Villanueva hopes to inspire youth in her local community
By Krystal Klaassen
Dina Villanueva, (pictured second from left) a 20-year-old student studying Criminal Justice and Sociology at Fresno Pacific University (FPU), often dreamed about traveling internationally. She also hopes to make a difference in her community. This summer these two goals came together.
Villanueva was one of the 40 young adults who participated this summer in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Summer Service Program. This short-term program is a paid internship that supports young people of color, ages 18-30, in their development of leadership skills through working with their local churches or communities.
Villanueva’s desire was clear: study MCC’s peace and justice work in Colombia to learn how communities address issues of injustice and gain a broader perspective that will help her in advocating for injustices in her community. She desired to be an inspiration to other first generation college students and their parents, many of whom are undocumented residents and never have had the opportunity to travel abroad.
Undocumented residents, who came to the United States as children, are granted permission from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to travel internationally for humanitarian and educational reasons. This policy allowed eight FPU students, including Villanueva, to travel to Colombia.
There are a number of reasons FPU is very supportive of the DACA students travelling internationally, says Dina Gonzalez-Piña, assistant dean of Multicultural Ministries at FPU who also co-pastors the Mennonite Brethren congregation, Iglesia la Gran Comision, with her husband Javier Piña. Young leaders benefit from cultural exposure. Experiencing global models of peace and justice provide a learning environment for new leadership skills to be developed. Students learn to make a connection to the injustices in their communities and work toward addressing the issues.
The trip to Colombia was Villanueva’s first time out of the country. She describes her first experience flying in plane as exhilarating. “It definitely gave me chills down my spine,” she says.
The highlight for Villanueva was Justapaz, an MCC partner in Colombia. One of the projects they do is to advocate to the Colombian government to create a law that will allow young men to participate in alternative service instead of joining the military. Villanueva could relate because she participates in a youth advocacy group that addresses social issues that affect young people in their communities.
Pastor José Rutilio Dominguez, president of the regional council for the Mennonite Brethren Church in Chocó, shared with the group the role of the Colombian churches in the midst of struggles in the country.
“The work of peace and justice is not just local, it is global,” says Gonzalez-Piña, who serves on the U.S. MCC Board and has served 12 years on the West Coast Board of Directors. “When you can broaden their exposure, you don’t cripple what they can do for God. A passion can ignite.”
Gonzalez-Piña believes that this experience will keep giving beyond this summer, both in Villanueva’s personal life and in the community.
Villanueva’s message to young people is that international experiences are empowering because it takes a person out of their comfort zone to learn and see examples of peace and justice efforts in practice around the world. She dreams about traveling abroad again. In the meantime, she is eager to share about her experience and is invigorated to continue the work of advocacy in her community through Friday Night Live, a youth-led team involved in advocating community issues. http://www.fridaynightlive.org/
The list of churches Villanueva has been invited to visit in order to share about her summer service experience continues to grow: El Refugio in Fresno, Calif., Iglesia la Gran Comision MB Church in Hanford, Calif., and a Hispanic pastors’ cluster, Compañerismo de Pastores Y Lideres de la Area de Fresno (CPLAF), that represents about 20 Hispanic congregations in the Central Valley of California.
She accepted an invitation to share her story at an FPU campus event where FPU faculty and students will be present.
“Summer Service enlarges the possibilities for you to do something great and make a difference,” says Danilo Sanchez, Summer Service national coordinator for MCC U.S. “This program allows you to discover who are, your potential and the ability you have to make a difference in your community.”
Sanchez believes the program provides meaningful summer work for young adults and is an opportunity to develop leadership gifts.
Sanchez says the program is gaining attention. “I am excited about the increase in participants and involvement of new churches,” he says. Sanchez and a network team are thinking long term about how MCC can make the program more effective and successful.
Reflecting on her experience, Villanueva says, “I didn’t expect it to affect me the way it has. It went far beyond my expectations.”
What does she say to those considering Summer Service program? “Jump on board…. Do it!” she says.
Krystal Klaassen is communications coordinator for West Coast MCC. MCC provides relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.
Photo: Dina stands with other young adults who also served in Summer Service program in the West Coast region this summer. Pictured left to right: Pam Chuwang, Dina Villanueva, Maritsa Ambriz, Roxane Sanchez, Jade Kim, and Seya Leya- group coordinator. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Adlard)