Challenges, goals and dreams as a volunteer
IVEP participant insight
Being away from home has been a challenge for most IVEPers. In my case, I remember that before starting the adventure as a volunteer with MCC, I tried to prepare myself psychologically for the changes regarding culture, food, and language.
A month before I left, I went on a gastronomic tour to "recharge" myself with energy and not miss the flavors of my country. I thought about possible activities I could do to stay active and productive and talked to other volunteers looking for useful tips for the new adventure I was undertaking. The closer it got to the day I was leaving, the more uncertain I became about whether I had what it took to spend 11 months away from home. Although it was a long and difficult process, I kept thinking about the great opportunity I was going to have to grow personally and professionally.
Once I arrived in the big city, New York City, and realized the great challenges I would have to face, the nerves were evident as I had the responsibility of representing my church, my country and MCC. The diversity and multiculturalism of the city overwhelmed me at first. The first shock I had was the language, although it is true that I had some English basics; arriving and interacting with locals, trying to understand the sayings and their intonation was a difficult challenge (and it still is.)
As the days went by, I was feeling more comfortable, I was finding the rhythm of the city, I was adapting better to the assigned tasks, and I was reaffirming the call that God has made in my life to serve others. In the process, I have met wonderful people, co-workers, a church community that welcomed me with open arms, extraordinary places that I had only seen in movies, but also a bit of chaos in New York City — always with its magic and mysticism.
Working as a volunteer in the MCC office for the United Nations, with the New York Mennonite Immigration Program and with the consulate of the Mennonite churches I have been able to have a unique experience. I have learned about new contexts, I have broadened my vision of the world, and the most important thing: I have carried the word of God and the act of peacemaking in everything I do. A verse that has accompanied me in this process and I have kept it in mind during my stay is Hebrews 13:2 which says: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."
On the other hand, I must not deny that the most difficult days for me have been Christmas and New Year's, where I normally shared with family, made special dinners and took some trips. Still, thank God, the homesickness was not so strong, as I had the opportunity to share these days with volunteer friends, where we talked about our Christmas customs, prepared our own version of Christmas dinner and celebrated the fact that we had met.
Starting in 2023, I had the opportunity to travel to the U.S./Mexico border to learn more about migration and try to understand the current situation. I visited Tucson and Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Mexico and what I experienced and felt was inexplicable. On the one hand I felt helpless to see such a harsh reality and not being able to do more for humanity. I could not hold back the tears in some moments when I could not stand what I was seeing; however, that made me reflect and understand a little of God's purpose with me by allowing me to live that experience.
In addition, the participation in different activities of MCC, such as peace camps, learning tours, meetings with other volunteers, among others have made me grow as a person and has awakened an interest in learning more about advocacy and human rights.
These almost 7 months have helped me to discover new vocations. I have visited shelters, I have talked to people who risk their lives crossing the border to find new opportunities, I have been able to analyze the migration process and I have supported in the incorporation of new cultures and languages.
I continue to fall in love and believe in why I am having these opportunities, to continue working for humanity and to be a peacemaker. Every day of my volunteer experience has marked me, has made me a more sensitive person, and has generated in me a passion and a responsibility to carry the message of Christ in my daily life. I will continue working on my goals and I hope that God will put people and situations in my path to continue working with migration issues, peacemakers, and community work.
We must open our thoughts more, get out of our comfort zone, take the step, and discover the world out there - raw, sad, but with hope, full of wonderful people who are waiting to meet us to transform their lives and ours.
Header photo caption: Daniel Pacheco (Colombia) participating in the Borderlands Learning Tour with MCC in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. Photo/Anthony Khair