Church participation enriches cross cultural experience

Winnipeg, Manitoba – Opportunities to fill leadership responsibilities in a local church enrich Yoweri Murungi’s one-year cross cultural service assignment in Lusaka, Zambia.

His many new experiences include leading praise and worship services, Bible study classes and youth ministries at the Chilenje Brethren in Christ church in Lusaka.

“These experiences help me gain leadership skills and grow in my faith in Christ,” says Murungi, 28, from Kagadi, a town in the Kibaale district in Uganda.

Murungi and 20 other participants in the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN!) program are completing their one year service assignment in July.

YAMEN, a joint program between Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite World Conference, is a program for young adults, ages 18-30, who are not Canadian or U.S. citizens. Participants must either attend an Anabaptist church in their home country or serve in an Anabaptist organization.

Murungi is serving as the assistant coordinator of MCC supported Peace Clubs that teach young people skills in non-violent peacebuilding, conflict transformation and reconciliation. Peace Clubs, started in 2006, have expanded to 32 schools in Lusaka. 

Since the countries of Zambia and Uganda share many cultural similarities, it didn’t take long for Murungi to become an effective member of Peace Clubs leadership team.

He says Peace Clubs bring the ideas of different people together to solve a problem. He cited the example of a peace club member sharing with the group that she gets punished in school for arriving late. She had told the group she is late because she takes her younger brother to another school before she comes to school.

Through group discussions she was empowered to resolve this problem by asking her parents to make other arrangements for her younger brother.

In Uganda, Murungi also works with peacebuilding programs. He anticipates the leadership skills he is learning through his participation in the local church and Peace Clubs will help him in Uganda.

“I am gaining new experiences and new skills,” he says. “I am developing and improving office, management and administration skills.”

In addition to serving alongside other leaders in Peace Clubs and the church, he enjoys being part of the MCC Zambia team.

“We are delighted to have YAMEN participants on our team – it adds diversity to the MCC team,” says MCC Zambia representative, Miriam Mitchell. “We learn from each other. There are cultural differences but what everyone has in common is they come to Zambia to serve.”

YAMEN participants gain new skills and experiences through serving with MCC partner organizations in many countries.

Since the first participant in 2004, over 100 YAMEN participants have been learning and sharing with the global church, says YAMEN coordinator, Andrea Geiser.

“This experience of living in another culture is a huge time of growth for participants, both personally and spiritually,” says Geiser. “Each year participants mention how they have grown closer in their faith with God, relying on God during the stresses and challenges of a new country and culture.”

A recent report from Elisa Domínguez (Mexico to Honduras) states: "The world, my view, my vision changed, the concept of serving taught me that we must leave our own cross, to carry the crosses of many others who cannot do it themselves. "

Reflecting on her new world wide perspective Jennifer Moreno (Colombia to Bolivia) says: "Leaving my country has given me a new view of things, to understand that there are lots of options and opportunities elsewhere and that it is great and exciting to serve without expecting anything in return. It is interesting to know that you have people who support you and who share your same faith in other countries."

The following participants are completing their YAMEN service assignments in July: Serving in Bolivia: Jennifer Moreno (Colombia), Oscar Galo (Honduras); serving in Cambodia: Keila Medina (Honduras); serving in Colombia: Phealy Hut (Cambodia), Sam Joshua (India), Sanjib Sahu (India), Elizabeth Hartono (Indonesia), Victoria Muchanga (Mozambique); serving in Ecuador: Jirenny García (Dominican Republic); serving in Honduras: Gina Albornoz (Colombia), Elisa Domínguez (Mexico); serving in India: Ditrich Rumboirusi (Indonesia); serving in Indonesia: Suzy Filly (Egypt), Hemanta Pradhan (India), Subhechchha Koirala (Subu) (Nepal), Freddy Satalaya (Peru); serving in Laos: Gloria Kristianti (Indonesia); serving in Mexico: Alexander Gutiérrez (Colombia); serving in Nicaragua: Chia-Ming Chen (Taiwan); serving in Uganda: Reviana Gamaputra (Indonesia); and serving in Zambia: Yoweri Murungi (Uganda).

A joint release by Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee. Article by Gladys Terichow, a freelance writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba.