You won’t go to India to do something an Indian cannot do,” the Rev. Thomas John told me. He was the site coordinator for the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program in India, and I was a college senior, interviewing to serve as a YAV on the other side of the globe. I don’t think I had any delusions of single-handedly transforming the world, but I was surely guided by a desire to help, to contribute, to be of service. That was in 2002. Today I serve as site coordinator for the YAV program in Colombia, and I encounter those same motivations again and again in current applicants.
More than 1,000 young people from around the world recently gathered at the United Nations to attend the 2018 Winter Youth Assembly. Simon Doong, a Young Adult Volunteer with the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, was among the attendees.
Los jóvenes adultos voluntarios (YAVs por sus siglas en inglés) participan por un año de servicio basado en la fe, en más de 20 lugares en todo el mundo y en los Estados Unidos, de19 a 30 años de edad, acompañando a las agencias locales, trabajando para abordar las causas fundamentales de la pobreza y la reconciliación, mientras explora el significado y la motivación de su fe en una comunidad cristiana intencional con sus compañeros y mentores durante un año académico que va de agosto hasta julio.
Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) engage in a faith-based year of service in over 20 sites around the world and in the U.S. YAVs, ages 19–30, accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation while exploring the meaning and motivation of their faith in intentional Christian community with peers and mentors for one academic year, August through July.
As a mission co-worker and cultural worker in the Philippines, sometimes I am utterly exhausted. There are periods that require quite a bit of travel related to meetings and theater-based trainings for children, youth, church workers, teachers, women and others. When I am in Dumaguete, days sometimes stretch into late evenings for rehearsals with our youth theater group or with Silliman University Divinity School students preparing for the annual church workers convocation. So a few years ago, when asked by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program if my husband, Cobbie, and I would consider reopening the Philippines YAV service site, we pondered, could we? Should we? Could we say no?
I’ve always been stubborn. My mother has a picture of me as a child, with arms crossed and a determined squint that sums up most of my childhood and possibly my adult personality. Difficult, resistant, overly critical — I’ve been called many things throughout my life. Maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed Wendell Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” Throughout this piece, Berry eloquently encourages the reader to do things like: “… do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. … Ask the questions that have no answers.” Berry not only empowers us to be cantankerous, but indeed goes on to warn that if we are not, we are putting our individual and, ultimately, communal moral compass at risk. Finally, my “troublesome” traits are vindicated!
A year of service, a lifetime of deeper questions. One of the many ways the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program hopes to challenge participants is through the forming and continual reshaping of the program’s own concepts about service. This is done best when young volunteers and local people of faith walk together to encourage, challenge and inspire one another.
It has been 10 years since I stepped off an Ethiopian Airlines flight and placed my feet on Kenyan soil. However, the impact of my Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) experience has left me feeling, at times, as if it were yesterday. I don’t remember how I came to know about the YAV program. I vaguely remember filling out an application. What I do remember is my interview with Phyllis Byrd and my excitement about the possibility of serving for a year on the continent of Africa. I vividly remember her stern and stoic demeanor and my desire to convey how much I needed this experience.