By Courtney Olsen
Last month, 80 young adults from around the country gathered at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago for a week of relationship building, learning, and preparation. These developing leaders are participating in Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM), an international service program through the ELCA.
YAGM invites young adults between the ages of 21 and 29 to serve for one year in one of its 11 country programs in 14 countries: Argentina/Uruguay, Mexico, Australia, Cambodia, Southern Africa, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, Jerusalem/West Bank, Central Europe, and the United Kingdom.
YAGM uses an “accompaniment model,” wherein volunteers work alongside people from the communities they live in; they use methodologies of ministry that encourage “mutuality, interdependence, and solidarity.” Within this model, volunteers work in a variety of contexts, including addiction recovery; children and youth; congregational ministry; education, health and development; homelessness; human rights; and women’s issues.
This year’s YAGMs arrived in country on August 22 and 23 and settled in for a few weeks of country orientation before departing for their specific placements. Country orientation provides a space for new YAGMs to learn more about their host countries’ language, customs, and culture, as well as deepen their relationships with each other before going to their individual placements.
OF THE 80 YAGMs commissioned in August, five come from churches and faith communities connected with the Minneapolis Area Synod:
- Fiona Carson, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, is serving in Southern Africa;
- Leah Moat, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Hopkins, is serving in Mexico;
- Phifer Nicholson, St. Barnabas Lutheran Church, Plymouth, is serving in Jersusalem/West Bank;
- Owen Schleif, Pax Christi Catholic Community, Eden Prairie, is serving in Mexico; and
- Karissa Vetsch, St. Peder’s Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, is serving in Australia.
Nicholson, who is living in Ramallah, a city north of Jerusalem in the West Bank, is most excited to build relationships with the Palestinian Lutheran community there. “They are a tremendous group of people whose story is not often told or experienced,” he explains. “I know that I will grow much deeper in my faith and, really, as a human through the relationships I will build here.” While in Ramallah, Nicholson is serving as an English teaching assistant in the Evangelical School of Hope, as well as working with a community-based Meals on Wheels program.
“YAGM uses an ‘accompaniment model,’ wherein volunteers work alongside people from the communities they live in.”
The Rev. Amber Ingalsbe, associate pastor at St. Barnabas Lutheran in Plymouth, served as a YAGM in the United Kingdom from 2003 to 2005. During her two years of service, she worked for a small Methodist congregation in East London. Her position allowed her to take on many roles within the church including preaching, leading Sunday school, playing the organ for services, and cooking for senior fellowship luncheons.
Ingalsbe’s year with YAGM was crucial for her as she engaged questions of vocation: “I applied to the YAGM program with the intention of testing the feeling of call to ordained ministry,” she reflects. “I had that call affirmed, and I also got so much more than I ever could have hoped or imagined. It’s been 15 years since I first became a YAGM, and not a day goes by that I don’t draw from something I learned [then]. It was the most intense, difficult, and rewarding period in my life, and it continues to bear daily fruit.”
Relying on images from the Gospel of John, where Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” the Rev. Gretchen Rode, associate pastor at House of Hope Lutheran Church in New Hope, offers a prayer for congregations to use as YAGMs begin their year of service:
O God, creator of all the nations, you call to each of us by name and send us to places beyond our imagination. We pray this day for your missionaries in places around the world, especially for those working with the Young Adults in Global Mission Program. Prepare all the places they go, that your Spirit would greet them in each person they meet, that the work you set them to would be fruitful, and that as they share your love with others their own faith would grow. Knit your faith deep within each of us, that we would know your voice when we hear it and follow it within our own community as well. In the name of your Son, who crossed borders and shared your life-giving word with all. Amen.
As part of their year of service, YAGMs are responsible for fundraising 30% of their total cost of service. To donate to the Young Adults in Global Mission program or to a specific YAGM, view the Young Adults in Global Mission web page on the ELCA website.