Living your passion

Dan McFadden being honored by Roy Winter at the 2018 Brethren Volunteer Service luncheon at Annual Conference. Photo by Regina Holmes

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

My BVS colleagues laugh at me when we start talking about BVS themes. Any time we are looking for a theme about how BVS has impacted your life, what is important about BVS, or an anniversary year, I seem to come back to the 50th anniversary theme, “Living the Story.” The staff say, “Not again, Dan! We have beaten that theme into the ground!” And yet it keeps working for me.

In 1996, soon after I started in this position, we formed a committee to plan the 50th anniversary of BVS. Don Snyder, a former BVS staff trainer in BVS’s New Windsor days, was on the committee. We were trying to come up with the right theme for that anniversary when Don said, “I was just singing the hymn ‘I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love,’ and I thought, in BVS we don’t tell the story of Jesus, we live the story of Jesus.” Bingo. Theme!

This is now the 70th year of BVS. How does one summarize a program that has influenced so many lives? All the time, people tell me how BVS has made an impact on their lives. “ My BVS years were some of the best years of my life,” they say. Here’s one of those stories: In 1956, Nancy Schall Hildebrandt and Carol Stephens Scott lived for a year on top of a mountain near Kingsport, Tenn., serving a small rural church in some of the most rustic conditions in which BVSers have served. They had no running water and made an indoor latrine. They rode horses to get around. They were two young women on their own in the hills of Appalachia. I wonder if any parents today would let BVS send their children into a setting like that. But Nancy says that year was very formative in her life. What is it about hardship and struggle that makes an experience like BVS so formative?

Not everyone’s year of service is hard. But in most cases the setting is unfamiliar and the culture is new (after all, any placement site is a new culture for the volunteer). The volunteer must develop connections and friendships just to survive. Those experiences of growth can influence a whole lifetime of living. The saying is true: BVS does “ruin” you for life.

My own BVS story started in the fall of 1981. Orientation for Unit 152 was held at the now closed Camp Woodbrook, in Mid-Atlantic District. There were 33 of us. We received 50¢ for breakfast, 75¢ for lunch, and $1 for dinner per person, per day, to buy the food for our meals. (That amount has gone up only 75¢ in 36 years). I was pre-assigned to serve in Honduras with Salvadoran refugees fleeing the war across the border. Looking back from my current chair as director, I wonder if that was wise. My Spanish wasn’t good enough. Steve Newcomer and I were sent to what was, for all practical purposes, a war zone.

Through no fault of the BVS staff, the receiving agency didn’t know who we were when we arrived. We had little support, and it was a difficult assignment. Perhaps the staff at the time wondered if they had made a mistake sending me there. And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for a different experience.

Since then? I came back to BVS as the director in late 1995. When I’m done, I will have served for 22 years and 11 months. I met my wife in BVS. Two of our children served in BVS and now live where they served. Our third entered BVS this summer. Do I have a passion for BVS? Absolutely! I recruit all the time. I buttonhole young adults while waiting to board a plane anywhere in the world. I’m expecting one of those recruits to show up any day now! Living the story? Those words still work for me.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support its ministry at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(View this issue of eBrethren)

Caring for the vulnerable

Tori Bateman (far left) at the meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection.

By Tori Bateman, associate with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (Psalm 9:18, NIV).

The Church of the Brethren’s identity as a historic peace church means that we are committed to nonviolence and peacebuilding around the world. During my time as a Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I have had some amazing opportunities to advocate for peace in Washington, D.C.

Over the past several months, we have advocated for the practice of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) in the Department of State, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense. UCP is a method for keeping peace and safety in tense situations without the use of weapons or military action. Instead, unarmed individuals are empowered to work through relationships, mediation skills, and other peacekeeping methods to protect those living with conflict.

One example of the successful endeavor of UCP is from South Sudan. Women there were often raped by soldiers when they left their camps to collect firewood and water. To reverse this alarming trend, Nonviolent Peaceforce ran an accompaniment program that involved staff members going with women to collect firewood. As a result, whenever they encountered soldiers, the presence of international observers prevented rape from occurring. In 2015, there were no women afflicted by rape who were accompanied by Nonviolent Peaceforce staff. This is a great example of caring for vulnerable persons.

To present this innovative idea to U.S. policymakers, I worked with a colleague from a Catholic organization to coordinate a State Department meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection. We invited Mel Duncan, co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, and Nonviolent Peaceforce staff members to speak about the effectiveness of their practices.

The event was attended by staff from the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID. Attendees heard not only about the work of UCP, but also the amazing stories of the individuals in conflict zones who have been protected by the actions of UCP. The conversation lasted well after the event ended and we are excited about future opportunities to collaborate through relationships made at this meeting.

Your support for the Church of the Brethren makes possible this and other important peacebuilding initiatives. Thank you for helping us reframe the conversation about peacefully supporting and accompanying those in need.

Will you give to the Church of the Brethren today?
www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Living into the kingdom of God

Dan McFadden with volunteers from BVS Unit 316
Photo by Kelsey Murray

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31, 33).

In our culture, we place high value on success. Success is often measured by appearance, material wealth, occupation, or career advancement. All these are external areas of our lives.

At Brethren Volunteer Service orientations, we invite Dana Cassell, pastor of Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren, to lead us for a day focused on vocation—particularly on what and how God calls us. During that time she shares a story from Henri Nouwen, who was at the top of his profession teaching psychology at Harvard, Notre Dame, and Yale, but left it all to work in a L’Arche community. It was a significant change to go from the halls of academia to closely serving persons with intellectual disabilities each day. During this experience, Nouwen learned three things: 1) Being is more important than doing, 2) The heart is more important than the mind, and 3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

1) Being is more important than doing.

Almost 30 years ago I started working in the psychiatric unit at St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin, Ill., after graduating with a Master’s of Social Work. After several years in the social services field, I thought I had something to offer. A supervisor of the unit, a very wise nurse, took me aside and said, “Dan, the most important thing you will do here is listen.” In other words, being with the patients would be more important than doing anything for them. These words were difficult for me to hear. I had been trained to do things, to help others, and to help them figure things out. What did she mean by, “the most important thing you can do is listen?”

But she was right. Listening is one of the most challenging things to do. We can be so preoccupied with doing something for someone that we miss the opportunity to listen, to be present. This doesn’t mean we stop the doing—we still need to get things done—but, like Nouwen, we must realize that in the push to achieve the pinnacle of success, we often lose an essential component of life—being with people. The L’Arche community taught Nouwen this, and that was my supervisor’s lesson too. Being is more important than doing. Listening is the most important thing you will do.

2) The heart is more important than the mind.

Academic achievement certainly fits with our cultural value of success, and Nouwen certainly succeeded in this area as a professor at prestigious schools. However, he didn’t feel like he was supposed to be in those places. It was then that he asked God for a clear message about what to do next. After many years and an interesting call, he moved to a L’Arche community to serve alongside persons with intellectual disabilities. While this can be challenging work to say the least, it doesn’t require quite the brain power of an academic setting. Nonetheless, Nouwen felt fulfilled in that community and it was where he served the rest of his days. While the mind can be impressive, “love is where the heart is,” as the song goes, or maybe, the heart is where love is.

3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

This is a very Brethren value. It’s even in our tagline: “Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.”

As members of the Church of the Brethren, we understand this, and many Christians do too. We understand following Jesus means working together in community. Together.

It does, however, run against cultural values of independence and success—being a self-made person, “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” and going it alone. One might think of things like Frank Sinatra’s famous line, “I did it my way.” We hear all the time about the success of someone doing something on their own, and it can be difficult to evaluate success when something is done together.

Even though our cultural lens limits success to individual achievement, Nouwen still affirmed that doing things together is more important, and I completely agree. I can’t lead Brethren Volunteer Service by myself; we need our whole team. And we can’t be the church by ourselves or do the work of Jesus alone; we need each other, the whole community, to discern and move forward together.

What Nouwen learned at L’Arche is still essential for us today. Instead of living for our own success, these principles guide us to be present, remain focused on matters of the heart, and value community. By embodying these lessons, may we more fully live into the kingdom of God.

Brethren Volunteer Service partners with L’Arche communities in Northern Ireland, Germany, and the US. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren or support it today at www.brethren.org/bvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Do not be afraid

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By David Steele, General Secretary.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” (Luke 2:8-10, NIV).

I recently received a text message from my 21-year-old daughter, Aubrey, who has Down syndrome. She told me that there were going to be thunderstorms at home and clarified, “Dad I hate storms rain.” As I have done many times before, I assured her that everything would be okay.

“Do not be afraid” are the words of comfort that parents offer their children as they hold them tightly through the thunderstorms of life. These words sometimes come easily with little forethought. Yet, as we hear about the hurricanes, flooding, and fires that have displaced many; the tragedy of a mass shooting; a medical diagnosis with an uncertain prognosis; or the death of a loved one, it is more difficult to find comfort or assurance in these words.

We continue to face those storms within our church as well: diminishing attendance and the possibility of having to close the doors; a long, tiring search process for a new pastor; changes that test the boundaries of our traditions, values, and biblical interpretations; finger pointing and conversations about the possibility of a split; the spread of misinformation; and broken relationships within the fellowship. These things give us great concern and can distract us from hearing the good news.

Living in the plains of Kansas while in college, I was fascinated by watching a thunderstorm develop many miles in the distance clouds billowing into the heights of the heavens and lighting bolts dancing from the sky to the earth. Of course, my fascination was replaced with fear as the severity of a storm increased and moved closer, especially with the uncertainty of how powerful the storm could become.

The shepherds faced not a storm but glory of the Lord, with the appearance of the angel. I like to think the fear, and yes, even terror, that we may experience during storms is like the initial terror of the shepherds as the angel appeared to them. Yet more significant than their fear is the proclamation of the angel, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

It may be hard to hear the good news in the midst of our storms, especially when they have caused damage or great harm to us and those we love. Yet the good news is present for us and, in some cases, we represent that good news for others. As followers of Jesus, we carry that good news. As a church, we are at our best as we offer comfort and assurance to one another and to all those who fear the storms of life. We are at our best when we reach out to those who have suffered great loss due to the physical storms that have stripped them of their homes, belongings, and sometimes loved ones. Through our acts of service and grace, we also convey the good news to those who do not know Jesus.

Through your gifts of prayer and financial support, the Church of the Brethren has been able to share the good news of Jesus:

  • More than 300 youth, young adults, and advisors served in 19 workcamps.
  • 734 “Gift of the Heart” kits (for schools, health, or clean-up) were assembled or donated at National Older Adult Conference for Church World Service.
  • The Disaster Ministry Response team of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) provided eight food distributions which fed more than 300 families on each occasion.
  • Children’s Disaster Services sent 153 dedicated volunteers to 13 locations affected by disaster or trauma and cared for more than 2,328 children.
  • 45 Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers faithfully served around the world.

Friends, “we (as the Church of the Brethren) hold an inexhaustible cup of cold water, water that can assuage the need of a thirsty world. We possess the cup, we are the cup, we know what it contains, and because we’ve experienced firsthand its wonderful promise we can pass it on. If we can accept and live this single metaphor, we and our work cannot fail, and will not end” (Reflections on Brethren Image and Identity, adapted).

This Advent, as we anticipate the birth of the one who will bring great joy for all people, may we together be the cup, share the good news, and be a source of comfort through the storms of life.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

A passion to serve

Paige Butzlaff (left) and fellow volunteers of
BVS unit 313 serving during orientation.
Photos by BVS Staff

By Paige Butzlaff

Since high school I knew I would join Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS). Little did I know that it would shape me for the rest of my life. But what I’ve come to discover throughout this whole experience, from switching projects, from being hospitalized due to depression, from continuously doubting my capabilities to complete assignments, and to even doubting my own faith, I’ve come out stronger and more steadfast in the direction I want to steer my life. I’ve developed passions for things that make my heart sing. I’ve grown farther and yet closer to my faith than ever before. I knew BVS would be somewhat like college, where one leaves home and everything they ever knew to embark on a journey of discovering who they are and what they were put on earth to accomplish, and that’s why I wanted to join BVS.

When I was seven years old I wrote in my diary that I wanted to help “poor, needy and sick people.” I didn’t know it at that time, but that’s when I found my calling in life. I now know that I’m passionate about not just helping others, but serving them. Helping implies that someone is helpless, but serving implies that you are encouraging someone to find their own strength, not denying that they can take care of themselves. Helping puts the helper on a pedestal. But serving puts you right there with the person you are serving, so your humanity meshes with their humanity. Rarely do we get the chance to recognize our own humanity, let alone acknowledge others, and empathize with them, especially in the culture we’ve been born and raised in.

BVS has helped me be the person I want to be. I’m serving others in a capacity that I never thought I’d be doing, but it’s worked and I’m grateful for the opportunity. What’s allowed me to discover more about who I am as an individual and where I’ll leave my mark in this world is not only my work at the General Offices, but the everyday occurrences between places I visit and people I meet. I’ve learned so much about myself by attending Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, and I’ve met some incredible people there. My housemates at the BVS house in Elgin are inspiring people, and although we don’t always see eye to eye on issues, they have been super supportive of my journey and I have learned a lot about them as well. Who knows what’s in store for me after BVS, but I’ll always have this experience to look back on and thank God for providing me with this incredible opportunity.

Paige Butzlaff recently finished serving through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org, or support them today at www.brethren.org/give . 

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

God has a plan for you

Laura (pictured left) and her colleagues.  Photo by Laura Slattery

Laura (pictured left) and her colleagues.
Photo by Laura Slattery

By Laura Hassel, Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer from Unit 313

Two weeks after my high school graduation in Essen, Germany, was my flight to the US and the start of three weeks at orientation. The time before orientation was very stressful for me. I constantly looked at the available projects, always asking where I will serve for this year. On my flight to the United States, I thought: “Laura don’t be so stressed out. God has a plan for you and you will go to the place you are called.” These thoughts were right.

In my second week at orientation, I was placed at “The Gubbio Project” in San Francisco. Now, after a few weeks at my project, I have the feeling that I was called to be here.

At The Gubbio Project, we try to create a welcoming community for people dealing with homelessness. There are two churches where unhoused people find a sacred place to sleep. In these sacred places, we try to create a community where people feel welcome. The Gubbio is also a place where unhoused and housed people get in touch with each other. Both are children of God, both are in a holy space, and both have a similar way of using this space.

My jobs range from making sure the space is clean, coordinating volunteers, writing letters to different churches about preaching there, and taking care of donations. I love my work and how much variety is in it. I also see and feel how important and nessessary it is. God chose this place for me and I give thanks every day for this opportunity.

We need to remember to not get stressed out if we have not found our calling yet. Maybe you already found your vocation. Maybe you don’t know what you are called to do. Nobody knows the plan of God and what life holds for them. We have to trust in God that the plan he has for us is the right one.

Learn more about the work of Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Mutuality in mission

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the  2016 New Church Planting Conference.  Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the
2016 New Church Planting Conference.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries

Someone recently asked me what I believe it means to be Brethren. Thinking back, I realized that it was a simple phrase that convinced me to join the church. I didn’t grow up in the Church of the Brethren. I grew up going to church, studied religion in college, and then became acquainted with the denomination through Brethren Volunteer Service. There, I first heard the phrase, “mutuality in mission.”

Mission philosophies come and go, and we may not talk about our engagement with the world this way anymore. However, what struck me at the time (and still does) was not the words themselves but how they are embodied in our church. We are people who put faith into action, and do so with others. We look for ways to work with others, to engage in community efforts, and to be of service where needs have been identified by local groups. We listen to others. We make decisions together.

Mutuality in mission requires us to respond to the needs of people in the church and in the world, and to work alongside others for the good of all. It is faith in action. Before I met the Brethren, I thought faith was a private thing, a way of believing that helped each person maintain a particular perspective on life. Now I know that, while faith is personal, it is not private, and the gifts of faith that each of us possess are to be used for the common good.

Before I came into the Church of the Brethren, I had never participated in feetwashing. Although I was familiar with the Bible, I’m not sure that scripture (John 13) made much of an impact on me. In the Church of the Brethren, I was surprised to find that this scripture was not only frequently cited but also enacted. It wasn’t just a story about Jesus and his disciples at that last supper. These were also instructions for us today. Jesus tells us: “I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As Brethren, we take this quite literally, and not just in worship. Mutuality in mission means that we serve others, and, acknowledging our own vulnerability, allow others to serve us in return. Indeed, faith in action is relational. We give and receive. Together we share God’s love and build community.

I saw this happening at various denominational conferences I attended in May. At the New Church Planting Conference, Brethren brothers and sisters of various races and cultures came together to pray for each other’s ministries. At the Church of the Brethren Spiritual Directors’ retreat, ideas were shared about how to make spiritual direction more available to pastors to strengthen and encourage them in ministry. At the National Young Adult Conference, participants took time one afternoon to connect across generations with older adults at Timbercrest Senior Living Community.

Congregations across the country are joining the Open Roof Fellowship through intentionally ministering to and with persons of all physical, mental, and developmental abilities. Others are actively engaged in creating safe spaces for all people, particularly children and vulnerable adults, to worship, learn, fellowship, and serve together. At our conferences, in workcamps, through Brethren Volunteer Service, and in our congregations, we come together to put our faith into action, to engage in mutuality in mission. Thank you for all you do to respond to this call through prayers, gifts, worship, and service.

Learn more about the Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/clm or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Amazing

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. Photo by Dewayne Heck

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices.
Photo by Dewayne Heck

By Mark Flory Steury, Donor Relations representative

“It’s amazing how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do.”

This is a comment I hear often as I talk with congregational leaders and pastors about the denominational work of the Church of the Brethren. It has been my joy to visit many congregations over the past five years, and to thank them for being so generous! For well over one hundred years, congregations have faithfully supported the work of the church through their offerings.

When I visit a congregation, we talk about the ways the Church of the Brethren is currently serving in ministry both domestically and abroad. Globally we have partners in Nigeria, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Haiti, Spain, South Sudan and many other places. We help people in times of need through Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, and the Global Food Initiative. Volunteers serve as the hands and feet of Jesus through Brethren Volunteer Service and Workcamps. These are some of the ways that we extend the love of God to others.

We also provide resources for churches and individuals across the country. We support the work of new churches through the Church Planting Conference. We equip church leaders and members through the work of Congregational Life Ministries, the Ministry Office, and Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leaderships, and through materials like Vital Ministry Journey, the Anabaptist Worship Exchange, the Shine curriculum, and webinars. Faith-forming, community-fostering conferences and programs are provided throughout the year like National Junior High Conference, Christian Citizenship Seminar, Ministry Summer Service, National Young Adult Conference, and National Older Adult Conference. Conversation and information are shared through Newsline and Messenger magazine. We also have wonderful historical resources preserved through the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. This is just a brief overview of the many ministries we do together!

Amazing! How is the Church of the Brethren able to do all of this? It’s only with the support of congregations and individuals who are willing to work together for a common mission and ministry.

It is remarkable how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do. Thank you so much for your awesome support. We can do this work only because of your partnership. May God bless us as we continue in our work together.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Proclaiming freedom

CCS leaders: from the left, Becky Ullom Naugle, Richard Newton, Jesse Winter, and Nate Hosler. Photo by Kendra Harbeck

CCS leaders: from the left, Becky Ullom Naugle,
Richard Newton, Jesse Winter, and Nate Hosler.
Photo by Kendra Harbeck

 A reflection from the 2016 Christian Citizenship Seminar

On April 23rd, Church of the Brethren youth from around the country met in New York City to learn about mass incarceration at Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS). After hearing from Dr. Richard Newton, a professor at Elizabethtown College, and Ashley Ellis, an advocate for persons reentering society, the youth began to see the connection between mass incarceration and racism in the United States. The youth traveled to Washington, D.C. to continue learning about the issue and to prepare for legislative visits with their senators and representatives. During their visits to Capitol Hill, the youth asked their legislators to support sentencing reform legislation and bills that aided with prison reentry programs. Melen Ghebrai from Olympic View Church of the Brethren (Seattle, Wash.) offered the following reflection about her time at CCS.
—Jesse Winter, 
Brethren Volunteer Service worker serving with the Office of Public Witness 

CCS was an incredible life- changing experience. We began the week instantly exposed to the injustices of the criminal justice system and the immediate urge of reconstruction rather than reform. Each day we had new speakers explain what was happening and why it was important. I recognized the injustice but was confused about what we could do about it. As a high school student and person of color, all throughout my life I have been given the impression that my opinions on certain social and political issues do not matter. CCS, however, changed my doubt and gave me the voice I longed for. Throughout the week each powerful speaker built my passion, interests, and my desire to advocate for a renewed system in society that provides redemption and mercy for its citizens.

At CCS, I met several students from around the U.S and even overseas who share the same faith as me and belong to the Church of the Brethren, and this created a sense of community. We learned beside each other and asked questions, which fueled our interest and passion. As the week came to an end, we divided into groups for our lobby visits. I was accompanied by a volunteer from BVS, but did the visits mostly on my own. The experience was rewarding and very powerful.

Just a week prior I was sitting in a classroom advocating for students pushed from the school to the prison pipeline. It was nice walking through Capitol Hill and meeting with senators and representatives who are pushing for an end to this destructive system. CCS is something I would be very happy to attend next year. It was an opportunity that opened new doors and enlightened youth about the importance of remaining socially aware on the issues and solutions that shape our country.

Christian Citizenship Seminar is organized by the Office of Public Witness and Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about CCS at www.brethren.org/ccs, or support this ministry today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

New experiences, new growth

Rachel setting up for the school Pack-a-Snack  program that she coordinates. Photo by Blake Prim

Rachel setting up for the school Pack-a-Snack
program that she coordinates.
Photo by Blake Prim

A reflection by Rachel Ulrich, BVS volunteer

Because I have lived in six places within the last four and a half years, change and adventure have become regular companions in my life. Between transferring colleges, studying abroad, and living in varying locations over the summer, I have participated in a repeated process of packing bags and venturing into the unknown.

This life of a 21st century American nomad can be thrilling and exhausting, exciting and intimidating, fulfilling and disorienting. This fall, I committed to another life-changing move by joining Brethren Volunteer Service. My transition into BVS began with what my new beginnings normally entail: openness to new experiences, concern about adjusting to a new place, and a love for adventure that beckons me into the unknown.

When I discovered the BVS position at Highland Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Va., I felt confident about serving at this site. This confidence bewildered me because I had no connection to Highland Park Elementary or Central Church of the Brethren, the congregation that created the BVS position at the school. Yet, as I watched a video about Central Church’s work with Highland Park Elementary, I thought straightforwardly, “That’s where I want to be.”

When I arrived in Roanoke, Central Church of the Brethren greeted me with a more loving welcome than I could have ever anticipated. I instantly felt at home with this congregation. I knew that the church supported me as a person in their community and as a person serving at Highland Park Elementary.

My first week volunteering as a teacher’s aide and project coordinator at the school proved to be rewarding and challenging. I had worked with children before, but not at a school. Entering daily classroom schedules during mid-October felt like leaping into a complicated jump rope event. I discovered that I needed to ask questions, clarify details, and remain resilient and flexible throughout innumerable surprises and mistakes.

I have now served in my volunteer placement for six months. I cannot imagine having never met the people at Central Church or the school. I also cannot imagine having never discovered what I have learned so far about myself, education, community, and volunteer service. I am reminded of the growth that comes with adventure and the development that comes with change. I am reminded of how there is deep worth in growing new roots in new places. I look forward to discovering what the rest of this adventure reveals.

Rachel Ulrich grew up in Richmond (Ind.) Church of the Brethren. Learn more about the work of Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)