From left Nicole Bontrager, a former MVS participant, and Sue Miller and Sarah Hiebert, 2012 MVS participants, provide special music for a Sunday evening worship service.
Photo by Gordon Miller
VALLEY — Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), a program of Mennonite Church USA, has a long history in the San Luis Valley. The local unit was formed in 1982 and received its first full-time volunteers in early 1983.
A primary goal was to help staff the Conejos County Hospital in La Jara, which, like several small rural hospitals in Colorado, was under Mennonite administration at that time.
Locals Alice Price and Andy Zaugg were part of the original support team for this initiative, and Price continues to serve as local coordinator for MVS. When the hospital was turned over to local leadership in the early 1990s, a decision was made to continue the MVS unit and its growing involvements with other local community needs.
Over the years, full-time volunteers have filled many health-care needs. Mikaila Holt recently completed a two-year placement as an RN with the Center office of the Saguache County Nursing Service. Others have provided needed staffing for domestic violence services, immigration services, homeless prevention programs and restorative justice.
“In rural areas, funds are tight, and these are small agencies,” Price says. “MVSers over the years have been able to make a difference in providing sustainable, high-quality services that wouldn’t have been affordable otherwise for many small nonprofits.”
Current full-time volunteers include Sue and Gordon Miller, beginning their third year with Outreach, food bank and maintenance services at La Puente. The Millers are on sabbatical from their long-time vocations of elementary school teaching and pastoring.
There are also three recent college graduates in this year’s group.
Asha Holsopple is serving for a second year at Tu Casa.
Two new volunteers arrived in late August. Roxanne Reimer is involved with a variety of educational services for adults and children through Immigrant Resource Center, and Anna Woelk began a two-year position as a family case manager with Adelante.
Two years ago, the local MVS program moved its volunteer residence from its long-time base in La Jara to a residence renovated for this purpose in Alamosa. Moving the MVS household to Alamosa has cut down significantly on the time and cost of daily commutes, with most volunteers now able to walk or bike to their agencies. It has also helped provide the base for a new Mennonite fellowship in Alamosa, known as Anabaptist Fellowship of Alamosa.
Grounded in the Mennonite tradition, the church drew its name, “Anabaptist,” from the stream of the Reformation from which Mennonite-related faith groups arose in Europe. “Anabaptist” refers to the practice of adult or “believers” baptism.
This stream now includes a wide and diverse variety of Mennonite expressions, some of which have remained in conservative lifestyles and plain clothing more similar to their Amish relatives and others of which are more mainstream.
The vision for this emerging church is the result of the long-term presence by Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) in the San Luis Valley and a commitment by a few Mennonites who have lived in the valley for years.
The connection is so close that, for its first year, the group met as a house church at the new MVS residence at 83 State in Alamosa.
The 20-member church now meets on Sunday afternoons at 4:30 in an upstairs room at the Alamosa Presbyterian Church.
Part of their vision is to provide a spiritual home not only for Mennonite volunteers who are passing through for a year or two, but also for other young adults coming into the community for similar purposes and who might not have a natural church base.
The congregation describes itself as “an open and welcoming community of faith, living as peace-builders in the way of Jesus Christ.”
Members include current volunteers, former Mennonite volunteers Nicole Bontrager, Luke Yoder, Joann Kaufman and Kristen Abrahams, and other long-term members of the community. Participants are about evenly divided between those who grew up in the Mennonite tradition, and others drawn to the congregation’s emphasis on simple living, peace-making and social justice.
“MVS’s work in the San Luis Valley over three decades is significant,” says Herm Weaver, conference minister for Mountain States Mennonite Conference. ” MVS is often what brings people to the Valley and some of them stay on.”
For Weaver, MVS’s history in the Valley and also the new church plant have personal significance. His daughter, Chloe Weaver, was killed while riding her bicycle near Alamosa in Fall 2010, after having just begun an MVS term. The memories are raw, he says, but he is still filled with gratitude.
“My daughter was a part of that. And I’m grateful that our conference and national church can support this and all the volunteers serving there.” But it’s the people on the ground who have made this happen. “Luke and Katie Yoder, Alice Price and Andy Zaugg, and Nicole Bontrager, for example —it’s these and other folks on the ground that deserve most of the kudos,” says Weaver.
For more information on Mennonite Voluntary Service, go to www.mennonitemission.net.
To contact the Anabaptist Fellowship, email firstname.lastname@example.org or find the church on Facebook.