A year ago, Dave and Karen Mast traded their 240-square-metre home in Ephrata, Pa., for a 12-metre-long travel trailer.
Dave, 51, and Karen, 48, now travel across the eastern U.S. as volunteers for Service Opportunities for Older People (SOOP), a Mennonite Mission Network (MMN) volunteer opportunity throughout the U.S. and Canada for adults and families.
Having logged more than 5,600 kilometres, the Masts have worked at Woodcrest Retreat Center in Ephrata; the Hermitage in Three Rivers, Mich.; Unique World Gifts in Hickory, N.C.; Lakewood Christian Retreat Center in Brooksville, Fla.; and Williamsburg Christian Retreat Center in Toano, Va. They are currently serving at Camp Friedenswald in Cassopolis, Mich.
What motivated this couple to forego the comfort and structure of their traditional lifestyle for this nomadic existence? Primarily, they see their choice as a calling.
“Through prayer, conversations with spiritual mentors and recognizing a desire of our hearts, we pursued [volunteer] ministry,” Karen says.
After reading about the SOOP program online, knew they had found a perfect fit for ministry.
While full-time voluntary service is often seen as something to fill the gap years between high school and college, or college and a career, Del Hershberger, MMN Christian service director, says people are finding ways of weaving service into their lives. “We are excited to see more and more people at various points in their lives who are exploring opportunities for service outside their own communities,” he says.
Arloa Bontrager, national director of SOOP and Youth Venture, agrees. “The Masts’ decision to pursue service involved some big risks, but they embraced a sense of God’s leading and are joyfully pursuing that call,” she says.
Although volunteering takes the Masts to various retreat centres, both stress that their work is no vacation. The couple juggles a complicated schedule of service, relocation and family. Since Dave continues to work as a commercial airline pilot based out of Harrisburg (Pa.) International Airport, Karen drives him to local airports, where he catches flights to and from Harrisburg, while she continues work on the service projects.
“I do wish I could spend more time on the projects,” Dave says, acknowledging, though, that his work makes their ministry possible. His flight time keeps him away for up to five days at a time. “I try to get a schedule that allows me two to three days off between flight schedules,” he explains, since that gives him an opportunity to work on the projects.
Asked what they miss most about their former life, Karen’s response is immediate: “The children and grandchildren, definitely.”
Prior to their life on the road, the couple acted as primary caregivers for their oldest grandchild, and another grandchild was born since the couple left Ephrata. Despite the difficulties and personal sacrifices they’ve made to follow this path, they remain confident their choice was the right one. “God put this all together. He’s in charge of all the little details that make it work,” Dave says. “And when God makes it clear he’s leading us in another direction, we’ll follow.”