The director of the Edmonton based Volunteer International Christian Service (VICS) Joyce de Gooijer, visited McLennan on October 23.
Following a potluck supper in the basement of St. John the Baptist Church, de Gooijer presented a slide show and spoke about VICS, giving a history of the organization and the work they do internationally.
The Spiritan Fathers of Canada, formerly the Holy Ghost Fathers, founded VICS in 1973, after Vatican 2, when the pope said that lay people should have an opportunity for mission. In the past 44 years, VICS has sent approximately 470 volunteers for service in 55 countries.
The Spiritans, established in 1703, have over 3,500 missionaries serving around the world: Africa, Latin America, Asia, Australia, and the Central Pacific, Europe, the United States and Canada, bringing service to people through pastoral work, education, vocational training and economic development projects.
Although VICS is a Catholic organization run from its Edmonton office, volunteers come from all over Canada and from different Christian denominations. At present, the organization has only five volunteers overseas.
“What is unique about VICS is that we don’t actively pursue projects, we get requests from developing countries for trade or professional skills. We are always filling a need: the request comes in ‘we need a carpenter, a doctor, it might be a social worker and then we see if we can find people who might be interested in volunteering for two years.”
VICS pays for the airfare, medical insurance and stipend to live on so there is no cost to people while they are volunteering their services.
Joyce de Gooijer lived in Saskatchewan until moving to Edmonton to assume the position of director of VICS. She comes from an education background having been a teacher for 25 years and a principal for approximately 8 .
Over the past thirty years, de Gooijer and her husband John have gone on three missions together Kenya, Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) and Tanzania, she in her capacity as educator and her husband, whose background is in economics brought those expertise to his volunteer service.
Durning her presentation, de Gooijer showed photographs of people both she and her fellow volunteers have come to know quite well through their two-year terms of service. She also offered some back story on a number of individuals who have achieved independence in spite of limited circumstances and daunting physical challenges due to the services provided by VICS.
Since assuming the role of Director over three years ago, de Gooijer visits the countries where VICS volunteers are stationed so she remains in touch with things on the ground and the realities of these regions.
“I think because I have volunteered before I am used to being in other countries and the good thing is that I’m always hosted so I am not going to South Sudan cold. Someone always meets me at the airport, they can tell her where to go or where not to go and it is not as daunting when you are with someone who knows the area.”
Regarding the decline in people volunteering for service through VICS, de Gooijer says that is primarily because people must volunteer for a 2-year term.
“Right now, we have only 5 volunteers and we are getting fewer all the time,” she says. “Part of the reason is the two year commitment. It is easy to find short-term people but volunteering short term is often disruptive. Long term volunteering builds relationships, takes us deeper and changes our lives.”
While the two-year commitment can seem overwhelming, even prohibitive to some, most volunteers who make that commitment go back for a second term. Roughly 75 percent of volunteers say they have to do it once more, though they often serve in a different country.
VICS mission is service to God through actions and presence, not through preaching. VICS never evangelizes.
“We don’t go to preach; we go to be with people, to live with people, to experience them in their lives and to live God through presence,” says de Gooijer. “To me that’s what service is, whether we are doing it here, in another town, with our families, that’s what service is all about.”
For more information and background on Volunteer International Christian Services, visit www.volunteerinternational.ca.