By: Amanda Yanchury
“Never have I felt so close to God and purpose as I felt in Guatemala with a content, confident faith,” says Heather Nielsen, of her first mission placement in the South American country. “I had to return and thank the people and continue to help them.”
Now in her fourth consecutive year of mission service, Nielsen is one of five Individual Volunteers from Minnesota taking part in the United Methodist program that sends long-term mission opportunities around the world.
Minnesota Conference, along with the Indiana Conference, will send the most Individual Volunteers to mission sites in 2013 than will any other conference in the North Central Jurisdiction. This program is one type of mission opportunity overseen by the General Board of Global Ministries.
Heather Nielsen hails from Byron, just outside Rochester, Minn. After taking a short term mission trip to Guatemala in 2009, she felt God calling her to long-term service.
“The Individual Volunteer in Mission Program gave me a perfect conduit for my planned service,” Nielsen says. “We could see, hear, touch, and smell poverty—and I knew what God was calling me to do next: to share my time and talents in a bigger way.”
Upon first arriving in Guatemala, she took a look at the clinic and thought to herself, “This place could really use a nurse!” Eventually, she would wind up back at that clinic doing just that.
“I didn’t choose Guatemala; rather, it chose me,” Nielsen says. “I planned two years of service, and now I am in my fourth year!”
Nielsen’s favorite part of mission in Guatemala is seeing God “so tangibly at work in the lives of the people.” She also enjoys encouraging others to become involved in long-term mission work.
Erin and Nick Davis
Erin and Nick Davis, a married couple, are also serving in Guatemala on a one-year assignment. After serving for six weeks at a Spanish school, they will soon begin work at Salud y Paz (Health and Peace), which runs primary-care clinics and a preschool in the rural highlands of the country. Nick will be serving as a technical services development specialist and Erin will serve as the marketing coordinator at a clinic there.
Both Erin and Nick traveled to Guatemala previously on a short-term trip, and knew they wanted to return. “We’ve always felt that there was something unique about the Guatemalan people,” they say.
Referring to the monetary support they’ve been required to raise, the Davises say, “We are grateful for the support we’ve received. The generosity of many has made it possible for us to bring the love and mission heart of United Methodists to Guatemala.”
Patricia Alexander, a member of Hamline United Methodist Church (St. Paul), applied to be an Individual Volunteer in August 2012. She was assigned to McCurdy ministries and School in Espanola, New Mexico. Her assignment is four months long, from October 2012 through February 2013. Having recently retired, Alexander says she is blessed with the opportunity to serve long-term.
Alexander’s day-to-day work varies; she spends a lot of time sorting and counting box tops and labels, which people and organizations send from all over the country. Alexander is then able to redeem these for a donation to help the school purchase much-needed equipment.
“Each day is an adventure and filled with meaningful service to a diverse population in a rather economically depressed geographic area,” she says. “The staff, teachers, and students are very grateful for our efforts.”
Scott Andrews, who hails from Shafer, Minnesota, recently returned home after serving in Costa Rica for two years.
He served as program assistant at Strong Mission, a ministry that hosts volunteer construction teams that work on churches, schools, homes, and parks. They also provide some ministry to children. For these teams he has offered guidance, translation assistance, hospitality, and more.
“My favorite part of this experience was getting to know people—volunteer groups, my coworkers, and my neighbors in the community. Time spent with these people made my work rewarding each day,” Andrews says, “at least as much as the work I was doing.”
“The Individual Volunteer program is continuing to grow as more people wish to serve longer than the usual team experience,” says Lorna Jost, North Central Jurisdiction VIM coordinator.
All Individual Volunteers are required to attend a training prior to their term of service, and there is one training held per year in the North Central Jurisdiction. The next training is April 10-14 at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. To learn more about the Individual Volunteer program, visit individualvolunteers.info.
Amanda Yanchury is communications assistant for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church