Faith-based service rooted in partnership
March 7, 2018
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 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 vision for the program as volunteers serve around the world and witness the holy ways the Spirit is leading them.
The YAV program is an ecumenical, faith-based year of service that encourages engagement in the causes of poverty and reconciliation alongside local people of faith. The YAV program invites young adults ages 19–30 to serve for one year of accompaniment in intentional Christian community in one of 16 national sites or six international sites. The program is for all Christian young adults, not exclusively Presbyterians, in the belief that we are all called and equipped by God for service in many forms. In 2018, the YAV program is celebrating the sending of its 25th class of young people into a year of transformative service. This means more than 1,700 young adults have participated in a year of service since the early ’90s, and are now experiencing a lifetime of change!
One of our partners in Asia and the Pacific, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), was instrumental in creation of the YAV program. Through the 1980s and ’90s, as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was developing new partnership-based models of mission engagement, the Philippines was a strong partner in advocating for a clear, local voice in discerning, crafting and directing God’s mission.
A Filipino bishop from the UCCP approached PC(USA) leaders with an idea. For years, he said, partnership has been understood in the classical paradigm of donor, recipient and money. But because of the vast economic disparity between our countries, the Philippines has had little to contribute to the partnership and has suffered shame as a perpetual recipient. He went on to say, “But we do have something to offer this partnership. We have faith. We have a faith informed by simple living and our struggles for justice and peace.” He added, “If you send some of your young adults to volunteer, learn and live with us for a time, we can share some of this faith and perspective of living on the margins, and in this way we can finally sit across the table of partnership with dignity, because now we all do have something equally to share.”
With that honest invitation, and with much discernment by a passionate group of leaders, volunteers and mission workers, the YAV program was conceived. It was to be rooted in partnership, and would place an early emphasis on the formation of the volunteer, developing participants as lifelong leaders.
Along with the Philippines, other long-term, strong and prophetic mission partners were identified. In its second year, the YAV program expanded to include both U.S. and international sites, and has since offered service opportunities in 45 sites in 19 countries.
Other elements have remained central in the YAV program. From the beginning, YAVs were sent out in groups, recognizing that the work of loving challenge and personal development happens best in community. Core values of simple living and cross-cultural mission were present from the start. The YAV experience has always had a strong leaning to examine the root causes of injustice and inequality in our world, while finding the ways that God continues to create more just, whole and loving systems of culture, economics and governance.
The YAV program also continues to find new ways that God is calling and equipping people to live abundant, transformative lives. While it has historically served white, dominant-culture candidates, today’s YAV program is increasingly focused on serving candidates of color, as well as those from non-privileged backgrounds, inviting them into unique processes of vocational discernment and development of their leadership potential. The YAV program continues to stress a global vision for God’s mission, not bound by national borders, inviting all persons to consider all the ways we can be involved in God’s mission, in relationship with partners across the globe and across the street.
The YAV program has a long track record of inviting young adults into a yearlong season of asking deep questions, exploring their calling and living into their personal faith story. The YAV staff and site coordinators continue this tradition of holy partnership, mutual learning and investment in the formation of cross-cultural mission leaders that our church and world so urgently need.
Rev. Richard Williams, Director, Young Adult Volunteer Program, and YAV Alum (Philippines, 1999–2000 and Nashville, 2000–01)
Today’s Focus: Young Adult Volunteer program
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
God, thank you for the new things you are doing in new generations. May the church be open to receiving fresh faith and fresh ideas. Amen.