Cindy (Lehman '72) Byler
Attending Salem Mennonite Church in Kidron, Ohio, while growing up, Cindy (Lehman '72) Byler knew a lot of people who had completed service terms. "A number of families in the church served, including my aunt and uncle," she says. "I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew a lot of people who had been in Mennonite Voluntary Service and taught. It seemed like it would be a good fit for me, too."
Just out of college, Byler joined then General Conference Mennonite Church's voluntary service program, serving as a fifth grade teacher in Gulfport, Miss., for three years. She then accepted a short-term overseas mission assignment to Taiwan with General Conference's Commission on Overseas Mission. She taught at a school for missionary children for two years. Returning to the states, she volunteered at Pike Lake Fellowship Camp in Meridian, Miss., where she met her husband, Daryl. "I didn't necessarily plan to do as many terms as I did, but that's just how it happened," Byler says.
And, she didn't stop there. These days, Byler and her husband are almost two years into a five-year service term with MCC in the Middle East. They are living in Amman, Jordan, and serving as MCC representatives to Jordan, Iraq, Iran and Israel/Palestine. Supporting MCC's three goals of emergency relief, community development and peacebuilding, they supervise MCC service workers, administrate programs and plans and report on all MCC projects in those four areas.
Education, however, is still a priority for Byler. "Oftentimes, what we hear and see in the media can be very different from reality," she says. "It's important for people to be aware of that. It's important to be balanced because the issues here are very complex, very complicated."
Each year, the Bylers spend six weeks traveling through the United States and Canada, educating and creating such awareness. This year's trip covered MCC's Great Lakes Region and Ontario, and included a stop at Bluffton. The Bylers participated in the institution's second annual Civic Engagement Day on April 1, and spoke about their trips to Northern Iraq and Gaza, the latter of which took place directly after Israel's 22-day war on Hamas in Gaza.
"We were able to share pictures and tell stories of all that we had seen and experienced," says Byler. "Our partners here in the Middle East continually impress upon us to simply tell the truth about what we see and experience. We try to honor that."
Share in the Bylers' Middle Eastern experiences at http://blogs.mcc.org/serviceworkers/cindydarylbyler/.