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Young Adult Volunteers
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!
Presbyterians do mission in partnership. For the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, now celebrating its 25th recruitment season, partners are at the heart of the program’s success.
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.
Work is an important part of vocation, but an equally important place to live out my calling is in my new home. My current home as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) is an intentional Christian community in Boston, where my fellow YAVs and I seek to build faithful relationships with each other, with our neighbors and with God. My year of service is teaching me that “being in mission” is a way of living that starts in the place where I eat, rest, reflect and pray with those closest to me.
For as long as I can remember, every prayer has begun and ended with the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross has been the catalyst for, and the conclusion to, every Mass I have ever attended. The sign of the cross is indicative of my religious and Latina identity.
Samantha Williams’ passion for her organic pancake-mix business is not driven solely by entrepreneurial ambition. It is also fueled by her sense of Christian vocation, which began to form more than a decade ago while she served as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV).
I still remember the first words from the first church leader I met as I first arrived in Manila: “You are welcome here, but you are not needed here.” Those words, spoken with wisdom and love almost two decades ago, would go on to shape the course of my time as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in the Philippines. I didn’t know it then, but that same sentiment shaped the YAV program at its inception. And it continues to guide our current vision for the program as volunteers serve around the world and witness the holy ways the Spirit is leading them.