Thursday, October 29, 2009

Misison's Emphasis Week

After October 18-24, Campus Ministries may paint a completely different picture in your mind of what it means to volunteer. Mission’s Week will kick off with a display in the Dick Building lobby. We can’t tell you what it will look like: you’ll just have to wait and see. But an inside source says it will be “kickin’. Watch for signs and information about how to get involved.
What’s the difference between “mission” work and “volunteer” work? According to, a missionary is “someone who attempts to convert others to a particular doctrine…a religious mission to a foreign country.” A volunteer is “a person who freely enlists for service…performs voluntary work.” Now if you were living in a hut somewhere, who would you want help from? Missionaries who may feel they’ve been sent to convert you? Or volunteers offering their help in any way you might need it? I’d take the volunteers over the missionaries any day.
So what’s the big deal? Why does it matter whether we call them “student missionaries” or an “international volunteers” considering they might do the same things anyway? The term matters because words matter. Words are powerful. If we throw words around as if they don’t mean anything, what do we have left to work with when we really need to communicate with each other? The words we choose to use can make an enormous difference.
“I choose to say ‘international volunteer’ instead of ‘student missionary,’” Tanya Cochran told me. “The word volunteer stresses service, whereas a missionary places emphasis on religion and evangelism.” She also explained that a volunteer might be more welcomed and protected in a country where evangelizing could be dangerous or even illegal.
No matter what comes to mind when you hear “missionary” or “volunteer” keep in mind, that they are doing great things.
While we are defining terms, a “mission” is “a special assignment that is given to a person or group.” What is this special assignment? That depends upon where the international volunteer, or IV, lands.
According to Kylie Schnell, a volunteer can land in Korea or Palau, Prague or Lincoln. “A lot of people who are not interested in overseas missions tend to block out Mission’s Emphasis Week, but we want to change that,” said Schnell. “There are so many opportunities to get involved right here in Lincoln and we want to highlight those too.”
Kylie Schnell and Heidi Lee are the student mission’s coordinators which means they do three main things. They plan Mission’s Emphasis Week, encourage international volunteers, and support those who have recently returned.
Since organizing Mission’s Emphasis Week is already underway, let’s take a look at the second part of their job, supporting the international volunteers who are already abroad. Every month Kylie and Heidi assemble packets to send to the volunteers. “We try to contact them and send things they actually need whether that is Q-tips or Taco Bell hot sauce.” You too can send notes or small gifts to your friends. Just stop my Campus Ministries for information. Kylie and Heidi answer questions and keep in contact with the volunteers to keep up-to-date on them and any needs they might have.
The island of Palau has become home to one such Union college volunteer, Brenda Beenken. So far her camera has been damaged, she’s experienced lots of “tourist stuff” as she puts it, and the rush and chaos of school has been quite an adjustment. Brenda writes, “I've been sitting right by Zuleika at chapel each week and physically put my hand on her head and rotate it to face forward anytime her attention shifts. She's probably my favorite! Her smile helps me through my bad days.” Between teaching PE, getting to know her students, and soaking up a brand new culture, Brenda’s staying plenty busy just living day to day.
Staying connected with volunteers such as Brenda is crucial, but equally important to Kylie and Heidi is to encourage and support the volunteers who have recently returned. Kylie and Heidi both served a year abroad in Kenya at Maxwell Academy during the 07-08 school year. They can draw on their own experiences to help and support returned IVs as they navigate their way back home, wherever that turns out to be.

(The Clocktower, October 2009)