Sandra Entenman (right) has served as an individual volunteer in Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
(SIOUX FALLS, SD) - Marriage and raising her family kept Sandra Entenman from becoming a professional entertainer.
"I sang my first solo when I was six," she said. "I had planned to go to Minneapolis after high school. I worked and saved my money. Then I met my future husband on a blind date."
In the late 1990s, with her two daughters grown, Entenman had a realization. "I had this window of opportunity. . . . My voice was at its mature best and I wanted to sing in Europe." While in France, she had her first personal experience with war during the 1999 NATO invasion of Kosovo. "I wish I had the poet's ability to find the words that describe how war feels here as compared to how it feels everywhere else," she remarked, "Kosovo was an hour away by air."
The devastating conflict triggered an old desire for Entenman. She wanted to help others. After she returned to the United States, she began the six-month process of application to be an Individual Volunteer in Mission (VIM) with United Methodist Committee on Relief. Her first assignment was to teach English in Armenia during four months in 2000.
The staff of the Armenia Tree Project, assigned to replanting trees lost to the heating needs of a poverty-stricken population, kept her attention for part of each day. Entenman found herself looking for another assignment to fill her afternoons when she met a group of young people in a refugee neighborhood.
"These children are excited, intelligent, and from educated families. I fell in love with these children and couldn't wait to see them each day," she said. "Whatever we were doing, they would surround me. They had not lost hope They still had dreams and their families were involved in the children's lives."
Like refugees around the world, the families Entenman knew in both Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina placed all their faith in their children. Most adults were, and continue to be, jobless. It is only through the retraining and education of their children that they feel any hope for the future of their families.
The community of Gyumri, Armenia, beckons Entenman to return. "This community tugs at me still. This is the place I want most to go back to," she said. "It's the people's attitudes. Their hospitality had not diminished. They laughed and they were good to me. They worried about me. It gave them pleasure to see me."
In Bosnia-Herzegovina during the summer of 2002, Entenman again taught English, this time to children of all ages. She also met regularly with a small group of adults determined to expand their educations.
"I have been humbled many times because of my association with UMCOR," Entenman said. "I'm not sure people in North America understand the scope of their work. UMCOR has an excellent international reputation. It is one of the top international aid organizations."
Entenman encourages financial giving to UMCOR, especially for its NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) division which does the long-term work for people in need around the globe. "Yes, people need a tent following a disaster, but they also need a job and agricultural production," she said.
She offers an encouraging word to others who might be considering VIM work. "I've never known anyone who did anything like this who didn't get hooked," she said. "I have been forever changed."
Her advice? "I just wish people knew they could do this. There is always a way. It's very do-able."
To support the ministries of UMCOR's NGO unit, please contribute to UMCOR Advance #982353, Global Peacebuilding and Reconciliation. Give through a local United Methodist church or mail contributions to: UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Call 1-800-554-8583 to make a credit card donation.
Michelle Harvey Erpenbach is communications coordinator for the Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Another version of this story titled "Anything but Ordinary" originally appeared in Dakotas Connection-Online, February 2004, Vol. 15., No. 1, and is available on the Dakotas Annual Conference web site.
Photos: 1. Sandra Entenman has served as an individual volunteer in Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Credit: A Dakotas Connection photo. 2. In Yerevan, Armenia, a boy enjoys bread with cheese, which UMCOR has given to Armenian orphanages. Credit: Wendy Whiteside/UMCOR, May 1999. 3. In Yerevan, Armenia, most of the people Sandra Entenman met lived in domigs, makeshift homes of discarded metal shipping crates. A typical domig measures 9 by 18 feet and is 12 feet tall. City residents were devastated by a 1988 earthquake which killed 35,000 people. Credit: Sandra Entenman. 4. An older woman sits in a doorway and feeds the pigeons in Kupress, north central Bosnia. Front porches are rare in the former tourist resort community. Credit: Sandra Entenman.