US-2s Find Community Wherever They Go
by Tiffany Stanley
The 53rd class of US-2 missionaries recently completed their service with the General Board of Global Ministries. These eight young adults, who were commissioned in 2005, came to New York City from June 10 through June 16, 2007, to share about their missions, to debrief about their struggles, and to commemorate their next steps.
The US-2 Program gives young adults (ages 20 to 30) the opportunity to become missionaries who serve marginalized communities within the United States. They work jointly within the United Methodist Church and community-based organizations. US-2s serve for two years, in which they gain invaluable leadership skills, a deeper faith, and a broader understanding of peace and justice issues.
For Laura Bensman, who served at the General Board of Church and Society in Washington, D.C., the term "justice" has new meaning. "I learned that doing justice is about being in significant relationship with people," she said. "It is not just going and helping them!"
Laura Ralston, who served at Saranam in Albuquerque, New Mexico, concurred, citing a deeper understanding of the relational aspect of her ministry among the homeless.
"I learned the importance of community through my placement," said Ralston. "Our program provides homeless families a chance to get out of the situation while realizing that often the true reason for homelessness is the loss of community. I have grown up in wonderful communities and have not really appreciated the support I have been given through them. This experience has taught me that without community, you truly have nothing."
One of the goals of the US-2 Program is to live, socialize, and worship within the community surrounding one’s placement site organization. For many US-2s, this involvement means adapting to cross-cultural environments that are very different from one’s own upbringing in geography, class, race, and/or religion.
Out of this class of US-2s, Breanne MacFarland went the farthest from home when she served at Nome Community Center in Nome, Alaska. While working with Nome’s native population, MacFarland learned firsthand the value of assimilating into one’s new culture.
While a US-2, MarFarland headed a peer-run court system for youth called Youth Court. She plans to stay in Nome, and continue in the courtroom, since she has just been hired as a juvenile probation officer.
MarFarland will not be the only US-2 staying within her placement community. In fact, six out of the eight US-2s plan to carry on life in their adopted cities, though many have new jobs to tackle.
Joshua Gray will continue working as the Volunteer Manager at Samaritan House in Atlanta, Georgia. Elizabeth Clark, who served at the Bethlehem Center, will remain in Jackson, Mississippi, where she been hired as the Aquatics Director of the YMCA. Laura Bensman has decided to stay and work in the Washington, D.C. area. Laura Ralston will be the new youth director of Central United Methodist Church, which is the parent church of her placement site in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Mary Gladstone will stay in her position at the Deaf Shalom Zone in Baltimore, Maryland. She will continue her ties with the General Board of Global Ministries, though this year she trades in her US-2 missionary status to become a Church and Community Worker. Similar to the US-2 program, Church and Community Workers are commissioned missionaries who serve disenfrancised populations within the United States. Church and Community Workers generally serve a project for six to ten years. Ms. Gladstone also attends Wesley Theological Seminary, and is working toward a Master of Divinity degree.
Only two of this year’s outgoing US-2 class will be relocating. I, Tiffany Stanley, who served at Warren Village in Denver, Colorado, will be heading to Harvard Divinity School in the fall to begin a Master of Divinity degree. Sarah Reynolds, who served at Ukiah United Methodist Church’s A Healing Cooperative in Ukiah, California, is taking a year to work and spend time with family before pursuing graduate school.
Wherever they go, the bond and community of the US-2 Program will follow.
"The other seven US-2s that I trained with have become my family," said Ms. MacFarland. "They were the ones who truly understood my ups and downs over the last two years. Even though we were spread all over the United States, we remained close in spirit."
Sarah Reynolds had similar thoughts. "There is nothing better than hanging out with seven other wonderful people who have made the same commitment as I have," she said. "It is such a blessing to have met my classmates and been able to walk through these two years with them. The best part of endterm was the time when we just were able to share -- our struggles, our joys, the funny moments, the sad times. They are all different and yet shared by our bond to do the work of Jesus Christ in a real and honest way."
For now, one chapter in these missionaries’ lives is closing, and there are pages to be written.
Laura Bensman summed it up well for them all, when asked what the future holds for her. "God only knows!" she jokingly said. "No, really, God only knows! Not me!"
A Wrap-Up of the 2005-2007 US-2 missionaries:
To hear the voices of US-2s Mary Gladstone, Josh Grey, and Sarah Reynolds, link to: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/work/missionaries/podcasts/
Date posted: Jul 24, 2007