(Note: to see a list of the top 10 countries and their total number of participants in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program since its inception in 1950, click here.)
AKRON, Pa. – Melani Susanti recalls feeling a certain emptiness in her life as a young professional at a high-tech printing company near her home in Indonesia.
Susanti had the money, friends and comfortable life that most people think lead to happiness, but she felt a longing for something different. She prayed about it for several years, and in 2006, after meeting Dan and Jeanne Jantzi, who were Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representatives in Indonesia, she applied to serve one year with MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP).
Susanti is one of 3,446 Christian men and women who have participated in IVEP since MCC founded the program, which marks its 60th anniversary this year. Each participant spends one year in Canada or the U.S., often living with a host family, attending a local congregation and doing an internship with a school, church, farm or nonprofit organization.
Based on Susanti's experience and training, she was assigned to MCC’s United Nations (U.N.) Office, New York City. Her participation was sponsored by Mennonite World Conference, who supports one IVEPer each year to work at MCC’s U.N. Office. Like many IVEP participants, Susanti describes her year in North America as a time of challenges, personal growth and a new understanding of God's call.
“It was a big change for me – I am from Indonesia in a small city,” Susanti says. “It was hard. I almost cried every night. I finally realized that I had to make the most of it.”
Over time, Susanti says, she got to know many good people at the MCC office, at Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship, and at the church-owned residence, Menno House, where she lived with other young adults. She also gained a broader perspective of global issues through MCC’s work at the U.N.
Susanti says she grew spiritually as well. In New York, as in Indonesia, many people were preoccupied with earning money, but she observed that their wealth did not seem to make them happy.
“I learned that when we face problems we can still be thankful about that,” Susanti says. “When we can be thankful and we can still feel the blessing from God and we can share with others, that’s what happiness is.”
When it was time for Susanti to return to Indonesia, she decided that she wanted to be involved in humanitarian work. This summer, she is working for Mennonite Diakonial Service, an Indonesian Mennonite relief organization, in a small village in Sumatra that was struck by an earthquake in September 2009.
Mennonite Diakonial Service is rebuilding houses in the village, and Susanti is doing administrative and logistical work, as well as teaching English to children. The villagers are devout Muslims, and they have become good friends.
“I get along with them so well,” Susanti says. “All the stereotypes – gone.”
Since her time in New York, Susanti has also participated in several international church meetings as a youth representative for MWC. Sustani is a member of the Persatuan Gereja-Gereja Kristen Muria, an MWC member church.
Making connections across the global church has always been part of IVEP’s mission. IVEP began in the 1950s as a program for European Mennonites to visit Mennonite communities in the U.S. and learn farming techniques and other practical skills. By 1960, participants traveled to Canadian Mennonite communities as well.
Over time, the program expanded to include participants from more than 70 countries. Since 2000, Indonesia has provided the most participants, followed by Brazil, Germany and Paraguay.
Many IVEP participants have gone on to do church work or humanitarian work in their home countries. For example, Pak Saptojoadi, an Indonesian IVEP participant from 1973-1974, returned to Indonesia to pastor a Javanese Mennonite Church and write hymns, contributing one composition, “O Prince of peace,” to a hymnal used in many Canadian and U.S. Mennonite congregations.
Susan Birungi, a Ugandan participant from 2008 to 2009, learned to quilt with Mennonites in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and has gone on to start a quilting club at her church in Kyanaisoke, Uganda, to raise money for children’s needs.
To find out how you can be involved in IVEP or to read stories of Birungi and other IVEPers, go to ivep.mcc.org.
IVEP over the years
The top 10 countries and their total number of participants in MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program since its inception in 1950 are
1. Germany: 588
2. Netherlands: 290
3. Paraguay: 273
4. Switzerland: 270
5. Brazil: 211
6. Indonesia: 177
7. France: 168
8. India: 121
9. Colombia: 95
10. Bolivia: 81
Tim Shenk is a freelance writer in New York City.