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Karen Esther Flores Vindel stands in front of the United Nations buildings where she works in New York City. (MCC/MWC Photo by Doug Hostetter)

Karen Esther Flores Vindel stands in front of the United Nations buildings where she works in New York City. (MCC/MWC Photo by Doug Hostetter)

My story: Clueless in New York

Karen Esther Flores Vindel
October 29, 2009

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y.  — I had no idea what I was getting myself into — actually, what God got me into! Had I known how challenging this internship with Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC’s) United Nations Office would be, I might not have had the courage to accept this assignment that began in August. Since the first day, I have felt unprepared, unqualified and unsure of why God has sent me here and whether I will be able to contribute something to the office and its mission.

I still have moments like that, but they are not as frequent. In many ways, God has shown me that my presence here is his purpose, that he chose me for some reason I’m still trying to understand and that he trusts me to be a part of his ministry through the work that MCC is doing at the U.N.

Doug Hostetter, the director, and Kirk Harris, program associate and my co-worker, have been helpful and considerate. Their advice and assistance have helped in the work that they have assigned to me, such as translating the MCC U.N. brochures to share with people from Latin America and helping to organize the Student Seminar, among other things.

My colleagues value my thoughts and consider my opinion when making decisions or plans for the future. They make me feel that my input is helpful, that it’s okay not to understand everything that is going on in the U.N. meetings and that it is normal initially to feel uncomfortable in them. I am a little shy, and I have trouble meeting a lot of people and shaking hands with world authorities. I struggle to understand accents, U.N. (bureaucratic) language and acronyms. My co-workers support me daily in work-related things by explaining something more than once and providing contact information, procedures or history about an organization.

My colleagues have also been helpful in personal ways. They are interested in my life and in my well-being and express their concern for me. When I arrived in NYC, I could sleep only for three or four hours a night due to the noise, so my boss bought me an herbal remedy to help me sleep. When I was not able to talk with my family, they helped me find a way. When I get lost, they are patient and help me. I have learned from them not to be too hard on myself, to be patient and to give myself grace — something that we talked about during International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) orientation but I had trouble understanding.

I am learning to trust that I am capable of doing things even if it’s my first time. I now understand that it is necessary to be informed about what’s going on in the world. Before I came, I knew little about several issues that our office is currently working on. I am also learning that keeping in contact with people who were part of my life is really important and gratifying. My colleagues are still in touch with the previous MWC interns.

I now understand that it is interesting to learn and share with other cultures, even though sometimes it is confusing, especially on religious issues. I know that I can add my Latin American or Honduran “flavor” and not be discriminated against. In the worship here, I was able to help the group sing in Spanish. (I have also learned that wearing formal clothes is not that bad; people can look good in them, including me!)

A 9-day trip with Mennonite World Conference (MWC) leaders, starting on Nov. 5 in Manitoba and traveling through parts of Saskatchewan (Nov. 8-12) and Alberta (Nov. 13-14), will give me the opportunity to learn about western Canada, another new experience.

I hope to keep contributing to this office, growing spiritually, learning and understanding things that I can share with my local and national churches and that can help me develop in my personal life. I hope to build a network of connections that will be useful in the ministry work that God has given to me.

I am honored that God chose and trusted me to be a blessing to this office, to the work that MCC and MWC do and to the people that surround me. I hope that more young people will apply for this position because it is a “once in a lifetime” experience. Sitting behind a desk can be a way to serve God.

One thing is certain: I will leave the United States a different woman than when I arrived.

Editor’s note: Karen Esther Flores Vindel from La Ceiba, Atlántida, Honduras, is an intern at Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) United Nations Office in New York City. Her position is jointly sponsored by Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and MCC through its International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) program ( ). For one year, an intern works in advocacy and communication between the U.N. and MCC staff, in relationship with non-governmental organizations and in building interfaith bridges. The first intern from Latin America, Flores Vindel writes of her early days on the job.

Since the joint Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee program for a United Nations intern was launched in 2004, four volunteer interns have served at the MCC United Nations Office in New York City. The office is currently recruiting an MWC intern from outside North America, preferably from Asia, to begin a one-year assignment in August 2010. Interns must be single, between the ages of 25 and 30 and active in a congregation of an MWC-affiliated church. Interested candidates should contact Bert Lobe of MWC (, Doug Hostetter, director of the MCC UN office ( or the MCC office in their country. Application deadline is Dec. 21, 2009.