Unexpected placement equips for future service

Two people stand at podiums on stage

Stephanie Setiawan from Sidoarjo, Indonesia, had no plan to go to Latin America. She applied for Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program in 2013/2014, but the slot for her synod was already taken. The coordinators offered her a YAMEN placement in Colombia instead.

As a result, Stephanie Setiawan discovered a love for Latin culture and training for future service. “I am so grateful to have served in Colombia. There, God prepared me for serving at Assembly in Indonesia,” she says.

The Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN) program is a joint program between Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee. It places emphasis on expanding the fellowship between churches in the Anabaptist tradition and developing young leaders around the globe. Participants spend one year in a cross-cultural assignment starting in August and ending the following July.

“I’d never paid attention to Colombia before,” Stephanie Setiawan says, but she began to learn. She initiated correspondence with a young person from the church where she would be serving. “It felt great to have a friendship before I went there.”

“When I arrived, I didn’t speak any Spanish and my host family could not speak English. They were so committed to teaching me the language,” she says. “They explained Spanish words; if there were things, they showed them; if there’s an action, they acted it out for me. Every time we had free time, they gave it to conversation with me.”

In her service placement, “the children were so patient,” she says. She showed them pictures to teach English vocabulary and the children taught her Spanish in turn.

A group of mostly Colombian children surrounded by ballons.
A farewell party for Stephanie Setiawan with kids and parents in the Tokio neighbourhood.
(Photo courtesy of Stephanie Setiawan)

After several months, Stephanie Setiawan was able to speak and understand Spanish, but “I still didn’t get the jokes. It’s weird when people are talking and I couldn’t see the funny things. One day when I laughed, it felt really good. Finally, I could get the interactions.”

“It would be great to meet more people from other cultures,” she thought, as the YAMEN program introduced her to friends from around the world. She began to anticipate the MWC Assembly in Indonesia which her host mom told her about. “It would be really powerful to worship God together with our diversity.”

When Assembly arrived, Indonesian language coordinator Ary Rusdianto turned to Stephanie Setiawan, now working as web communications assistant for MWC. Interpreters for Spanish and Indonesian were scarce: she knew both languages.

“I’ve never been a translator. I rarely talk in a big group. This is the biggest stage in my life. If I had an option I would say no,” says Stephanie Setiawan. Friends encouraged her and helped her prepare.

And she remembered the neighbourhood Barrio Tokio in Pereira, Risaralda, Colombia.

Part of her YAMEN work took her to this neighbourhood with a difficult reputation. “Never once did I feel afraid,” she says. “My interaction with children and parents is still fresh in my memory. I felt the peace of God in that place and the warmness of those people.”

The miracle of peace amid uncertainty occurred again on stage in Salatiga as she interpreted for José Rutilio Rivas. “It was an honour to serve in this way.”

“I feel it is really important to have connections to people from around the world,” she says. “When you embrace the differences and diversity you can grow, and your soul can be rich. There is always something good in another culture just waiting to learn.

“When you know someone from far away is praying for you, it will touch your heart. It’s important for us to pray for our brother and sister around the world especially when you know they are facing difficulty.”

Top image: Stephanie Setiawan interprets José Rutilio Rivas’ Spanish Assembly sermon into Indonesian in Salatiga, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Setiawan)