The Next Generation of Peacemakers

I spent yesterday with 29 new recruits for Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS). Fifteen women and fourteen men from Alaska, California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ireland and Germany made up BVS Unit 295. Most of them are in their 20’s, one is a 60 year-old retired teacher and mother of two grown children. Some have recently graduated from high school or college. Many have prior work experience in jobs as diverse as activities coordinator, box office manager, consultant, DJ, fundraiser, grounds crew worker, hostess, insurance liaison, language therapist, loan officer, machine operator, packer, researcher, substitute teacher, teller, webmaster and women’s advocate. They will take their education, their experience and their passion to serve to projects in Africa, Europe and numerous places across the US from Washington, DC to California.

I’ve written about BVS before, but every time I have the privilege to be part of the orientation of a new BVS unit, I come away feeling profoundly joyful and optimistic about what each of these BVSers will bring to the world. So I want to share something I’ve shared before about the “soul” of BVS.

First, if you don’t know about BVS, here are a few basics:
BVS was established in 1948 (13 years before the Peace Corps) to provide opportunities for “young people to volunteer for year-long service positions that would promote peace, prevent war, and be about justice in the world.”
BVS is open to anyone who is willing to serve – you don’t have to be a member of the Church of the Brethren.
BVS volunteers range in age from 18 to . . . well, there’s no upper age limit, really. Recently, BVSers with as much as “77 years of life experience” have served.
• More than 7000 BVS volunteers have served organizations around the world in the past 63 years.
• On any given day, you could find about 100 BVSers serving in 16 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
• The BVS goals are: Advocating justice, Working for peace, Serving human needs, and Caring for creation.

This was my seventh BVS orientation. Each orientation provides a little window into the BVS experience. Here’s what I’ve glimpsed through that window:

Humility: A BVS orientation brings together a diverse group of strangers (called a “BVS Unit”) of different ages, nationalities, and religious, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, for three intense weeks of training and preparation for their BVS service assignment. They live, study and work together in dorm-like and sometimes rustic settings. They are grouped into three- or four-person teams called “food groups” who take turns planning, grocery-shopping and preparing meals throughout orientation for the entire unit, on a budget of $1 per person per meal. They have to learn to live with each other, serve each other and clean up after each other, with little privacy or personal space. Big egos need not apply.

Heart: During BVS orientation, volunteers get to know each other – fast – including each person’s personality, strengths, quirks, preferences, special gifts, vices, handy skills and annoying habits. Conflicts and tensions are inevitable (the sessions I lead are meant to help navigate those waters). There’s sometimes a bit of “drama.” Big challenges, stepping out of your comfort zone (sometimes WAY out) and personal growth are part of the deal. Callie Surber, BVS Orientation Coordinator, calls it a “beautiful mess.”

In short, BVS isn’t for sissies.

But there’s also, always, LOTS of encouragement, hugs, affirmation, games, coaching, opportunities, singing, and laughter – with an occasional surprise excursion for ice cream, swimming or other fun.

Hope: Ultimately, I think hope is what BVS is really about.

Sometimes, BVS orientation involves mundane sorts of hope – like, “I hope we aren’t having beans and potatoes for dinner again.”

Sometimes there are raw and tender hopes – such as, “I hope the people at the project where I really want to be assigned will want me/like me/think I’m good enough.”

But most of all, I think BVS is about the really HUGE kinds of hope:

Hope for the future.

Hope for our planet.

Hope for peace in the world.

Each person who comes into BVS, willing to commit himself or herself to go out into the world to advocate for justice, to work for peace, to serve human needs, to care for creation – each one of them gives me that sort of hope. It is such a privilege to meet them at these orientations and to walk a tiny bit of this journey with them.

They are the next generation of peacemakers.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: peace

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