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December 23, 2015

Worth It? REACH as a Gap Year

By Hans Shenk – From the January 2016 Beacon

“Gap Year” is a term born in the 1960’s to describe the practice of young people taking a year away from their studies to develop in ways that lie outside the realm of traditional education. A typical gap year is spent abroad, experiencing other cultures. Students also often spend their gap year serving—developing attitudes and habits of compassion.

RMM’s REACH program includes many of the best aspects of a gap year: REACHers spend the nine months of a school year away from home: three months in intense discipleship training school and six months serving God’s kingdom abroad.

For some students, taking a gap year and even using REACH as a gap year, may be an easy decision. For others, objections abound: it doesn’t seem worth it to spend nine months and considerable money broadening their horizons and changing their perspectives when those resources could be spent starting a career. They worry that it will be unpleasant and uncomfortable, or that they’ll return home too changed—unrecognizable to themselves.

To learn more about doing REACH as a gap year, we spoke (by email) with five REACH alumni who did REACH between high school and college, or between Rosedale Bible College and a four-year university.

“I learned so much about the heart of God. I learned how to surrender and trust in his control.”For Jeremiah* (North Africa, 2012-13) REACH changed almost everything: what he wanted to study and what he wanted to do as a career. But according to Jeremiah, “What changed the most was my perception and [my] ideas about what was important. God showed me that so many things that I hold on to are not what really has eternal value…I learned so much about the heart of God. I learned how to surrender and trust in his control.”

Beyond spiritual changes, Jeremiah also made practical discoveries about his own aptitudes: “In North Africa, I discovered that I have a passion and love for languages and linguistics. I recognize how important language is and how it can be a real barrier and burden for someone. I decided to study English and then pursue a career in teaching English as a second language.”

“It also taught me that I could live [or] do pretty much anything if that’s what Jesus asked of me.”Rachel Yutzy (Thailand, 2010-11) had an experience that was different from Jeremiah’s; she never wanted to do REACH in the first place. “I didn’t want anything to do with REACH. I wanted to get my life started. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I wanted to go to college for a degree in social work. However, Jesus made it incredibly clear to me that I was going on REACH.”

The experience was challenging, but Rachel says it taught her an important lesson: “I’ve always had a plan and REACH didn’t fit my plan. Because of these things, I had to learn to trust Jesus in ways I never imagined…. It also taught me that I could live [or] do pretty much anything if that’s what Jesus asked of me.”

Another way Rachel’s experience differed from Jeremiah’s is that REACH didn’t change her goals, it helped her reach them: “I think REACH helped me form some passions and also dispel some others. Like I’ve said, I always knew I wanted to go into social work. I had the opportunity to work with women who were exploited and trafficked. I think this experience was key in my pursuit to work in trauma. I’m currently a sexual trauma therapist in Philadelphia, and I know I ‘stood out’ because I had international experience in this field.”

“I gained more of a perspective of how other people live and how complex and beautiful our world is.”Like his teammate Jeremiah, Caleb (North Africa 2012-13) told us that his educational and career goals shifted as a result of his time in REACH, but that the most important change was one of worldview: “I think the biggest thing that changed in me was how I viewed the world…. I gained more of a perspective of how other people live and how complex and beautiful our world is.”

For Caleb, watching God provide for his team prepared him to face life with confidence. He said, “I learned a lot about our world, which I think is important for anyone, even if they plan on living in the same town all their life. I had experiences that made my relationship with God more real, and now I can remember and be encouraged by the times when I saw God provide for me and my team when we were in need.”

“REACH made me more comfortable in my own skin... I find myself stepping out in ways that I doubt I would've done before.”REACH didn’t change much about Latasha Yoder‘s (Spain, 2013-14) college plans, but it had a deep impact on her approach to life: “REACH made me more comfortable in my own skin. It's amazing how much difference a little confidence makes. I find myself stepping out in ways that I doubt I would've done before.”

She told us that now, “I absolutely cannot imagine coming to college without having gone through REACH first. For one, it made me view college as a mission field, not just a school. That challenges me to be more intentional…. It made me much more aware of what I want in my own life and not settling for less than that. It also made me a lot less content, in a good way. I'm more conscious of where I am in my walk, in that I don't want to just be where I am but continually growing in different ways rather than just going through the motions.”

“It will never be a wasted year if you are open to God's leading.”Unlike the other former REACHers we spoke to, Rachel Fisher (South Asia/Himalayas 2010-11) entered the program with no intention of pursuing higher education. She said, “While in REACH my team did a lot of teaching…. I had thought about teaching or some job working with children, but was always too scared to actually go to college and get a degree. While in REACH I became more open to the idea of being a teacher and finally realized that God was calling me to go to college and get a degree in teaching. I realized that if God wanted me to be a teacher, he would take care of all the things I feared or didn't have. He had a plan and as long as I trusted him, he would see it fulfilled and he has.”

Now, Rachel said, she would not only recommend REACH to young people who aren’t sure what they want to do in life, but also to those who have a plan in place: “…even if you think you have a course set and know exactly what you want to do, REACH may completely change your goals and perspective in life. Just getting away from what you are comfortable with can really open your eyes…. Maybe God will completely change your heart and show you something amazing that you never even thought of, or maybe he will just confirm to you that you are on the right path and give you the confidence to keep going. Either way, it will never be a wasted year if you are open to God's leading. It is so much easier to get away and participate in a program like this before you get bogged down in studies or a job. You will never regret spending a year learning about God and experiencing another culture.”

To find out more about REACH, or to start your own gap year journey, visit www.send-me.org.

*Names changed or omitted for security reasons.

December 22, 2015

Job Opening: Seeking a New Staff Writer

Interested in a career in writing? Passionate about building God’s kingdom? Rosedale Mennonite Missions is seeking a new staff writer. This part-time position requires strong writing skills in a variety of styles. Education and experience in journalism or a related field is preferred.

For information contact humanresources@rmmoffice.org.

December 18, 2015

Where God Needs Me to Be

Update from Alaina,* RMM worker in North Africa

I can hardly believe that it has been seven weeks already since I have been here in North Africa! It simultaneously feels as if I have just arrived but also have been here for ages. It’s an odd feeling. Life is good here, and I find that I really enjoy it! I live with two other women in an apartment in what would be considered downtown of the New City. Living on the fifth floor of an apartment building in a city has been quite the adjustment for me! Many nights, as I listen to traffic or hear people in neighboring apartments clatter around in their kitchens, I miss the peace and quiet of a Midwestern American evening. Despite the newness of the location, my living situation is good! I get along very well with my roommates and the apartment is nice and comfortable.

On my average day, I leave my apartment at about 8:00 in the morning and walk approximately 25 minutes across the city to Raleigh and Opal’s home. I then study language from 8:30‐11:45. Language has been good for the most part, but definitely challenging, and riddled with frustration when my brain cannot seem to absorb any more information. Far too often, I’m left stammering in response to a simple question. I am very thankful for the opportunity to study language and it has already been quite useful on multiple occasions. Next week is my final full week of language class, but I am hoping to continue learning informally through interactions, etc.

“Life here has been good. Some days are hard and I miss home and family a lot, but I am constantly reminded that I am where God needs me to be and in his plan.”After language, I have lunch with Raleigh and Opal and the kids, which is my favorite part of the day. It’s nice to have interactions that feel like family. Raleigh and Opal have more or less adopted me and do their utmost to make sure that I am taken care of. We get along well and it is a joy to serve beside them!

At 1:00 p.m., Raleigh and Opal begin their lessons, at which point I take on the task of taking care of Robbie and Anna. Robbie is three and coupled with a usually cheerful disposition and the ability to be entertained by a string of beads for hours, he is usually quite easy to care for. As with any child, he has his days when I want to wring my hands and weep, but for the most part, he is a joy to look after. I have already come a long way in knowing how he makes his needs known and simply knowing how to care for him. Special needs are a new frontier for me, but it is going well. Anna is an adorable bundle of mischief! Her favorite places to play include the cupboard where the pots and pans are kept and the basket where the shoes are stowed. Anna has a strong opinion about many things and never hesitates to make those opinions known. Our usual interactions consist of me chasing her in order to catch her and tickle her and reading books. Both of the kids have thoroughly captured my heart and I can happily say that I love my job!

My official work day ends at about 4:15 when Raleigh and Opal get out of language class, but I like to stay at their house for a little while. It is nice to have a sense of family and community. Life here has been good. Some days are hard and I miss home and family a lot, but I am constantly reminded that I am where God needs me to be and in his plan.

Some prayer requests:

  • Continued peace in where God has placed me and happiness in my situation
  • For wisdom and grace on days that the kids just do not want to corporate
  • Continued reliance on Christ in all things
  • I also still need some financial support to come in, so prayers for that would be appreciated

If you’d like to partner with Alaina, you can join her team of supporters today at donate.rmmweb.org. If you'd like to receive news and prayer updates from Alaina, email your contact information to info@rmmoffice.org.

*Name changed for security reasons.

December 16, 2015

REACH Thailand: Our First Impressions

Update from the REACH Thailand blog

One thing I noticed when we first arrived in Thailand was how kind the Thai people are. They’re so willing to help you with whatever you need. Whenever you pass one of them on the street, they will normally say hello to you and give you a kind smile. It’s neat to see how helpful they are towards one another.
– Kayla

Meeting with the rest of the long-term Thailand team this morning for church was incredibly refreshing. It was an awesome time of fellowship, worship, and Bible study. It was good for me because it made me feel the reality of being here in Thailand, and what our mission is while we are here. It brought my focus back and was recharging.
– Amy

One highlight for me, or you could say struggle, has been communicating with the Thai people. It seems so hopeless when looking at the food menus and trying to figure out how to communicate what I want. Even though it is difficult, one thing I’ve learned is they are very patient with us and try to make sure we are both on the same page. We may not speak the same language but we can still communicate with each other, as long as we are willing to try.
– Steve

One of the long-term Nicaragua team members described coming to Thailand and learning the language as “being born again” and it’s true in many ways! My halting and slow speech often makes me feel like a 3-year-old. I hope that my smile is enough to express my good intentions when language fails me. Trying new foods and textures is fun! Typically, I wish for a nap each afternoon due to the heat but I’m making progress on jet lag so I haven’t given in… yet. Each day has held a new adventure of its own! I hope the little things in life will continue to bring me joy – like learning where to refill our jugs of drinking water. Please pray that I can take my many mistakes and stumbles like a child, and get back up to try again, and again, and again. God’s mercies are new every morning and I want to be living proof that it’s true!
– Naomi

A huge highlight here is most definitely the food! Most of our food we get from street vendors that are not too far from the apartments. It’s been a struggle at times ordering food and communicating with the vendors about what exactly you want (and even figuring out what exactly they serve at times). But all the food that I have had so far has been scrumptious and I have yet to have a Thai dish that was too spicy!
– Derrick

Prayer Items:

We started Thai language classes Monday, Dec 7. Class is every afternoon from 1-4 including weekends. The language school has set up a special course to help us complete an entire module booklet by Christmas Eve. It’ll be an intense three-week program! We’ll have lots to celebrate at Christmas!

Please pray that we’ll be able to focus each day in class and find Thai friends in the neighborhood who we can practice with regularly. We need ears that can differentiate the tones for each word, minds that can retain all the new vocabulary each day, and courage to use the phrases we’ve learned.

Also, pray for quality sleep as we continue to adjust from jet-lag and leave cold Ohio winter for the hot and humid weather in Thailand.

Continued prayers for team unity and ongoing positive team communication habits are always appreciated!

Thank you for your support as we create new routines and find a healthy daily rhythm!

December 10, 2015

Recipe: Brazilian Candy Balls

Add something new to your Christmas candy this year, with Brazilian Candy Balls! This delicious recipe was shared with us by former fieldworker Naomi, and can also be found in RMM’s cookbook, The World at Your Table. To find out more about The World at Your Table, or to purchase a copy, visit cookbook.rmmweb.org.

Brazilian Candy Balls

3 cups peanuts, crushed
2 cups crushed vanilla biscotti or vanilla wafers
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon cocoa

Shredded coconut, crushed nuts, or powdered sugar – for rolling
1 cup peanut halves

Mix together the crushed peanuts, biscotti crumbs, sweetened condensed milk, and cocoa, blending well. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, put butter or water on your hands, and roll the dough into one-inch balls. Roll the balls in coconut, crushed nuts, or powdered sugar.

Makes about 50 one-inch balls.

December 02, 2015

Spirit Advent

Editor’s Note: Candice, an RMM worker in Thailand, wrote this poem as a reflection on what advent means to her, and what it means to those still searching and longing for the light of Christ’s coming. Please join us in praying for encouragement and perseverance for our workers as they carry the light of Christ’s love to places where darkness is powerful.
(A ghost story: As the Thai legend goes, two hundred years ago, a man in love went off to war and was wounded. Meanwhile, his beloved Mae Nak and her unborn child lost their lives in childbirth. Because of her great love for him, her ghost remained. When he returned home, he lived with his new bride and baby unaware that she was a spirit. After catching her in a ghostly act, he ran away, terrified. Today, in Bangkok, true believers visit a shrine to her angel/ghost to ask for favor in childbirth, love, war, and other matters of heart and luck.)

Spirit Advent

By Candice

At the shrine of Mae Nak
Devotees come to kneel in somber supplication
To lady ghost and babe
Offer her image a garden of flowers
Layer her fingers with flakes of gold
Fill her closets with silk.
Dark spirits are thick
Where her sober portraits line the walls.
Where people ask favor, luck
From two souls long flown.

Advent has come but
The infant savior has no place here
Today in the smoky shadows,
With the fortune tellers, caged birds, magic trees, gilded gods.
Come, Oh Come Emmanuel
To these dark corners of our world, our hearts.
Come quietly at night, as you did before
Ransom us captives
Lift us from our bending
Free us from our
Hopeless bargains
    Endless tears
        Longing sighs.

Here they light the yellow candles
On an altar thick with wax,
Wishes rise and hang in smoke

Come, Oh Come Emmanuel

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Keep watch in darkness,
Our Savior, our Comforter, is near.