A Year of Service for a Lifetime of Change.
That’s the motto of the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, and I can attest to its truth. Ten years ago I was in the small town of Rosario, Uruguay, halfway through my year of service with the Evangelical Waldensian Church of the River Plate, spending my days assisting in preschool classrooms and supervising the community center playground after school for the older kids in the neighborhood.
My YAV year of pastoral scenes and gentle routines was an abrupt change from my previous life in the big city of Los Angeles and my intense schedule of academics and choir rehearsals. In Uruguay I learned to slow down, meet down-to-earth people, and let go of my assumption that my intellect and accomplishments were what gave me value as a human being.
I learned to appreciate others on a much more basic level as beautiful children of God. I played with the children and learned to relate to adults from a very different background. All the while, I began to understand the complexities of globalized economies through personal testimony of the hurt that can come to a community when the factory closes because similar goods are now available for import at cheaper prices.
I learned how to teach Christian Ed to kindergartners, drink mate, and sing regional folksongs. I enjoyed the fellowship of the other YAVs who were serving in Buenos Aires and Uruguay. I was inspired in my vocation by the example of Pastor Hugo, who was deeply spiritual, carefully studied, and eminently approachable to the people he met in his frequent walks around town.
I learned that taking time to greet people, and to sit with them, is not in conflict with productivity and hard work. I learned what it means to accompany and be accompanied in mundane tasks, just for the goodness of sharing life’s journey.
For the first time I was living in a place where strangers say hello on the street and my host family didn’t bother to lock the doors unless we were going out of town. God chipped away at some of the walls I’d built up to protect myself that year, and I began to glimpse God’s presence in ways I would never have expected.
At the airport in Buenos Aires at the end of that transformative year, I was terribly sad to say goodbye. My site coordinator sat with me in a cafe and asked if I’d ever considered a life “on the mission field.” I had not, and her question came as a shock. But here I am today. One of the many ways that year of service laid the way for a lifetime of change.
Are you 18-30 and looking for an incredible volunteer year? Do you know someone who might be? Applications to serve internationally in 2013-2014 are due January 31–there’s still time to apply!