MCC Seek program helps young adults explore faith and culture

A group of people sitting on a blanket in conversation

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) invites applications for Seek, its newest young adult program for 18- to 21-year-olds who want to do six months of service, discipleship training and cross-cultural sharing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Starting in January 2024, Seek participants from around the world will stay in the Southeast Asian country, considering together what it means to live, love and serve like Jesus. Seek is firmly rooted in an Anabaptist reading of Scripture and involves Bible study, individual prayer, lectures and conversation.

Seek participants will live in a gender-divided dormitory with Cambodian Christian youth, an arrangement that lends itself to cross-cultural dialogue and worship. The Seek cohort will be a group of 6-10 international participants.

Participants at a district-level gender transformation forum held for members of the food and livelihood security program with MCC partner, Organization to Develop Our Villages (ODOV), create a poster
Some Seek participants will have an opportunity to serve by taking photos of MCC partners in Cambodia, like Isaac Alderfer did of these women at a gender transformation forum. They are members of the food and livelihood security program with MCC partner Organization to Develop Our Villages (ODOV). Alderfer was a 2022-2023 participant in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. MCC photo/Isaac Alderfer

Charles Conklin, MCC representative for Cambodia, believes that such experiences are invaluable to young adults’ spiritual development.

“On graduating from high school, young adults are faced with the decision of ‘What next?’” he says. “Seek offers the opportunity to prepare for that decision by taking a pause and centering on Jesus by engaging in intentional discipleship among the global church.”

In Phnom Penh, Seekers will also learn what it is like to belong to the country’s Christian minority.

Cambodian Christians were one of many groups persecuted by the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. Many Christians were killed or left the country. Until 1990, churches in the primarily Buddhist nation had to worship in secret.

Through visits to an array of Anabaptist, Catholic and evangelical churches, Seekers will come to understand how the church provided healing and hope in the aftermath of atrocity.

MCC partner organizations in Cambodia have identified a need for English speakers to help with their education and communications efforts. Therefore, Seekers may serve as English teachers or help to write and edit locals’ stories. Other service opportunities will include working with peace clubs, leading Sunday school activities and photographing the work of partners.

Ry Veasna, 17, a monk from the Snae Ben Pagoda in Mesang district, Cambodia, walks through Snae Ben to collect offerings of food and money from local inhabitants. This is a daily morning practice for
Seekers in Cambodia will learn the impact of Buddhism on the country through dialogue and visiting cultural sites. This photo was taken by Isaac Alderfer, a young adult participant in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program in 2022-2023. In this photo, Ry Veasna, 17, a monk from the Snae Ben Pagoda in Mesang District, Cambodia, walks through Snae Ben to collect offerings of food and money from local inhabitants. MCC photo/Isaac Alderfer

During their time in Cambodia, participants will also:

  • Consider how Buddhism (and, historically, Hinduism) have shaped national identity during a visit to the temples of Angkor Wat.
  • Participate in facilitated, interfaith discussions with local Buddhists.
  • Reflect on visits to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and the “killing fields” where over 1.7 million people died in the Khmer Rouge era.
  • Accompany MCC partners on environmental peacebuilding projects in the country’s forests.
  • Learn about the experiences of current and former missionaries and service workers.

In early 2023, the nine participants from Canada and the U.S. who participated in the first Seek cohort experienced the cross-cultural benefits of the program in Palestine, where they were accompanied by four Christian young adults from the area.

The 2023 cohort engaged in service projects like leading English lessons at the Lajee Center, a grassroots organization in Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp. They visited sites such as the Shepherds’ Fields, where the angels announced the birth of Jesus. And each week, Seekers took Arabic language lessons at the home of James and Joan Alty, who were serving as MCC Jordan, Palestine and Israel representatives.

The Seek team, a SALT* participant and MCC staff attend an Easter morning sunrise service on the Mount of Olives, East Jerusalem, Palestine.

*MCC's Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program is a
The first Seek team of 2023 joins other MCC staff at an Easter morning sunrise service on the Mount of Olives, East Jerusalem, Palestine. MCC photo/Melita Rempel-Burkholder

The Altys’ idea for creating a program that incorporates spiritual growth into service work started in 2019, while they completed a previous assignment in South Africa. “We saw a need for a more intentional focus on young adult spiritual formation,” recalls James Alty. “We had a lot of focus on service, but not really on the question of ‘Why service?’”

Conklin hopes that the 2024 Seekers “come away from the experience with a deepened faith, a sense of purpose and calling, and a clearer understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.” While in Cambodia, he hopes they will discover how culture and theology are intertwined — both abroad and in their own faith communities.

“Stepping away from the pressures and priorities of one’s home culture to learn and serve in a foreign one has been a transformative experience for many,” Conklin says.

Young adults who want to participate in the 2024 Cambodia program can apply between Aug. 7 and Sept. 30. While Seekers must cover preliminary expenses like visa fees, MCC pays all in-country costs and provides participants with a small monthly stipend. Visit the Seek web page to learn more and apply.