Maranatha Volunteers International encompasses much more than laying block.
Published on: 07-08-2022
Maranatha Volunteers International is one of several supporting ministries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church whose outreach and service Adventist Review has occasionally covered through the years. Adventist Review was instrumental in sharing the story about Maranatha’s One Day Church initiative; the water-well digging work of the ministry across Africa; and Maranatha’s 50th anniversary in 2019. In early July 2022, news correspondent Marcos Paseggi participated as a volunteer at the Kajiado Adventist School construction project in Kenya, which also included several other initiatives across the country. This series shares the experiences of volunteers, community members, church members, and leaders during that period.—Enno Müller, News Editor/Communication Director
The pleasant, sun-drenched African morning in early July has already broken, as a cool breeze soon dissipates the few rainless clouds. Birds of various sizes and colors sing their praises from the ubiquitous acacia trees. A group of sleepy, jet-lagged Adventist volunteers walks across a rural hotel complex near Kajiado, Kenya, looking for breakfast, worship, and instructions.
These Maranatha volunteers are planning to spend the next few days supporting the development plans of Kajiado Adventist School and Rescue Center, about 15 minutes’ drive south of the lodge. They also plan to offer a free health clinic, train Adventist teachers, and connect with staff and students.
For years now, the day and boarding school educational facilities at Kajiado have embraced young Maasai girls who are escaping early marriage, female genital mutilation, rape, and all kinds of abuse. At Kajiado Adventist School, hundreds of girls get a chance to receive an education, learn about a personal God, and release their potential — in the words of the school motto, they get “A New Lease to Fly.”
On this Maranatha trip, volunteers include Adventist medical professionals, young adults, retired church workers, and a few families. They will help lay block to finish the walls of two new buildings. One will include several primary school classrooms to replace the old buildings, now being demolished. The second one is part of the new vocational block, which will house training in various life skills, including cooking, sewing, and tailoring.
Construction superintendent Peter Thomas is a veteran of at least 20 Maranatha projects around the world. He makes sure the building project goes according to plan. It’s a challenging enterprise, as not every volunteer is on the same level of expertise. Thomas scans the pool of willing volunteers and starts pairing them and assigning different tasks according to age, experience, and overall willingness.
“So far it’s looking good,” he says, pointing at one of the back walls already rising four feet from the ground. “But I want you to make sure it stays that way.”
A Spiritual Enterprise
Maranatha Volunteers International, a lay-led supporting ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, can be defined in more than one way. Since 1969, the ministry has helped build churches, schools, and in later years, dig water wells in almost 90 countries. Perhaps no single definition can encompass the whole reach and impact of the ministry, but to Maranatha leaders, something is clear: beyond bricks and mortar, beams and roofing, the ministry is a people-building and spiritual enterprise.
“Time after time we hear the same thing: volunteering with Maranatha reignites your spiritual life,” one of the leaders reminds the latest batch of participants in Kenya. “Every time you focus on the needs of others, your life as a whole is refreshed and renewed.”
Among Maranatha’s faith-developing programs is Ultimate Workout, an annual project that takes scores of teens from North America to another country to help build a school or a church. Some teens also lead in activities for children and the community.
With no parents and just a few adult coordinators around, the teens participating in an Ultimate Workout initiative usually thrive and start unleashing potential that might have been hidden or neglected in their home churches. Through the years, many teens have been baptized as a result.
The program has become so successful that, for 2022, Maranatha was forced to cap participation at 150, and the ministry has a waiting list of more than 20 teens. “Ultimate Workout has become extremely popular,” Maranatha leaders say. “It is a place where teens can learn to serve others and find purpose and belonging.”
The Social Component
The participants’ spiritual and life-skills experience is not the only one to benefit, however. Their social life usually receives a significant boost too.
For volunteers in Kajiado, days are packed, and the schedule is tight. After the first full day of work, it is clear to Thomas that there’s a need to move as fast as possible.
“As soon as we arrive at the site, we will gather in one room to organize before we split,” Thomas says. But as the buses with the eager volunteers arrive in Kajiado, they realize a change of plans is in order. More than two dozen local students, dressed in their Pathfinder regalia, are ready to provide guests with a special welcome ceremony. Thomas sighs as he instantly understands that he has no choice but to delay the beginning of the workday. Volunteers then walk to the side of the dusty field and stand in their assigned place to watch the display.
A flag-raising ceremony follows. It includes formal marching and a couple of songs. “Oh, we are Pathfinders strong; the servants of God are we,” club members sing. Their song reminds the rest of us that for all their differences, Adventists make up a family that knows no borders.
When the formation breaks, it is then time to start laying block again, but not before Maranatha volunteers have some time to mingle and greet some of the students, asking their names, sometimes for a second or third time.
During the workday, the mingling repeats at every break. Those are precious minutes for bonding, sharing, or just listening to the boarding girls’ experiences and dreams. “I want to be an accountant,” one girl says. “When I finish [secondary] school, I want to become a doctor,” another one states, saying she loves her chemistry and physics classes above the rest. There is a future interior designer in the group, a journalist, and several nurses. Just listening to their conviction and drive, it is not difficult to envision that their dreams have a high chance of coming true.
Bathed in Prayer
No matter whether on the construction site, anywhere else on the campus, or at the hotel complex, Maranatha volunteers’ activities are often preceded and ended with fervent prayer. You can see them praying with each other in pairs, praying with students, or leading others to pray for students and church leaders. They pray that one of the wells they are currently digging in a small village up in the hills will produce abundant water. They pray for the present and the future of the girls rescued. They pray for one of the volunteers, who seems to be having some indisposition.
Prayer and reflection on Bible gems are also significant components of the volunteers’ experience after breakfast and in end-of-the-day devotionals.
“The generous soul will be made rich,” volunteers are reminded, “and he who waters will also be watered himself” (Proverbs 11:25, NKJV).
This morning in question, the one of the rainless clouds, cool breeze, and bird songs, is not an exception. A volunteer prays before two buses transport everyone to the construction site.
“Help us remember, Lord,” he says, “that we are not just laying brick. We are building buildings that will last till Jesus comes.”