by Trần Quang Thiên Phước,
2017-2018 IVEP Participant, New York City
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 4:10, NIV
As a Mennonite, I listen to verses like this one every Sunday when I go to Church. It speaks about the spirit of volunteerism and encourages everyone to contribute what they can to help others who are in need. I try to live by this idea, joining my Church’s charity and community activities in my free time. But only when I joined MCC in 2017 did I get to experience the true meaning of this verse.
The MCC program I participated in was IVEP: the International Volunteer Exchange Program. The commitment to IVEP was serious: I was to go to another country and serve with MCC full time. It was voluntary service, so I would only be provided with a place to stay and a small stipend for food every month. I would be away from all my friends and family. I would work in an environment where the people would not speak my mother language. And on top of all that, it was a full one-year commitment.
In Việt Nam, MCC was working with local organizations to help victims of Agent Orange, a war legacy that still haunts the land and the people of my country. For this reason, for my IVEP placement I was sent to New York City and given a position as an intern in MCC’s advocacy office at the United Nations, focusing my work on Agent Orange Advocacy. I myself took part in a speaking tour around the East Coast to ask people to support MCC. The tour took me to Kansas, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, where I spoke to students and children in Mennonite churches, schools, and universities about the project. Working in this project made me realize the destructiveness of war and the need to promote dialogue as a counter measure in potential conflict situations. No matter how bad a dialogue goes, it is still far better than an actual war, whose legacy could last for generations.
I was lucky to have a wise mentor, Mr. Doug Hostetter, whose ethics and expertise inspired me to become an advocate for peace. I later learned that Mr. Hostester also joined a voluntary service program of MCC in his younger years. He went to Việt Nam to serve MCC in 1967, right at the height of the Việt Nam War. Along with him, many other people have served with and continue MCC’s work in Việt Nam. I personally know some other young people who have dedicated their time and talent to come to my country and serve: one from Ohio, one from British Columbia, and one from Virginia. Some of them I will always fondly remember. We came from different places and different backgrounds, but we were all connected by MCC, a desire to participate and service, and, through sharing similar experiences, we become friends.
The history of MCC in Việt Nam is rich and full with God’s love, and I am humble and honored to be a part of it.