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Young adults called to mission service


Young Adult Volunteers serve the PC(USA) throughout the U.S. and world

By Blake A. Collins | Mission Crossroads Magazine

Kristen Sommerfeld, Megan Canfield and Sharon Boer are Little Rock YAVs serving at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center. Photo by Ann Owen

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.

The most stirring answers to the hard questions of “What is service? Who may participate? Who is service meant to benefit?” are inspired by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s commitment to Misseo Dei — God’s mission.

Presbyterians believe, and are encouraged to explore, the idea that each person is called to share in the mission of God, recognizing we do not hold autonomy over the Holy Spirit; the Spirit is within every child of God. This calls the YAV program, and the greater church, to be a connectional church.

Young Adult Volunteers throughout the United States and the world are exposed to the various branches of the PC(USA) in various settings and contexts. YAVs in Little Rock, Arkansas, live and work at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center, where some are placed at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) warehouse. YAVs create emergency kits and rearrange donated items, bringing a little order to a relief program that “out of chaos” reveals “hope.” Because PDA responds to both immediate needs, such as food, medical attention and shelter, and long-term needs, such as livelihood recovery and psychosocial assistance, YAVs in the Philippines continue to partner with PDA to assist in ongoing recovery following Typhoon Haiyan.

YAVs serving in Washington, D.C., and New York City are able to engage in the PC(USA)’s commitment to social witness policy, both on an international and national scale. Through the YAVs partnership with the Office of Public Witness and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, volunteers see how the denomination remains accountable to our God and our neighbor both locally and globally.

BeLoved Asheville, a partner of the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP), works with the YAV site in Asheville, North Carolina, where volunteers witness long-term intentional Christian community with those living on the fringes of society. Volunteers are also introduced to issues related to the root causes of poverty through fair-trade efforts, small farmer cooperatives and campaigns for fair food. Through the PHP’s efforts, young adults are encouraged to think about sustainable purchasing habits long after their YAV year.

YAVs Lauren Robinson (left) and Emma Warman during their orientation in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Emma Warman

Just as important as the desire to serve is the ability to serve. With the help of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Mission Engagement and Support team, the YAV program has been able to decrease the YAVs fundraising expectation. Also, by providing student loan repayment assistance during the service year, through the Financial Aid for Service office, the YAV program is taking much-needed steps to ensure the YAV experience is accessible for every young adult in the church.

As a result of churchwide efforts, young people are encouraged to explore the diverse paths of vocation in their own lives. Whether in traditional or nontraditional ministry, not-for-profit organizations, law, medical and for-profit fields, alums of the program are encouraged to imagine how their passions, faith and personal vocation intersect.

Sheryl and Jeff Goering served together in the Philippines in 1995–96, in a small village supported by rural fishing. Jeff, who now works as chief financial officer for the Baltimore Ravens, says, “One life lesson I learned from my experience involved a long trek up a densely forested mountain. It was quite a difficult hike, but once we reached the Filipino tribal community near the peak, we had an extremely fascinating welcome. I was taught when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, we’re able to experience the most impactful lessons.”

Sheryl, now a CPA and international tax professional, remembers, “A lesson I learned from our time in the Philippines was patience, patience, patience. We had to learn to ‘be,’ rather than to ‘do.’ It was just as important to the people welcoming us that we learn to know them as it was to support their work.” 

Jeff and Sheryl, members of First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, Maryland, say their YAV year influenced their always-evolving views about mission. This has helped inspire fresh partnerships between their local church and neighbors near and far. Currently, Emma Warman from First Presbyterian of Howard County is serving as a YAV in the Philippines. Emma reflects, “I’m being equipped with a basic understanding of how I’m implicated in unjust social arrangements, which will be necessary to consider before fully loving my neighbors as myself.”

Planting seeds of service in young people to witness the connectional nature of the church and to challenge their own traditions of service comes full circle as young people work to shape the current church based on those experiences. Through the partnerships of various departments and the denomination’s own self-reflection on responsible mission, we are working, we are repenting, we are growing.

Blake A. Collins is the associate for recruitment and relationships with the Young Adult Volunteer program and a YAV alum (Peru, 2013–14).

This article is from the Spring 2018 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe, visit

Invite a young adult you know to learn more and apply:  March 1 is the last day to apply for international service and June 1 is the application deadline for national service.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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