Advocating Justice ~ Working for Peace ~ Serving Basic Human Needs ~ Maintaining the Integrity of Creation
Sharing God's love through acts of service
How can one person inspired with compassion meaningfully assist so many others that are immersed in poverty, abuse, hunger, or exclusion? This question is prevalent on the minds of many young students right after graduation. Filled with enthusiasm and high aspirations, they often lack the focus or the connections to know where to start. Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) offers these bright and energetic individuals both the opportunities and the connections to make a practical difference in the world around them. Not only youth, but adults of any age may also invest a short period of their lives in service by participating in BVS. It's rewards do not come as fame and fortune, but rather the delight of seeing notable accomplishments in the lives of those you have personally helped. The work is often difficult but the vision of success compels BVSer's to continue in spite of those difficulties. The British statesman and Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill rallied the nation of England to its finest hour of service by offering them “nothing but sweat, tears, and blood.”
Brethren Volunteer Service likewise offers young and old nothing but hard work and a mere stipend to become involved in homeless shelters, foreign peace projects, Appalachian ministry, soup kitchens, and refugee resettlement programs in various parts of the world. Training formerly began only at the Brethren Service center in New Windsor, Maryland, but applicants may now receive training in various locations. Trainees are introduced to basic concepts of service, and educated on the specific goals of the BVS program: ...advocating justice ...working for peace ...serving basic human needs ...maintaining the integrity of creation. Many Brethren still quietly regard Brethren Volunteer Service as the model that President John F. Kennedy used when designing the Peace Corp, back in the 1960's. The concept is very much the same, by utilizing the enthusiasm and idealism of youth and young adults to make a positive difference in communities around the world. Although the concept more easily lends itself to the young because they have not yet developed financial (mortgages) or personal (family) commitments, older adults may also participate in Brethren Volunteer Service.
Purpose and Goals
Brethren Volunteer Service three-week orientations are designed to prepare and strengthen volunteers for the life of service in BVS and beyond. The goals are to encourage you to:
“Thirty-five years of Brethren Volunteer Service”
This article by Becky Baile originally appeared in the December 1983 issue of MESSENGER and is reprinted with permission. References, statistical data, and dollar amounts reflect the original date of writing.
A 4-foot-10 Manchester College sophomore, Ted Chambers, delegate from Michigan to the 1948 Annual conference, watched for the signal. When moderator Calvert N. Ellis stuck up his thumb, it meant Ted was to race to an orange crate strategically situated before a microphone, and introduce a new business item not on the regular agenda.
Brethren youth developed the plan Chambers proposed from concern for youth in the event of conscription. It called for immediate action by the Church of the Brethren General Board to launch a volunteer service program with financial support from the entire denomination. Conference unanimously accepted the statement, which instituted Brethren Volunteer Service.
That was 35 years ago in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Today, more than 4,300 volunteers later, BVS is one of the foremost programs of the World Ministries Commission.
BVS began from dreams of well-known Brethren, including Dan West. He helped the youth behind the scenes in 1948 to draw up the plan for volunteer service. Initially, BVS training was three months in length. But in 1949, units were shortened to eight weeks (later increased to nine) because eager volunteers wanted to get to their projects. The first BVS orientation unit gathered at New Windsor, Md., but because of its size, it was divided into two sections. Some volunteers went to Camp Harmony, a Church of the Brethren camp, while others remained at the New Windsor Service center.
“It was an intense orientation under Dan West's leadership,” former BVSer Julia Laprade recalls. During the Camp Harmony orientation, the group discussed many social and world issues. “We visited a Quaker family whose son was in prison.”
For two years Julia lived out of a suitcase while she traveled with three other volunteers in a peace caravan project. “We visited churches in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida, talking about peace," she recalls. “It was tremendous and gave me insights into what I should do with my life.”
From 1949 to 1971 most volunteers were trained at New Windsor, where their physical and clerical work paid for about 60 percent of the training costs. In 1971, mobile training units began and units were shortened to four or five weeks. Camps, urban churches, and inner city projects were among the sites used for training. During this time, the concept of training evolved into one of orientation.
Three specific goals that BVS maintains today are advocating justice, peacemaking, and meeting basic human needs. Presently, BVSers serve in projects related to these goals in 22 states and 8 nations.
Minimum requirements to be a volunteer are 18 years of age, good physical and mental health, high school education or equivalent, and a willingness to examine and study the Christian faith. Volunteers in the United States must commit one year of service including the orientation period. Overseas volunteers serve two years after arrival at the project.
While on project, BVSers receive room, board, medical care, and a $35-a-month allowance (increased to $45 during a second year of service). BVS welcomes qualified persons eager to accept assignments commensurate with their skills.
(Note: The dollar amounts per month appearing in the previous paragraph were correct when this article was written in 1983.)