Choosing A Journey
By Tom Mitchell, Daily News-Record
EMU freshman Jihoon Park (left), 19, of South Korea, talks to Mennonite Central Committee’s Sonya Charles Wednesday at EMU’s Mission and Service Days. The two-day event, held in the spring and fall at EMU’s Campus Greeting Center, brings representatives from various mission agencies to talk with students. Photo by Nikki Fox
Karmen Eby came to EMU with more than a casual interest in mission work.
"I enjoy traveling – that’s part of it," said Eby, who served three missions before coming to EMU. "But a mission is also about where God is pulling your heart."
Eby, 25, an EMU senior social work and business major from Harrisonburg, was among a stream of students who took time Wednesday to explore the notion of doing mission work while in school or after their university days are over.
The occasion that drew them to the university’s Campus Greeting Center was EMU’s Mission and Service Days, an event that acquaints students with mission opportunities in the U.S. and abroad. The university holds Mission and Service Days in the fall and spring.
The program concluded Thursday at 5 p.m.
On Wednesday, more than a dozen agencies set up displays and had representatives on hand to talk with students about mission work. Each booth promoted a group that does missions locally, nationally or overseas.
Jennifer Litwiller, director of career services at EMU
Mission and Service Days serves as a visible part of EMU’s broader goal "to educate students to lead and serve in a global context," said Jennifer L. Litwiller, director of career services at EMU.
"We want to provide instruction for [students at EMU] to explore opportunities during their college years and after graduation," said Litwiller, 36, a 1995 EMU grad.
Students considering missions may choose from programs that vary in location of assignment and level of commitment. The latter option is particularly important to candidates who may still be unsure if a mission is right for them, Litwiller said.
"Some missions are for several years, some for the summer, and some even shorter," she said. "Some students choose to do a mission on their spring break."
Phillip A. Rhodes, administrator for Virginia Mennonite Ministries’ Partners in Mission program, says that his association offers prospects a choice of limited missions, usually for a year or less. Those options are often alluring enough to draw an applicant’s interest, said Rhodes, 25, of Dayton.
Virginia Mennonite Ministries is based at 901 Parkwood Drive in Harrisonburg.
"We try to find what a student is interested in, but it’s fun to hear the questions they bring to us, like how they can use their major on the mission, or if we’re involved in any kind of business," Rhodes said.
Uncertainty can deter some students from doing a mission.
One obstacle is money, though officials at EMU say that needn’t be a barrier. Students who’ve taken out college loans can often get those loans deferred, if they make arrangements ahead of time, says Michele Hensley, director of EMU’s financial assistance office.
"A lot of times, it depends on the mission board they’re going to for their mission," Hensley said. "Many can get loans deferred, and there are a lot of churches out there that can help.
"But the best thing is for a student to remove as much debt as possible beforehand."
Loan obligations have stalled more than one applicant.
"Loans are a major issue, a big concern," Eby said. "They’re what holds a lot of people back. I’ve heard people say that they want to do a mission, but they feel like they’ve got to get a job and pay off their college loans first."
Organizations that recruit students for missions find EMU’s campus to be fertile ground: the school’s focus on cross-cultural experiences grooms grads for missions.
Eojin Lee, a senior church-music major at EMU from Daejeon, South Korea, was more than a visitor to Mission and Service Day. Lee attends Stephens City Korean Community Church, which partners with Bell International School to recruit people from the U.S. to teach English in South Korea.
Lee, 22, thinks that Mission and Service Days "represents something about how EMU celebrates diversity, and how it emphasizes serving God’s people."