Fear. Apprehension. And a little bit of sadness as they leave their family and friends. These are just a few of the emotions that are going through the minds of seven Messiah College alumni as they prepare to leave their homes for a year to serve with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) around the world. But all of them are excited.
“I am sad to be leaving family and friends and leaving the comfortable place I call home for a year. Despite this, I’m looking forward to the growth that comes as I gradually adapt to a new place and new relationships.”
- Owen McCullum
Founded in 1909 by the Brethren in Christ Church, Messiah College has been a strong supporter of MCC over the years including through the Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research. Its mission, “to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith in preparation for lives of service, leadership and reconciliation in church and society,” aligns perfectly with the values of MCC and its young adult programs.
This year, Messiah has a record number of alumni taking part in MCC’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, a unique year-long cross-cultural immersion experience for Christian young adults from the U.S. and Canada, ages 18-30.
Abbey Combs, from Whiteford, Md., says, “Ever since my semester in Chile, I had been hoping to spend more time in Latin America after graduation… I was excited when I discovered SALT because I connected well with their mission and their guiding principles. I felt much more comfortable knowing that my work through MCC would be part of an organization that cares about peace and social justice.” Combs will be heading to Mexico City, Mexico, to serve as a hospitality assistant at Casa de los Amigos.
“The growing pains that are sure to come seem daunting. Yet, somehow, God has been gracious to give me a sense of peace as I make this transition. I am excited to see the surprises He has in store this year and how He will provide each step of the way.”
- Abbey Combs
During their assignments SALTers are immersed in another culture, living with host families or communal settings such as dormitories or teacher housing in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin and Central America and the Middle East.
“I am most excited about the opportunity to experience the process of reconciliation that has been occurring in Rwanda for over two decades,” says Owen McCullum from Plattsburgh, N.Y. “Although I have yet to experience this firsthand, it seems like a very beautiful thing and a very relevant mindset to carry in the midst of today’s divided world.” McCullum will be serving as a capacity building assistant at the Friends Peace House in Kigali, Rwanda. He is replacing another former Messiah alumna, Julie Heisey from Orrstown, Pa.
Jake Gulinello, from Whitinsville, Mass., is also heading to Kigali to serve as a development projects assistant with the Peace & Development Network. “Something I am really looking forward to is working with and meeting Rwandan small business owners and farmers. I believe they are the backbone of economic development in their communities and I want to hear their stories!” He feels that God led him to his major in Business and Economic Development at Messiah and through SALT, he will be able to use these gifts while serving abroad.
“Though I am still nervous, I am confident that Rwanda is where I am supposed to be next year!”
- Jake Gulinello
Meg Jones Hoover, career coach at Messiah College, believes SALT is a great benefit to their students. “A primary benefit I see with the SALT program is that students go through training (and often times their service location) in a community context. Community is a hallmark of the Messiah College experience and many students want to launch into their first job or placement knowing that they will have a supportive community.”
“As someone who is deeply committed to peacebuilding and biblical nonviolence, extremely passionate about cross-cultural ministry and highly values community, MCC and specifically SALT is a great match,” states Paula Holtzinger from East Berlin, Pa. “Having graduated as a Peace and Conflict Studies major with minors in Human Services and Cross-Cultural Ministry, I am eager to apply the knowledge and skills I acquired during my time at Messiah in the service of others.” She is heading to Beirut, Lebanon, to work with MCC as an emergency response assistant.
“God’s made it very clear to me that this is something my experiences up until this point have been preparing me for and I have a great deal of peace knowing that God has been with me through the preparations and will continue to be with me every step of the way.”
- Paula Holtzinger
Many of the participants researched several different international service opportunities before settling on SALT. Gulinello says, “I chose SALT over other opportunities because of the emotional and spiritual support MCC offers its workers. I am so thankful for the support MCC has already shown me as I prepare to depart on this journey. Staff are not only making sure that I am an effective worker this next year, but they are helping me prepare emotionally and spiritually as well.”
“I believe the SALT program will provide an environment that will foster rich opportunities for continued spiritual, personal and professional development and growth for me in ways that other service opportunities I looked into would not,” says Holtzinger. She served as Messiah College’s Student Representative on the MCC East Coast Board last year. “I deeply admire MCC’s holistic approach to issues and how it provides comprehensive, sustainable solutions in the areas of relief, development and peace.”
Michael True, senior associate for talent development and marketing at Messiah College’s Career & Professional Development Center, sees SALT as the Christian version of Peace Corps, where participants grow both personally and spiritually. Returning SALTers see the world differently as their perspectives shift and refine after serving abroad for a year.
He encourages many students at Messiah to apply for MCC’s SALT program. “If circumstances permit you, immerse yourself in a SALT experience,” he says. “It will provide insight, growth and aid in your ongoing transformation. It will give you another set of eyes to see the world, so that you may be a better informed and caring Christian.”
About Messiah College: Messiah College is a nationally ranked, private Christian college with a student body of 3,331 undergraduate and graduate students. Their scenic 471-acre suburban campus is located in central Pennsylvania, just 12 miles from the state capital of Harrisburg. For more information, visit messiah.edu.