Traveling the globe has been something of a life's pursuit for Detroit Lakes residents Greg and Marcia Potvin — but for well over a decade now, their travels have included volunteer mission work in a wide variety of settings, from the Jamaica United Missions Project, also known as JUMP, organized by the Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church, to worldwide nonprofits like Bridges to Prosperity and most recently, the St. Paul-based Global Volunteers.
"We've taken 11 trips through Global Volunteers since 2007," says Marcia. The couple has served in nine different countries over those 13 years, including Ecuador, Romania, Tanzania (twice), Peru, India (twice), Cuba, Greece, Nepal and most recently, the Cook Islands.
Before that, the couple made three trips to Jamaica as part of JUMP, a missions project organized by their local congregation, Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church, which sent two to three mission groups to Jamaica per year over an 11-year period, said Greg.
They also made a couple of trips to Ecuador through Bridges to Prosperity, he added, and even made a trip to China through the Moorhead-based Concordia Language Villages.
During these trips, they have served in a variety of capacities, from teachers and tutors to daycare providers, construction workers and even gardeners.
"We've done a lot of different things," says Greg, from helping to build schools and bridges to providing child care for working women and tutoring children in the English language.
"Global Volunteers matches us with a partner entity ... but it's their (the partners' ) project," Marcia added, noting that the work they do is "really varied," and has led them to form some close friendships all over the world. "The personal relationships that we develop, both with the people we serve as well as fellow volunteers, adds incredible personal value to our lives."
The couple's appreciation of the relationships they have developed over the years is sincere. After serving in Greece in 2017, Greg and Marcia wrote: “We always enjoy the chance to get to know the people of our host country. As always, the people were curious and helpful. On one occasion, we visited the home of one of our students. The team consisted of a number of interesting and enjoyable people.”
In 2018, Greg wrote these lines to the people he served with in Tanzania: “We often tell our friends and family that one of the greatest gifts of volunteering is serving with brave, compassionate and selfless people. My life has been enriched in countless ways by my interactions with you!”
And Marcia shared after working with women who carried bricks, sand, and water for a construction project in Tanzania: “It is all about relationships!
"I was blessed to call (the local people I served with) by name and ask about their families as the day progressed," she added. "Making an effort to learn their names afforded me the opportunity to sing with them as they worked. They taught me songs, more Swahili, and an appreciation for the sisterhood we share.”
Earlier this year, before the coronavirus pandemic temporarily called a halt to their globetrotting volunteerism, the Potvins journeyed to the Cook Islands, where they provided tutoring services for the indigenous Maori population.
"It's really about the heart, and being vulnerable," said Greg. "People all over the world want the same things ... clean water, healthy children, good schools."
Whether the people they met spoke English or not, Marcia added, they were able to find a way to communicate. "It's about being a good listener."
"Watching people with so little open their lives to us in so many ways always makes me humble ... it's impossible not to be changed," said Greg. "Most people are good, and will help and take care of you."
"They want to help," Marcia added.
Working with an organization like Global Volunteers provides a more intimate volunteer experience, Greg said, "because you share space with the people there. They feed you, they provide transportation and a place to stay ... they take care of you."
Many times, the people they work with will even invite them into their homes, Marcia added. "They want to share their homes, their lives with you."
"If you allow yourself to be vulnerable, people will be good to you," Greg said. "But you have to trust them."
"The reason why Global Volunteers is so good to work with is the projects they offer are put together by the people who live there (in the host country)," Marcia added. "They know what the needs are."
Though pandemic travel restrictions have limited some of the volunteer opportunities available abroad, she said, Global Volunteers also offers some opportunities based a little closer to home, including projects in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.
When worldwide travel does begin opening up again, the Potvins plan to continue their globetrotting volunteer efforts. "We may do two programs a year if financially possible," said Greg.
"We are concerned about the continuity which we believe to be so important to these programs," Marcia said. "Many have become accustomed to our presence and our absence could cause profound deficits for the programs and the people."
"As residents of the USA, we feel a responsibility to demonstrate that we are all in this together," Greg added. "We want to dispel any misconceptions people may have and we find direct interaction to be the best practice to create understanding. We are more alike than different, and this is much more obvious through this type of connection."
For more information, or to volunteer, visit the Global Volunteers website at globalvolunteers.org or call 800-487-1074.