Maranatha Service Program for 18-28 Year Olds Successful Debuts in Peru

Collegiates are inspired and empowered while serving on a freshly rebranded trip.

By Sidney Needles, Maranatha Volunteers International
Maranatha Service Program for 18-28 Year Olds Successful Debuts in Peru
The first Catalyst team, made up of 22 young adults, pose for a group photo. [Photo: Jessica Osborne]

Giving a week of their time earlier this year, 22 Gen Z students marked Maranatha Volunteers International history by participating in the first annual Catalyst mission trip. This newly rebranded program was designed to offer people ages 18-28 the opportunity to serve while experiencing an uplifting community of peers.

In the fall of 2022, Maranatha reached out to longtime volunteer Jessica Osborne and her husband, Joseph, with a proposition — would they be willing to lead a trip for young adults? The Osbornes were hooked.

“It’s the age where you’re making a ton of different decisions. You don’t know what you’re doing with your life,” Jessica explained. “It’s an age where you’re deciding if you want God to be a part of your life or not, right? It’s an age where you’re making a ton of decisions, and it can be hard. I mean, we’re 30, and we remember what that was like.”

The Osbornes worked closely with Maranatha, revamping the trip’s branding to emphasize the transformative role service can play in changing the trajectory of one’s life. “We wanted this trip to be a catalyst for their life. To be the spark. The change that led them in whatever direction they are choosing to lead,” Jessica said. Fittingly, the program’s motto became “Spark change through service.”

The primary service goal of their trip was to build a church for the Izcuchaca Seventh-day Adventist congregation near Cusco, Peru. One look at the current structure and volunteers understood how badly a new one was needed. One volunteer, Robinson Massey, described what he saw. “The current Izcuchaca worship space is kind of beat up, run down, and small. It’s not really able to house all their needs.… There are really small rooms starting to fall apart.” Massey understood how important a church building could be for any congregation. “There’s a sense of security and stability and safety that comes with having your own worship space.”

The Izcuchaca congregation understood this as well, constantly expressing friendly welcomes and endless gratitude. Volunteer Caleb Batista was touched by their outlook. “They’re extremely happy. They are grateful for the little bit of work we’ve provided just in a week, which is not much, but for them it’s a lot.… And they’re just happy to be part of the Seventh-day Adventist family.”

Volunteers also helped run a pop-up clinic for the local community. Over the course of just two days, 333 patients were provided with general checkups, dental cleanings, vision screening and glasses, or counseling. For many patients, this was their first visit to a medical professional — ever. Jessica, a registered nurse, recalled treating one such patient who suffered from undiagnosed epilepsy. “We were able to teach her about seizures and how to deal with them, which was crazy in itself to think that she … had this for a long time and just didn’t know what to do about it.”

Several volunteers pursuing degrees within health-care fields were thrilled to gain hands-on experience. “It was just so exciting for me, because I am a nursing student, and that was the first time I got to practice on real patients. I do it all the time with my classmates at school, but to play such a vital role with patients, it was very heartwarming for me,” Kayla Scott said.

In addition to providing a blessing for the Izcuchaca community, Catalyst aimed to send volunteers home with their own blessing — an uplifting network of like-minded peers. Trip leaders were initially wary of potential barriers to connection. The group was a beautifully diverse swath of members from Canada, Europe, the Caribbean Islands, and the U.S. But would the diverse age range pose a threat to common ground? After all, an 18-year-old is in a much different phase of life than a 28-year-old. Could strong community be fostered within a week?

Team leaders were overjoyed to discover the answer was a resounding “Yes!” While a church of brick took shape during the day, nightly worships saw a different kind of construction. “The first couple worships, nobody opened up or shared, and then by day three or four, people are talking and they’re wanting to share what they learned that day or the things that they saw and the things that changed their day. So that part for us is all right. That feels good. People are learning something. They’re seeing there’s change happening,” Joseph said.

Worship moments were also a place of spiritual discovery. Massey had been recruited as a music leader and was impacted by this aspect of his role. “God works through everything we do. In the mundane. In the small. In the grand. Whether it’s flying across the ocean to Peru or just sitting in a room singing songs together.”

Catalyst’s first trip indeed sparked an ember of change, an ember to fuel hearts with passion and engulf lives in fiery purpose. Scott described her desire to share this warmth. “It shows me how much of a catalyst I need to be. Being on this mission trip shows me that everywhere you go, you can truly make a change, and that’s exactly what we are doing here in Peru. So, from now on, I kind of see the world as something that is waiting on me to spark a change.”

The original version of this story was posted on page 18 of The Volunteer magazine, Issue 3 2023. Maranatha Volunteers International is an independent supporting ministry and is not operated by the corporate Seventh-day Adventist Church.

By Sidney Needles, Maranatha Volunteers International