During the summer of 1978, I was contacted by Don Durbaugh to see if I was interested in working as a researcher for the Brethren Encyclopedia project. I declined as I had already applied for the fall unit of BVS. Several days later, Dr. Durnbaugh called back to say the research position was now a BVS placement, so I knew where I would be working and living before I ever left home for orientation; Bethany Theological Seminary in Oak Brook, Illinois. My mom told me to be sure to not end up marrying a minister, but I apparently am not a good listener. My husband, Bruce, was a first year seminary student that fall. We were married in September, 1979, and he served three congregations prior to his retirement four years ago. I often joke that he was my real BVS project.

Cathy Simmons Huffman, Unit 136, Brethren Encyclopedia (1978-1979)

We met at Summer Orientation (Unit #329) at Camp Inspiration Hills in Burbank, Ohio. Right off the bat, we felt an instant connection over our similar personalities, insecurities, and life experiences. We are both extroverts, so spending a lot of time alone during the early phases of the pandemic was quite difficult. Reconnecting with others was like a cool glass of water after a long drought. We tend to say our connection is like the song “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake, because whenever we talk, it truly feels like we are staring back at a reflection of ourselves. As many BVS Alumni know, orientation can be an intense few weeks and it was totally necessary for us to be there for each other during that time. Being able to connect the way we were able to at orientation was something we will likely value forever.

Some of our best memories of those three weeks include a karaoke night we helped organize, goofing off during the camp work day (sorry, Alan), and razzing one another on our lackluster meals which we were tasked to prepare for the unit. In all seriousness, we also really enjoyed all the late nights that our unit spent diving into our lives, when we could cry, and then have an impromptu dance party directly after. And, it’s difficult to call this a *favorite* memory for either of us, but the traumatic food runs were a great bonding experience.

Following orientation, we have remained just as close. We have shared many phone/video calls, texts, and plenty of memes. Life has gone on for both of us, and it’s been so comforting and necessary to have one another as support through the challenges of our volunteer years. We were also blessed to spend more time together in person for our mid-year retreat before Malachi headed off to Japan to work with the World Friendship Center for two years (he was previously at an interim project with Colorado’s La Puente between orientation and mid-year retreat). Erika has been working hard since before orientation to coordinate and plan the Church of the Brethren National Youth Conference, and at the time we are writing this is putting the final pieces together. We are both so excited for the work the other is doing and look forward to seeing one another again (hopefully sooner rather than later). A fourteen hour time difference could never keep us apart, and honestly the difference is part of the fun—it still feels like we get a glimpse of each other every time we look in the mirror.

Erika Clary, Unit 329, NYC Coordinator (2021-present) and Malachi Nelson, Unit 329, La Puente Home and World Friendship Center (2021-present)

I was sent by BVS to work with the United Farm Workers at their headquarters in California in March of 1972. The single volunteers at the time pooled their food allowances and took turns preparing meals for the group. Because of my schedule, I was assigned to work with Ruben Montoya to prepare Tuesday morning breakfast. We worked together at other jobs over the next two years.

We were married in March of 1974 and celebrated 45 years of marriage two months before his death in May of 2019.

Claire Montoya, Unit 96, National Farm Workers Service (1972-1974)

On June 19, 2022, Renee (Baad) Davis and I will celebrate our 40th wedding Anniversary. We met during our BVS Unit #142 Orientation in New Windsor, MD in October of 1979. Renee was supported to enter BVS by former DE, Pastor, and Church of the Brethren Moderator, Emily Mumma, who has continued to be a mentor and friend over the years. I registered as a C.O. in the last few months of the Vietnam War. A couple of months after serving on staff at Camp Bethel, and finishing my studies at Bridgewater College, I joined BVS to serve in alternative service.

Renee’s first project was in Elgin, Illinois, working on a new project sponsored by the Naperville Church of the Brethren, called Brethren Lifeline. The project attempted to assist Brethren moving away from local Church of the Brethren congregations by keeping them in touch with the denomination through mailings. If there was a congregation nearby, Renee would make sure that the connection was made. I assisted the Washington City Church of the Brethren in starting a nutrition program for the homeless, a project that continued for over 35 years.

During our orientation, Renee and I became good friends, often sitting together on the BVS bus, playing ping pong, and working together. Our romance really began while on retreat at Stronghold Castle. During a week in which her project was quiet, Renee travelled to Washington, DC to volunteer and support the nutrition program that was rapidly growing. My supervisor for the 2-1/2 years that I served that project, was Duane Ramsey, who at that time, was serving as Moderator Elect, and the Moderator of the Church of the Brethren. His frequent trips to Elgin for meetings enabled us both to send care packages back and forth from Elgin to DC. We jokingly called him – RPS (Ramsey Postal Service)!

Ron Hanft, then Director of the Washington Office became aware of our friendship and made Renee aware that the BVS position at the Washington Office was coming vacant for her 2nd year of service. Renee moved from the BVS House in Elgin to the Brethren House in Washington, DC in January of 1981. We became engaged on April 15th of the same year and married in Renee’s home congregation of Miami First, in June of 1982. Then BVS Secretary Evie Toppel was part of our wedding party, as was BVSers Anna Lee Hisey Pierson, and Tracy Wiser. Sandra Pride, another staff person from the Elgin Offices, cut our cake for us. Emily Mumma read scripture and we were married by both my dad, Bill Faw, and Renee’s cousin, Bill Bosler.

I am now a retired Miami-Dade County Public School Teacher. We have 2 grown children, Jeremy and Christina, and 3 beautiful grandchildren, Koa, Kelsie and Luka. This summer, Renee will serve as delegate from Miami First Church of the Brethren and I will serve as Standing Committee delegate from the Atlantic Southeast District at the Annual Conference in Omaha, Nebraska.

Renee and I both appreciated serving the church on our BVS projects, and will continue to appreciate serving the church in various ways throughout our lives. We look forward to connecting with BVS again this summer in Omaha, and continue to express what most BVSers learn – we received much more than we gave. A wonderful and blessed bonus for us – we met our life-long partner along the way!

Rick Davis, Unit 142, Washington City CoB Day Care (1979-1982)

My husband, Hudson Sadd and I were in unit 32 in 1956. We were in different halves of the unit and didn’t meet until we were both sent to the Lybrook Navajo Mission for our year of service. After my year at Lybrook, I returned to my hometown, Hartville, Ohio. Hudson moved on to another project at a retirement community. We stayed in communication and were married August 8, 1958. 63 years later Hudson passed on December 11, 2021. We had a good 63 years together.

Bonnie Sadd, Unit 32, Lybrook Community Ministries (1956-1957)

I served in BVS in Elgin, IL from 2013-2014, working in the Youth and Young Adult office, as one of three Coordinators of the 2014 National Youth Conference. My now-wife Katie (Cummings) Heishman coordinated Workcamps (now FaithX) in 2013 and served as another one of the NYC Coordinators with me in 2014 for her second year of BVS.

Katie is easy to like. She is full of life and energy and joy! I was quickly impressed with her gifts for ministry and administration. And we bonded quickly over our love of gardening, good food, and intentional community living. But our working styles are pretty different and it took some intentional conversations to learn how to work effectively together. The effort we put into working together well was so worth it, both because it helped us plan an incredible National Youth Conference, but also because it led to a life together!

We lived in Elgin during one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record. We were so relieved when the snow finally began to melt. As spring began to blossom and turn into summer, Katie and I began to take long walks through the streets and parks of Elgin. Something special happened on these long walks and it didn’t take long before we realized we wanted to keep walking side by side for the rest of our lives.

After BVS, we went to Bethany Theological Seminary together, began dating, and got married in December of 2015. Today we have a vibrant and joyful two year-old girl named Phoebe and a little boy due to arrive in early-April.

We are both so grateful for the life-changing experiences we had in BVS, not just because we met the love of our life, but because BVS modeled and taught us how to live the kind of simple and radical life we want to live as followers of Jesus.

Tim Heishman, Unit 301, Youth and Young Adult Ministries (2013-2014)

I was in a conversation with a woman in our community who has known me most of my life. She is a retired teacher, as am I. She knew I had been in Poland after college but didn’t know it was through BVS. She asked me if I could say one thing about that experience that influenced me. Without thinking, I said it changed my whole life. On reflection, I realize that it’s the best answer I could have given. It influenced my decision about graduate school and helped focus my career, but more importantly it influenced my way of dealing with all the people I have encountered since then, students, friends, colleagues, people with whom I disagree, and the list goes on. It’s impossible to say how many times things that I learned through my experience in BVS have popped into my mind as I have lived my life. I am so thankful I took that step after Manchester to enter BVS.

Larry Klingler, Unit 93, Brethren Agricultural Exchange Program (1971-1973)

I can say with all honesty that BVS literally changed my life. My project was at Woodland Altars Outdoor Education Center in the Southern Ohio District where I served mainly as Office Manager. And I must’ve made a decent impression on the Center’s Director because he asked me to stay on as a salaried employee after my year was up – which I did, and I stayed for another 7 years. The things I learned and the friendships I made at Woodland Altars have lasted me right into my life now – and that was back in 1980!

On another note entirely, I recall a cop stopping the BVS bus for speeding during my Orientation in southern Illinois. Not to name names, but that was Bev Weaver driving. (She did not get a ticket, by the way, and to this day, some of us might still call her out for the way she batted her eyes at the officer. Oh, har!)

Diane Bellomo, Unit 145, Woodland Altars (1980-1981)

BVS gave me incredible experiences connecting with multiple communities of people in different settings, all working to make their world better for those who lived there.

First, I participated in 2 orientations on the South Side of Chicago which taught me about the wide variety of communities that makes up the US. We worshipped and lived in African American communities, which was an education to me, having grown up in the suburbs.

Next, I spent 2 years at Church and Peace in Germany, which was seeking to be faithful Christians by encouraging Christian communities for nonviolence and advocating against the arms race. This gave me to opportunity to visit Christian communities in Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

Finally, I worked in Iowa at a community action office assisting families to overcome poverty, and which started an advocacy program against domestic violence and sexual assault. This taught me to respect and be supportive of all persons and seek to empower them to be their best selves. This also gave me job skills to begin working in human services following BVS. I have always been grateful for the variety of experiences and people I met through BVS. I don’t think I would have had these experiences had I not been a volunteer through Brethren Volunteer Service. It taught me to see the world through others’ eyes and be inspired by their efforts to improve their lives and the lives of others in their community.

Myrna Frantz, Unit 159, Church and Peace Office (1983-1985)

I loved my time serving in Brethren Volunteer Service March 2014-January 2016 in The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. During my time volunteering at L’Arche Kilkenny and incredABLE (formerly Enable NI), I really grew as a person. I learned how to take care of others, learned about two different, yet similar cultures, and got to experience what it is like to live the village life for the first time. In my first year of BVS, I enjoyed all the traveling around The Republic of Ireland at L’Arche Kilkenny and how the community there cared for me and helped me when I needed support the most.

My second year of BVS ended up being a blessing in disguise. I loved working at incredABLE and it ended up being the best job and one of the best years of my life. My current job is a close second. I wished I could have stayed on longer. The director of incredABLE was the best boss I ever had. My current director at my current job is a close second as she also is emphatic and understanding when it comes to work with people from various backgrounds. I loved the opportunities to learn more about the cultural differences between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I enjoyed learning more Protestantism and Catholicism at both jobs. I enjoyed learning the deep history of the island of Ireland and sometimes get more homesick for it than I do for the US.

My time spent on these two BVS projects gave me a buffer chance to grow up more, become more responsible, and learn about how to care for others and to care for myself. I really needed that intentional poverty lifestyle to learn how to be responsible financially especially. I learned about teamwork, how to help others when they need it, and to ask for help when I need it. I learned how to be patient and care for others who sometimes could not communicate their wants and needs effectively. These skills helped me tremendously with my current job teaching kindergarten at a private English academy in South Korea.

I would highly recommend BVS to anyone who is ready for adventure, but needs a bit more time to grow up after studying at university.

Rosemary Sorg, Unit 304, L’Arche Kilkenny and incredABLE (2014-2016)

It’s been a while. 50 years to be exact. The flow of life was different back then. Practically everyone attended a church of their choice, and life was less rushed. The country was part way through the Vietnam War, and the BVS units were large due to conscription. We were given $15.00 a month stipend, which was plenty to see us through the month. Not being a member of the Brethren denomination I was not familiar with BVS, but Helen Herr came to my church to talk about Church World Service, and she mentioned being in one of the first BVS units. I went home feeling called, so I applied and took a year’s unpaid leave of absence from my job. After 5 weeks of training in New Windsor, MD, I landed on a project in the inner city of Chicago.

My BVS experience was life changing for me, but I have often wondered how my decision to join BVS impacted the lives of those I journeyed with throughout that year. Some of that impact was evident immediately as I watched a child’s face break into a smile, helped a teen pitch a tent under the stars they had never seen because the lights of the city blocked them, or shared the joy of the mom who just finished sewing her first item of clothing. But most of the impact will remain unknown, as it should be.

There are endless memorable moments, but one that stands out is the summertime preschool we started for the kids scheduled to begin school in the Fall. We asked the local Kindergarten teacher what we could teach the children that would be most helpful to her. (The community was culturally diverse and at least half of the kids spoke only Spanish and we spoke only English). She advised us to teach them their ABC’s, numbers, colors, and shapes. It sounds like such a simple thing, but starting school without knowing those basics, with a language barrier besides, puts them behind from the get-go. The children learned those things, and more, very quickly. Helping them was such a joy. The teacher was grateful.

You see, being a part of BVS isn’t just about what it can do for you. It’s all about what you can offer to others while showing acceptance, grace, love, and compassion. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Susan Frost, Unit 90, Douglas Park Church of the Brethren (1971)

I have 5 years of BVS and 4 different projects that helped form who I am today and the life I have lived.

My first project I was 18, just out of high school and went to the Douglas Park Church on the west side of Chicago. (My guess is that Susan Frost and I were in the same apartment one year after the other). It was an eye opening and life changing time for me to get to know the families and especially the kids in the neighborhood.

40 years later I found my “favorite family” on FB and drove out to meet up with 4 of the 5 Stafford children. Soon afterwards, I found myself heading to Northern Ireland to work in a youth club in Ardoyne, a Catholic neighborhood of West Belfast. I stayed about 15 months and loved my time with the neighborhood youth running discos, driving the van, arranging various cooking or craft classes and playing pool.

I then went to Glebe House, a small farm in Co Down where children from Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods were brought to the countryside for adventures together. We had volunteers from England, the US, France, Germany, and India. I learned how to milk goats along with many other practical skills.

When I returned to the states at the end of 79, I was soon called to Elgin to work a year as an assistant to the Orientation Director as well as the Recruitment Director. A wonderful opportunity to get a bit more behind the scenes of the Church of the Brethren and BVS to welcome and help orient new volunteers. Driving the big bus, preparing training sessions and practice projects, as well as helping folks when choosing their projects were all extremely rewarding and valuable life lessons for me.

Twenty years later I got to be a BVS Project Director as the Recruiter for Innisfree Village, a life sharing community with adults with disabilities at the foothills of Shenandoah National Forest. I still enjoy inspiring and being inspired by folks who choose a life of service, peace and simplicity.

My parents, Bill and Jeanne Chappell were BVSers for 13 years and my sister Deborah Chappell Kristensen for 2 years in Germany. It’s a family thing.

Nancy Chappell, Unit 99, Douglas Park Church of the Brethren (1972-1974), European Program (1977-1979), BVS Offices (1980)

It was an honor & privilege to serve with retired teachers Tom & Ruth Nelson in Palestine from 1978-1980. They treated me like a member of their family and allowed me to stay at their apartment in Jerusalem on weekends when I was on leave from my assignment in Jericho. They helped me to strengthen my pacifist leanings. Ruth was prodded by the Holy Spirit when we all witnessed a Palestinian young man being abused by an Israeli officer while we were on our way to church on a Sunday morning. While Tom and I sheepishly stayed in the car, Ruth marched over to the officer and told him that if she were his mother, she would be ashamed of him; he had grabbed the hair of the young man and forcefully knocked his forehead against a tall stone wall when the man tried to address the officer. The officer countered that Ruth did not know what he may have done. She felt that such violence was not justifiable, thus, she rose to defend an oppressed person. Perhaps, her witness touched the conscience of the officer.

Scott Lecrone, Unit 133, Jericho (1978-1980)

The love story began in 1961. My brother, from CA, came into BVS as alternative service during the Vietnam era. He fell in love immediately with a fellow-trainee from PA. Not sure where she got placed, but he was in Germany. Then he fell for a Swiss woman, but that didn’t last either because she changed her stripes when they visited her family in the homeland. After his two-year service and completing his BA degree, he returned to Europe where he worked as an assistant director of Brethren Service in Berlin, fell in love with the secretary to the director in Geneva, and she was THE one.

Spending a year in Strasbourg, France, with Brethren Colleges Abroad, I came to Berlin where I served as the only representative of either of their families to be at the wedding held in the Rathaus in West Berlin. They are still together after 55 years and have remained abroad all these years. Some love endures.

Judy Stout, Unit 319, EYN Secondary School (2018-2020)