Young “hands of Jesus” pick up the hammer

MDS summer youth project 2016

2When young people work with their hands to serve someone else, they develop empathy, says Alicia Hurst, volunteer placement coordinator for Mennonite Disaster Service in Lititz, Pa. “It’s teaching them what it means to help their neighbour.”

Through MDS’s Summer Youth Project, “youth learn construction skills and interact with people from different backgrounds from all over the U.S. and Canada,” says Hurst, who, a decade ago, was an SYP participant herself. Each summer, MDS staff plan three projects deemed safe, educational and fun for young people 15 and older.

When Hurst signs up long-term MDS volunteers, they often tell her their first MDS experience was at 15, serving with their youth group or alongside their grandparents. “We’re working hard to give people that chance to start their story early.”

Ten weeks before their week of service, MDS sends groups devotionals that integrate the work with the biblical rationale “to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” says Hurst.

Camp Likely, an MB camp on Quesnel Lake in B.C., is this summer’s Canadian youth project. Each week, about 15 youth and 5 leaders will work to complete four new cabins to replace the boys’ bunk house over a month.

“Camps run on a shoestring budget,” says Evelyn Peters-Rojas, MDS volunteer and project coordinator in Winnipeg. “They are constantly looking for volunteers to help with building or repairing infrastructure.”

“I hope volunteers experience the value of camp ministry and the importance of evangelism,” says Camp Likely director Kate Reid. “They will hear staff testimonies and Bible stories in our chapel times and hopefully connect with campers.”

When a church’s youth group signs up for a Summer Youth Project, a need in another part of the country becomes personal, says Peters-Rojas. It starts an intergenerational conversation, with older church members encouraging youth to sign up – and asking them to share when they return.Madison hard at work

South Langley (B.C.) MB Church’s youth will serve at Camp Likely this summer because Peter and Dorothy Regehr – with 14 MDS projects under their tool belts – invited their church’s youth group to join them on assignment.

“Our hope,” says South Langley’s youth director Kristophe Baerg, “is that working with MDS will inspire students to understand the importance and value of volunteer service and, maybe someday, motivate them to pursue further involvement.”

The first SYP in Canada was in response to forest fires in Barriere, B.C., in 2004. The following year, there were no Canadian disasters, so MDS invited youth teams to fix up a Vancouver apartment block to create more low-income housing.

Every summer since, MDS has offered at least one youth project in Canada – often non-disaster related, with the benefit of allowing MDS and churches to prepare further in advance: both logistical and spiritually.

“Working at flood after flood, it can be easy for MDS workers to get discouraged,” says Hurst. “Youth bring an energy that’s invigorating and refreshing.

—Angeline Schellenberg

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