From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Volunteers serve, gain valuable experience

Date 21 Feb 2001 10:50:57

February 21, 2001
Beth Hawn
Mennonite Board of Missions
(219) 294-7523

February 21, 2001

Volunteers serve, gain valuable experience

Grant Rissler is serving through Mennonite Voluntary Service as a
writer and photographer.  After spending a year as intern at the
Mennonite Central Committee United Nations office in Manhattan,
he is traveling for five months by bus to 20 other MVS and
Short-Term Mission sites, gathering the stories and experiences
of other volunteers and communities.  A weekly column by Grant
can be found on the web at

AMERICUS, Ga. (CHM/MBM) – For the Mennonite volunteers here,
serving does not have to mean leaving the path to their chosen
careers.  In fact, for many, their service assignments give them
a chance to help others and enhance their appeal to future
employers as well.

“After college,” says James Hiebner, a roving computer tech
support volunteer at Habitat for Humanity International’s
headquarters, “there were some opportunities to work for some of
those big organizations, [like the] Koch Industries [in Kansas],
but looking back, I’m kind of glad [I didn’t].  It just left a
bad taste in my mouth.”

After feeling called to do two years of MVS, Hiebner now helps to
maintain the 400-computer Habitat network in Americus and
troubleshoots computer problems for individual staff.

“I wanted to do voluntary service,” Hiebner says, “because I felt
that it was a way of paying a tithe and devoting my talents to a
good cause.  I think this is a very good way to do it.”

But the position also gives him many opportunities to expand his
expertise in computers, and it periodically takes him to regional
Habitat affiliates in Atlanta, Colorado, Texas and South
Carolina, helping them set up their own network servers.

“That was a learning experience,” he says.  “I’d never set up a
[Windows] NT server before.  I’m glad to have that under my belt
and it’s definitely good stuff for my résumé.”

The experience with Habitat has also clarified his future path.
“It’s inspirational to be at a place that’s international, that’s
a worldwide organization affecting a major problem.  That and MVS
really helped me reaffirm the beliefs I stand for.  It’s helped
me solidify that I want to work for an organization like this,
pay off my college loans, and get back into voluntary service.”

Hiebner may not have to look far for an organization like
Habitat.  “When the next year comes around, it’s likely there
will be a [paid] staff position for me,” he says.

Like Hiebner and other MVSers who do more than one year of
service, Andreas Teichrib is also an integral part of his
department’s function.

“I do pretty much everything,” Teichrib says as he walks through
Habitat’s cabinet shop, where he is beginning his second year of

Before joining MVS in January 2000, Teichrib trained for three
years as a carpenter, a profession he hopes to continue when he
returns to his home in Germany at the end of 2001.  “The first
year I was learning how they build here [in the United States].
Now I know all the measurements.  In March, my boss will take a
new position and I will, most of the time, be in charge of this

Six other volunteers whom Teichrib oversees continue their tasks
of cutting, assembling, sanding and varnishing the oak cabinets
that are installed in each Habitat house in Sumter County, Ga.
He runs a hand over a finished cabinet, his pride in the result
obvious.  “An office job is nothing for me,” he says, smiling.
“I need to see a finished product.”

Jonathan Kindlein disagrees with Teichrib about office jobs, but
concurs that MVS has given him valuable experience. After serving
a year in MVS with a Habitat affiliate in Minneapolis, Kindlein
came to Americus because his current position as an architectural
draftsman fits better with his training as a civil engineer than
the basic construction he did in Minnesota.

 “It’s been good to see both [sides of the construction
process],” Kindlein says, working on a drawing for one of the 17
standard Habitat designs that he used to help build.  “Last year
in the Twin Cities, I got to see the practical side, so now it’s
nice to do something with design.”

When Kindlein returns home to Germany, his experience may also
translate directly into a job.  He is applying for a position
with a Vancouver-based company that hopes to begin using more
cost-efficient U.S. construction methods (wood framing covered
with sheet rock) in Germany, where construction has traditionally
been done with brick.

For Teichrib, Kindlein and unit-mate Rudolf Voth, their MVS
experience also provides the added skill of being fluent in
English when they return home to Germany.

“Many German companies sell machines to the States, and it is
good [that] I can speak English,” says Voth.

Mennonite Voluntary Service is a joint program of the Commission
on Home Ministries of the General Conference Mennonite Church and
Mennonite Board of Missions of the Mennonite Church.

* * *

Grant E. Rissler       PHOTOS AVAILABLE

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