Jared Klassen is tending gardens – literally and figuratively – in South Africa. The Abbotsford, B.C., native has been living in Pietermaritzburg since last August where he is serving with SALT (Serving and Learning Together), a year-long, cross-cultural experience of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
As he was finishing his degree at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, Klassen felt called to a ministry of reconciliation.
“God has awakened in me a passion to show love to those who have been hurt, unheard, and even marginalized, those who are victims of oppression and difficult circumstances,” he says. “By identifying with God’s desire to bring redemption to people in these circumstances, along with a passion to explore other cultures and see the world from new perspectives, I feel that God has led me to the field of international community development work.”
That calling led him to MCC SALT and ultimately to South Africa where he works with small-plot farmers in local communities to talk about farming practices including some simple, useful ways to increase crop yield and improve soil fertility – to “bring healing to the land,” Klassen says.
“I have the chance to work alongside a local farmer to maintain several demonstration gardens as a living example of the effectiveness of conservation agriculture,” he says. “I’ve grown considerably in what I know about agriculture and have learned so much from my Zulu coworker.”
Along with tending to soil, he has also had opportunity to work with issues of the soul. Klassen has been working with Project Gateway, a local NGO focusing on community care and empowerment programs. His role as planning, monitoring, and evaluation (PM&E) coordinator has given him opportunity to facilitate discussions with colleagues regarding program and organizational strategic planning. One of the nicest surprises, Klassen says, has been seeing how stimulating the monitoring and evaluation aspect of his work is.
“Over the past few months, I’ve been able to hear program participants share how they’ve been empowered to use their knowledge of HIV/AIDS to break down stereotypes in their own communities,” he says. “I’ve seen people’s faces light up when they’ve been able to identify that they too are leaders in their homes. And I’ve seen how healthy M&E practices include my coworkers in the process of dreaming of what we can do in the future.”
Klassen was moved by recent conversations with people who came through an HIV/AIDS and human rights training course offered by Project Gateway. Participants talked excitedly about now having tools to discuss issues with others in need or to talk about the rights of their community and to help those who have been abused.
“(When I hear statements like that), I see God’s hand as we help people address brokenness in their communities and be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation,” Klassen says.
Klassen, who attends South Abbotsford MB Church, says spending this year on SALT is “one of the best decisions” he’s made.
“I joined SALT to take part in God’s heartfelt desire to empower the marginalized, and now I’m finding that I too have been empowered,” he says. “The MCC SALT program has given me the opportunity to excel in my field of interest, to explore new perspectives and practices, and to experience the support of other skilled practitioners. With SALT, I’m not just an intern sitting behind a desk pushing paper – I’m in the field working alongside others as I practice, fail, learn, and grow.”