Mission Volunteer Service Giving Service at Home—And at a Home Away from Home
Interviews with Elliott Ott and Celinne Mencias by Christie R. House*
The call to serve in mission reaches people in different ways and generates different responses. Following a calling doesn’t necessarily result in full-time missionary service. Global Ministries provides opportunities for volunteer mission experiences for people of faith who are 18 and older and have time to give to a short-term mission placement.
Opportunities for volunteers (US residents) are diverse; they include working in positions as teachers, pastors, camp directors, children and youth assistants, health care administrators and practitioners, or case managers for refugees. The length of service is a minimum of two months and can extend for up to two years or more depending on the volunteer.
Increasingly, young adults are finding windows of opportunity to devote a few months of their time to concentrated mission service. Elliott Ott, from Ohio, and Celinne Mencias, from Illinois, are two such volunteers interviewed for this story.
Elliott Ott has served as a mission volunteer through Global Ministries at two different locations—and he’s still in his 20s. He’s also answered the call to serve through his local church and conference ministry programs. You might call him a perpetual mission volunteer.
Elliott Ott. PHOTO: COURTESY ELLIOTT OTT
In 2014, he served in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the Wings of the Morning Aviation Ministry, where I first encountered him. He worked as a mechanic in the hangar. I was on my way to Kindu to visit the East Congo Episcopal Area. Then a few years later, during the first half of 2017, he volunteered as a maintenance worker with a Methodist camp ground and retreat center in France.
What Are You Doing?
Elliott said he felt a confirmation of his call to mission ministry while participating in a young adult Bible study in Toledo. The pastor of his church asked, “What are your goals, your dreams, and what are you doing to achieve those?”
Elliott confessed, “It just kind of clicked. I wasn’t really doing anything. There was something I had been thinking about for a long time, but I hadn’t taken any actions to achieve it. So, within four months, I was in the Congo working with the United Methodist Church aviation program.”
Let’s back up. Not just anyone can work with Wings of the Morning with four months’ notice. Elliott had been working in Toledo full-time as an aircraft mechanic for about three years. He grew up on a farm in Northwest Ohio and had a strong desire to work in aviation from a very young age. He said he’s attended a United Methodist Church “since I was born.”
“I went to school for aviation maintenance while I was still in high school with a vocational program. I went to college for a year and then I started working as an aircraft mechanic full-time. I had mission in the back of my head for a while, but knew that I needed some practical experience before I could start working in mission,” Elliott explained.
“So, for me, the call to ministry was quite sudden,” he continued. “But it took someone to urge me on and say, ‘Hey, you should really look into this rather than waiting. Who knows where God might be asking you to be?’ I felt like God was urging me to take a step away from the daily grind, so to speak, and to pursue a way that furthers God’s kingdom.”
Hanging Out in the Hangar
Soon Elliott found himself in Lubumbashi, working in the Wings of the Morning hangar with the Congolese maintenance staff. For the most part, they didn’t speak English, and Elliott didn’t know much French, which was ok, because they spoke in Swahili, mostly. But they all shared one language in common—“plane.”
While others might find this a frustrating situation, Elliott said he had a wonderful time with the people in the Congo. “That was one of the biggest highlights for me in my service there—the people I met,” he explained, “the energy and joy they have, the hope they have for the future, and their willingness to learn.” Before that trip, Elliott had only left the United States to go to Canada. The DR Congo was a big leap for him.
Elliott Ott (far right) poses with the “guys in the hangar,” Lubumbashi, DR Congo. Missionary pilot Gaston Ntambo is in the center, six over from the left. PHOTO: COURTESY ELLIOTT OTT
Elliott worked in the DR Congo for six months. He took time to sit down with people and listen, even when he didn’t understand all the words. And some, like missionary pilot Gaston Ntambo and his family, were fluent in English.
“I worked out at the hangar a lot, organizing, doing inventory, working on the plane,” Elliott said. “I liked to hang around with these guys just to be present and show, if nothing else, that I cared. One time, they were cooking lunch outside the hangar and they invited me to eat with them. No silverware, or plates, or anything—conditions that people in the US generally wouldn’t accept. But I sat down and ate with them in the hangar. It was nothing extravagant—but the food was great.”
Later, the workers told Gaston that Elliott was probably the first white person that had ever sat down and shared a meal with them in the hangar. When they invited him, they thought he’d decline, like everyone before him. His actions made an impression on them.
Then Elliott returned to the United States and went back to his job in Toledo. At one point, he thought he would pursue full-time missionary work, and he even applied with Global Ministries. He wanted to go back to the DR Congo. In the meantime, he began speaking at churches and sharing about the work in the DR Congo. He served to connect others in the church to volunteer ministries.
Bound for Europe
Before long, Elliott decided to take another mission volunteer assignment, this time in France, where he could work on his French-language skills. He packed up and headed to the Centre de Vacances Landersen in Sondernach, a retreat center of the Methodist Church in France.
Living in France took some adjustment. In Congo, almost everyone is Christian. In France, Christians are a minority. He found himself striving to be strong in his Christian lifestyle and walk. “It was harder in France to avoid burnout,” Elliott admitted. “I lived only 200 ft. from the center. I could work a 12-hour day and go to bed. It took more focus for me to take my days off and spend more time in Bible study—to relax and enjoy my experience there.”
The Landersen Center of the Methodist Church of France is shown above. PHOTO: ELLIOTT OTT
The center makes an impact on its community by hosting many kinds of groups and bringing them into the Christian space. Elliot explained that what he does, maintenance, doesn’t always directly relate to the people who are benefitting from the Christian services. “But for me, it is knowing that these groups can come and have a positive experience and things work for them—so my work contributes to their overall positive experience. You never know how that will impact them.”
After three months in France and a whole new set of friends, Elliott is not sure what comes next, but he’d like to return to Europe. He may start looking for work there. He’s still looking at long-term missionary service, but he recognizes that leadership and strategies have changed in the DR Congo and that “God guides your life in mysterious ways.”
“I will still continue to support my local church in mission and the ministries that I’ve been involved in. Being a missionary isn’t always about going to unfamiliar places or spending a lot of time far away from home. Mission starts at home, in your community and your home church.”
Please click here to read about Celinne Mencias.