Photo courtesy of Elda Antonio Garcia

Elda Antonio Garcia, a YAMENer from Mexico, is serving with Mennonite social agency Comisión de Acción Social Menonita in Honduras.

“When I first signed up for the program, I never thought a pandemic would happen,” says Elda Antonio Garcia, a YAMENer from Mexico. “Now that I am living in the midst of it, instead of seeing it as a challenge, I see it as a blessing…. It is incredible how people open their hearts to help others.”

Many of the young people who embarked on a cross-cultural assignment in August 2021 through YAMEN (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network — a joint program between Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee) had applied to begin in 2020. Travel restrictions made many placements impossible, so they were postponed for a year.

Beatriz Guaza Sandoval, a YAMENer from Colombia, is serving with Mennonite social agency Comisión de Acción Social Menonita in Honduras.Photo courtesy of Beatriz Guaza Sandoval 

Elda Antonio Garcia and Beatriz Guaza Sandoval from Colombia are two of 20 young people from around the world serving in a country and church that is different from their own. Both are serving with Mennonite social agency Comisión de Acción Social Menonita in Honduras in 2021–2022.

Because of the pandemic, Beatriz Guaza Sandoval choose to wait a year instead of taking an opportunity to serve in Colombia. She is grateful for the gift of extra time she had with her family, especially around holidays, before leaving for a year.

“God was preparing me,” she says. “God’s time was perfect.”

WhatsApp lifeline

“Before coming here, I asked God how I could continue the relationship with my church. God’s answer was simple: take interest in them, be connected to them through prayer,” says Elda Antonio Garcia.

From Honduras, she stays connected to her local congregation in Mexico through WhatsApp messaging.

Beatriz Guaza Sandoval set herself a challenge: “Every day, I write a WhatsApp message to a different member of the church.” Her number changed, so the recipients are sometimes confused. “Others say ‘Oh, I knew it was you because what other friend has a phone number from another country!’”

She asks how they are doing and whether they have a prayer request. “I have enjoyed this exercise. One lady said, ‘Betty, you made my day.’”

Tiara Asrilita, a YAMENer from Indonesia serving in Kenya, connects to Kingdom of Glory JKI Immanuel church in Indonesia through a WhatsApp group. She receives a devotional from her pastor every day and exchanges greetings with church members.

Tiara Asrilita, a 2021 YAMENer from Indonesia serving in Kenya at a Catholic primary school.Photo courtesy of Tiara Asrilita

All three women have seen their loved ones touched by death during the pandemic. They worry that something may happen to family members before they return home.

“I fear a little bit, but Jesus protects me,” says Tiara Asrilita. “I am so grateful.”

Like brothers and sisters

Tiara Asrilita works in a Catholic primary school and lives with nuns. “Maybe I can learn about the essence of how they praise to God.”

She’s surprised to see cellphones banned from church, and the worship style is more energetic than she is accustomed to. “When we want to be closer to God, we have to praise God more and more.”

Beatriz Guaza Sandoval was delighted to discover the church in Honduras celebrates Peace Sunday, just like her church in Colombia. “We have the same root. We are like brothers and sisters.”

“Being the same creator of everyone, God unites us with God’s Word to become one body,” says Elda Antonio Garcia. “In a community, there will be a different perspective, but when somebody is part of something, we take care of them, value them.”

“Every day, we have an opportunity to serve, to love,” says Elda Antonio Garcia. She chooses “to be humble and say to God, ‘here I am.’”