Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Mennonite Church and Zion Mennonite Church (Archbold, Ohio) co-mingled. While hanging clothes, pricing housewares and sorting toys, volunteers discovered new friendships can't be given a price tag.
"You meet a lot of other people you didn't know before as you do repetitive tasks together," said Daniel Eash-Scott of Milwaukee Mennonite. "You talk about things you have in common – like cross country, high school experiences, first-year college coming up. … This is a good part of being Mennonite – building relationships while you do God's work for the community."
Doing God's work in caring for the community is Adelante's mission, said Adelante volunteer coordinator Merah Wright. The thrift store has its roots in Mission Adelante, which serves and empowers immigrants and refugees. The thrift store's low costs allow people, no matter where they come from, to have the dignity of providing for themselves and their families and knowing they are part of a community.
"These Servant Project Volunteers help build up this community by providing three days of work in an afternoon," Wright said. "With only two staff workers, we so appreciate how groups such as this process so much more material in a short amount of time."
The idea of community was also on the heart of Lori Schmidt, of Salina (Kansas) Mennonite Church. A loyal Mennonite convention goer since 1983, this was the first time she had engaged with a Servant Project, she said. She felt it was high time to get out of the convention hall into a local neighborhood.
"I have been to Kansas City many times, and I have often visited my aunt, but she lives in a totally different area," Schmidt said. "I wanted to serve Christ in some way as well as see another part of KC I had not seen before. … where another part of the heart and the soul of the city lives."
Schmidt's desire came true, as she and other volunteers merged among customers who came into the clean, well-lighted atmosphere where Christian music was gently wafting in the background.
Soon it was hard to know distinguish between the customers and the volunteers, as the volunteers also rifled through the same racks to find bargains. Eash-Scott, a former Kansan, was especially proud of his find – a sports shirt branded with the blue and red Jayhawk of The University of Kansas.
He showed it off to some of his buddies, old and new. "My find for the day," he said.
It is hard to know whether he meant the shirt, the friends, or both.