The woman heading up the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network, which enables members of churches in different parts of the world to meet together, break down barriers and build up solidarity, believes such exchanges are vital to a shared global future.
Andrea Geiser is excited about her new job as coordinator of YAMEN! She hopes that participants in the programme to grow spiritually and emotionally and that they will help build bridges and break down misconceptions held by people in the countries where they work and in their own churches.
Geiser began working from Akron, Pennsylvania (USA) in mid-July 2008. Six young people from Zimbabwe and Indonesia were in orientation there in August before spending a year in Tanzania, Indonesia, Bolivia, Egypt and Brazil.
YAMEN! (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network) is a joint Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee program committed to building church-to-church relationships and strengthening the global Anabaptist church.
In the programme, single young adults aged 18 to 30, primarily although not exclusively from MWC-related churches, serve in countries where MCC works. They connect with Anabaptist churches or MCC in-country programs.
YAMEN! is different from MCC's IVEP (International Volunteer Exchange Programme), which Geiser also coordinates. IVEP brings internationals to North America for a year of service while YAMEN! provides opportunities for young adults from outside North America to serve outside of North America. More information is available at www.mcc.org/yamen. Geiser visited Kitchener in August with a group of IVEPers.
Six of this year's nine YAMEN! volunteers, the largest group since the programme began in 2001, went to Akron for orientation. The other three, from Bolivia, Nicaragua and the Democratic Republic of Congo, were unable to get visas to the US and will receive orientation in the countries where they will serve: Nicaragua, Mexico and Korea. All participants are expected to share their experiences and learnings with their home congregation and area churches upon their return.
Geiser also hopes this year of service will give them a taste for longer-term international service. That's been her experience.
After her graduation from Houghton College in western New York, she signed up as an MCC SALTer (Serving and Learning Together) and went to Cambodia to teach English at Royal University of Phnom Penh.
That one-year of service led to three more years in Cambodia, helping to develop a music program at a Bible school there, teaching music in various settings, working with IVEP and helping to organize reunions of IVEPer alumni in Cambodia.
The global church is in her blood. As young adults, her parents served in Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Labrador. In 1997, they took the entire family to the MWC global assembly in Calcutta, India. Little wonder that their daughter was attracted to international service.
Geiser is a member of the Kidron, Ohio (USA) Mennonite Church where she has served on the youth leadership team, participated in the church choir, a bell choir and led congregational singing. She first learned about YAMEN! some months after returning from Cambodia and when the director's position became available, she applied and got the job.
The South-to-South exchange is vital, she says. It also has its challenges, particularly since she coordinates the program from the US while none of the participants are from North America. However, because she understands the frustrations and joys of serving internationally in a new cultural setting and of trying to fit back into one's home culture upon return, she is well suited for the job. Another part of her mandate is to promote the programme in churches.
Geiser's aim is to have the programme grow steadily by five participants per year and that each participant will conclude his or her service having grown personally and spiritually and with a widened world view.
With kind acknowledgements to Mennonite World Conference news office.