German young adults serve in the United States
Seven volunteer with Mennonite Mission Network programs this year.by Melanie Hess of Mennonite Mission Network
When Viktor Epp walks into a house to fix something, he never knows what he’ll find. The 20-year-old German volunteer with Interfaith Housing Services, a Hutchinson, Kan., organization that provides homes for low-income and disabled people, is often sent on calls to take care of repair issues.
Service Adventure participant Melanie Kahlen works at her service placement, Women E.A.R.N. in Albuquerque, N.M. Photo provided.
The day he met a 60-year-old couple, however, the situation struck him in a new way. The woman's legs and her right arm had been amputated as a result of diabetes.
"That was an eye-opener for me that this is what my service is about," Epp says, "that we help these people and it's not just work. People need these houses, and they can get them. I couldn’t tell you where they'd live if they hadn't gotten this house."
Epp, an MVSer, is one of seven German young adults who are currently serving with Mission Network programs. Four are placed through Mennonite Voluntary Service and three through Service Adventure. Both are volunteer programs for young adults. The German participants come through a partner agency in Germany called Christliche Dienste.
"CD places them where they feel they will fit best," says Tonia Martin, a personnel counselor with Mission Network’s Christian Service programs. "Many of the men are looking to satisfy their alternative to military service requirement for the German government, but both the men and women are also looking for a way to serve God."
After 16 years of schooling, Annika Büchner says she was ready to do something different.
"It has always been my dream to spend one year abroad in service," she says. "I just needed a break from school and I decided I could do a year for God."
Büchner was placed in the Fresno, Calif., Mennonite Voluntary Service unit, where she works for United Cerebral Palsy in a school for disabled adults. For the first few months she served as a one-on-one caregiver, then she became an instructor, teaching 10 classes a week—everything from art to cooking to dance.
"Most of the students are very disabled," she says, "so it's more about making the day fun for them, to entertain them or show them something."
Büchner chose to come to the United States because she studied English for 10 years and doesn't consider herself very good with new languages. "I wanted to serve in a country where people speak English," she says.
Melanie Kahlen, 19, also wanted to live abroad while serving God. "I always wanted to do a year of service or a year of helping people," she says. "I wanted to do it in another country, and since I'm not into French, I knew it would have to be an English-speaking country."
Kahlen joined Service Adventure in Albuquerque, N.M., where she splits her time between First Nations Community HealthSource, a non-profit health and human services organization, and Women E.A.R.N., an agency that helps immigrants and Native American artisans create their own businesses.
At Women E.A.R.N, Kahlen works as a receptionist, organizer, general office helper and cashier, while at First Nations, she mentors a group of five students, helping with homework and doing activities like roller skating and soccer.
"A lot of the kids' parents are incarcerated, or they live with their grandparents, or they don’t really have a lot of role models in their lives," Kahlen says. "I love my work."
Büchner, who already has a bachelor's degree in nutritional medicine, plans to go back to school for a doctorate and then work in a lab, doing research and potentially working with cancer patients.
Epp and Kahlen have less concrete plans—Viktor hopes to teach apprentices how to do tool and dye making, while Melanie intends to go to university in Germany and then possibly work in a nonprofit organization.
"[Working with a nonprofit] is really what I feel like I should do somehow, not just work in a business or something," she says. "I definitely had that idea before I came here, but it’s more developed now. I would say it's so satisfying to do that work."
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