Mentoring couple take on ministry to build relationships at home, abroad
For Duane and Mary Shenk, starting Cottage Ministries was a natural culmination of the way they have lived during their almost 27 years of marriage.
“We have only had two years that we did not have either a young adult, college student and foster children living with us,” Mary Shenk said. “At one point we were houseparents at the Milton Hershey School and had 10 boys in our home along with our two children. Having an open home and helping students and young adults to grow to be their best has always been a passion of ours.”
Cottage Ministries is a multi-faceted ministry that encompasses three branches — The Cottages, Ventures and, the most recent, Creekside Retreats.
Headquartered in Williamsport, the vision of the ministry is “to engage, equip and empower young adults to be Godly leaders in every aspect of life,” according to Shenk.
The Cottages program is operated from their home in the city, where they have several young men who live with them in addition to one young woman who rents an apartment on the property.
“These guys are all working and busy young adults, but they desire to grow and be stretched to be the best they can be,” she said. She added that this is accomplished through role modeling and living life together. They have discussions about life, faith, struggles, finances and relationships.
“We are very much like family and have many shared experiences, both fun and serious,” she added.
Shenk shared how one time about 25 young people gathered at their home for a game night. She said some of the group were outside around a campfire while others played monopoly. One young man received news that his mother was ill.
“The monopoly game stopped completely and the group gathered to pray for the young man. It’s not what you’d expect 20-year-olds to do,” she said. “They support each other.”
It’s not unusual for the Shenk’s home to be full of young adults, usually ranging in age from 16 to 25, just hanging out, having dinner, playing games or holding Bible studies, she said.
“We also very intentionally mentor about 12 to 14 different young adults. As we work over the long haul with each of them, it’s quite rewarding to see them each growing and thriving in their own unique ways,” she said.
Ventures is the mission trip side of Cottage Ministries.
The group recently returned from the Dominican Republic and in May they will be heading to Utah and Arizona on a leadership ministry trip. They plan to spend several days in Zion National Park combining hiking, leadership development and faith building. After that they move on to Flagstaff to partner with El Nathan Camp for work projects and also to serve the Native American community.
“We really value the opportunity to step away from the pressures of daily life and see life from a different perspective and culture with a group of young adults,” she said.
“Having been on many missions trips ourselves, we understand it builds our faith and is a prime time to grow relationships, develop them as leaders and give them the opportunity to serve others. How they influence their world when they come back is really shaped by the things learned and experienced while on the trip,” she added.
Cottage Ministries newest venture is Creekside Retreats. Located at the former Camp Kiwanis at Salladasburg, this branch of the ministry will be kicking off this summer when the Shenks host youth groups for weeklong domestic field trips. These groups would consist of youth in the 16 to 17-year-old range.
“Each week would include faith building, leadership development, small group time and many opportunities to serve and engage our community through things like day programs for children and movie nights on the lawn for the community. We have some other things in the works to partner with local organizations,” she said.
“We’re teaching them (the youth) to see beyond themselves,” she added.
Shenk, who grew up in the Wilkes-Barre area, and her husband, who is originally from the Lancaster area, along with their two children, Jeremy and Derek, through the years had traveled to the Trout Run area for camping. She said they kept driving by Camp Susque, which is where Duane served on the board from 2001 until be became the camp’s facilities manager in 2010.
“We truly believe that the good news of Jesus is our hope. In a world that is often full of chaos and problems, we want to be bearers of that hope,” she said.
Shenk added that it has been “incredibly encouraging to us, the amount of millennials that really do want to make a lasting difference in their sphere of influence and are looking for the support, encouragement and help in doing so. That’s what we’re here for.”