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Six of the nine current YAMEN! participants are pictured in Akron, Pa. In front, from left, are Fairchild Dube, Passionate Ncube and Erika Suhartono. In back, from left, are Ntuthuko Ndlovu, Yunarso Rosandono and Sithabile Ndlovu. MCC/MWC

Six of the nine current YAMEN! participants are pictured in Akron, Pa. In front, from left, are Fairchild Dube, Passionate Ncube and Erika Suhartono. In back, from left, are Ntuthuko Ndlovu, Yunarso Rosandono and Sithabile Ndlovu. MCC/MWC

YAMEN! opens doors to new ideas, new skills in new places

Ferne Burkhardt
May 13, 2009

STRASBOURG, France – "God created people that are different and blessed them in different places in the world ... but we need to work together to make our world a better place," says Passionate Ncube, a Zimbabwean spending a year in Indonesia. It is his first time living outside his own country.

Passionate is one of nine international young adults who are volunteering in another country for one year through YAMEN! (Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network), a joint program of Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

The program is designed for single young adults aged 18 to 30, primarily but not exclusively in the global South. Participants are committed Christians, active in and supported by their church, and ready to serve and build church-to-church relationships within the Anabaptist family.

This year, two YAMEN! participants from Zimbabwe are serving in Indonesia, and one YAMEN! participant from Indonesia is serving in Zimbabwe. The three have met to explain cultural differences and provide support for each other in hard times.

Yunarso Rosandono, from Indonesia, noted that when he arrived in Zimbabwe "things were difficult ... there were no food commodities in the shops and there were queues everywhere." A teachers' strike kept a school closed where he had been assigned to teach. Although life in Zimbabwe is getting better, it is far from stable.

"As a citizen, I can say that Zimbabwe is passing through a phase, but the problem is that we have stayed long in that phase," said Ntuthuko Ndlovu, from Zimbabwe, who is serving with YAMEN! in Indonesia.

Yunarso is teaching at Magwegwe Primary School and at the Brethren in Christ Lobengula Pre-school, and he also works as a pastoral assistant. He studied theology in Indonesia and brings to Zimbabwe his experience in pastoral work, children's ministry, teaching Sunday school and conducting seminars in the community on social issues.

Ntuthuko says his training and experience with English as a second language helps him in teaching English in a Mennonite theological college in Indonesia. His assignment does not push him "too near the edge," he says, since "to teach is in my blood."

Passionate, who says he wanted to "see the world outside of Zimbabwe ... and experience new things," helps with the daily activities of the Mennonite church in Srumpung Gunung in Central Java and works with youth in the community. He had done volunteer teaching in Zimbabwe when the country's economic and political crisis left schools without teachers. In Indonesia, he teaches English in an orphanage and in junior and pre-schools with mostly Muslim students.

"Not all Muslim people are radical. ... That has been a major view for me that changed. ... The Muslims I have met in Indonesia are very good people," says Passionate. He has also discovered that American people "are completely different than [the stereotypes] in the movies." He and Ntuthuko relate to Americans and Canadians who are in Indonesia under SALT (Serving and Learning Together), an MCC program for young adults from Canada and the U.S. They all treat each other like brothers and sisters, says Passionate. Working with SALTers has been one of his favourite experiences — along with a surprise birthday party!

Serving together in Indonesia, Zimbabweans, Indonesians, Americans and Canadians have needed to learn to live with the differences of their cultures. Communication issues are significant in a group that includes speakers of languages as diverse as Ndebele and Javanese. English and Indonesian serve as the "working languages" in the group, according to Jeanne and Dan Jantzi, MCC Indonesia representatives from Lowville, N.Y.

Ntuthuko was surprised to find people in Indonesia who have never seen a black person. "Some people ask to feel my hair," he says. An Indonesian villager who had never before met an African said, "He is like my own son."

Yunarso found many similarities between his home church and youth group and those in Zimbabwe but also a difference. In Indonesia there is no Sunday school for adults while Sunday school in Zimbabwe is for the entire congregation. He would like to bring that change back to Indonesia when he returns home.

He says he is learning about African theology, Zimbabwean culture and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. A mother and baby who were HIV positive attended a course he taught. They inspired him. Because he has gained new insights on the pandemic he would like to stay beyond his current term in Zimbabwe so he can help educate people about HIV/AIDS, perhaps in a different program since YAMEN! service is limited to one year.

One of the surprises Yunarso encountered in Zimbabwe was "Lobola," the dowry or bride price the future husband is required to pay to the bride's parents. The dowry can be as much as six or seven cows, a price too high for many young men. As a result, couples live together before marriage, he discovered.

For Passionate, food and transportation in Indonesia were the surprises. People roared around on motorbikes loaded with many things, something he describes as "scary." And Indonesian food, which sometimes includes frogs, dogs or snakes, he found "really shocking. ... I never thought I would eat [frog] in my lifetime!"

He also discovered that offering hospitality to foreigners is among the commonalities between his sending and his hosting church and that they serve the same God.

Six other young adults will also complete a one-year term of service with YAMEN! in July. Erika Suhartono, from Indonesia, is serving in Mennonite Church music programs in Recife, Brazil. Fairchild Dube, from Zimbabwe, is serving in a youth program in Tanzania, and Sithabile Ndlovu, also from Zimbabwe, is serving with Centro Menno Programs in Bolivia.

Maritza Masavi Hurtado, from Bolivia, is serving at a Christian school for the deaf in Nicaragua. Ana Julia Lopez, from Nicaragua, is serving in Mennonite Church youth programs in Mexico. Osée Tshiwape from the Democratic Republic of Congo is serving at the Korea Anabaptist Centre in South Korea.

Since 2004, young adults have come from or served in 14 countries in the YAMEN! program. Terms are for one year from August through July. Andrea Geiser coordinates the program as well as MCC's IVEP (International Volunteer Exchange Program) in the U.S.

Geiser will promote YAMEN! at the MWC assembly in Asunción, Paraguay, in July as will two YAMEN! participants, Maritza Masavi Hurtado and Sithabile Ndlovu.

For more information on YAMEN!, visit the website or write to