Meaning Over Manuals

Over the course of this year, and especially since joining the staff of YMCo., I have heard a lot about being “intentional” with my actions. That could mean praying intentionally, having intentional conversation, or sometimes it means being intentional about the way that I explain an activity. Yet, somehow the term has always felt a bit unnecessary to me. Don’t we always have a reason for doing what we do—otherwise, why do it? It wasn’t until my first week as an AYM intern that I learned the real importance of intentionality.

The first week is always one of the hardest because everything is new. The schedule is new, the theme is new, and my experience as an intern is certainly different from anything I’ve ever done before. Whether I realized it or not, the most prominent thought on my mind in that first week was that I would not mess up. I spent hours practicing my routes so that I wouldn’t get my group lost on the way to a worksite, I looked over every program at least a few times, and I practically memorized a whole page of policies for one of my more involved worksites. At every worksite I made several rounds to check on each youth so that I could be sure everyone was on task. I checked in with the youth leader of the group multiple times a day to make sure that we were on the same page, and at program, I was determined to get as many of our high schoolers to participate as I possibly could.

By the middle of the week, everything seemed to be going as planned up until I sat in a small group at our Wednesday night program. For several minutes I had been trying to get each of the youth to dig deep and really think about a moment where they saw God during their week. By this time, they were rather tired from a full day of work, and they seemed to feel that there was nothing more they could add to the answers they had already given. Eventually, one of the girls looked up at the rest of the small group and realized that no one had the energy to dig any further into my question.  With fatigue and maybe a bit of exasperation, she looked over at me.

“Well where did you see God this week, Emily?” she asked.

I stared blankly. With that simple question, the question that I had been trying to get everyone else in our group to reflect on and share, she had me completely dumbfounded. Well, where did I see God this week? We’d been talking with our youth about it at every program and at many of the worksites. Yet, on our last day of working, I realized I hadn’t once stopped to think about that question for myself. I’d been so caught up with memorizing the policies, getting to the worksites, and trying to make sure that everyone was on task that I hadn’t taken any time to think about the most important part of all: why did our work matter?

Suddenly remembering that she was still waiting for an answer, I intelligently remarked, “huh” and did a mental run through of everything we’d experienced that week. After several seconds, I began to talk about the janitorial work we’d done at one of our worksites earlier that day, and how I’d come to see that it helped my group and me achieve a better appreciation for work that we often take for granted. However, what’s more important than my answer is that it took one of my high schoolers flipping my own question back onto me before I saw the significance of our week.

This work isn’t about getting our youth to every worksite that we can so that they hopefully have a good mission experience. It’s about discovering with them a newfound appreciation for hard work and the people who may have lower level, yet very important jobs. It’s about the process of meeting people who have fewer financial resources than us, and understanding that we are both equally valuable, beautiful, and gifted children of God. This work has to be intentional. We do not work solely to get the job done—we take the time to see the beauty in every human, in every relationship, and in every job taken on. God has woven new meaning into all of life’s experiences. People, as his beloved children, just have to be intentional about finding it.

Emily Pittman is a Summer Intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  She attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is from Cary, North Carolina. 

Summer 2017 will be a Season of “Creating Space”

This summer, and for the following school year, we will be exploring the theme, “Creating Space.”  It’s a theme that we think will be very relevant to youth, to their experience here at Youth Mission Co, and the world.

The “spaces” we will be creating will be varied–  sometimes physical, sometimes literal.  We will look at the spaces that are provided by our numerous agency and ministry partners.  For whom (and with whom) are these spaces intended?  What are the values and norms of these spaces?  Why are these spaces even necessary?  We will look at spaces in our program location communities of Asheville, NC, Raleigh, NC, and Memphis, TN, including some that are contentious spaces.  Is everyone allowed in these spaces or are they only for a particular kind of people?

We will ask young people to consider what “space” they have set aside in their lives for discernment.  Where do you go when you need community, or guidance, or comfort?  Where are the spaces in which you know that you belong?  What are the spaces that God is calling you to enter, or even to create?

Then we will talk with young people about their home communities.  What spaces are available for those who are in need of basic necessities?  What spaces do our churches offer, and for whom (and with whom) are they created?  What is God calling you to do in your home community, through your home church, to create space for all God’s children?

We are so excited about this theme!  We can’t wait to dive into it with a great team of summer interns, and hundreds of youth from around the country!!

Youth Voices from Charlotte: Part 1

charlotte-riotMany of us have been praying for and thinking about our sisters and brothers in Charlotte, NC over the last several days.  We at Youth Mission Co asked some of our young people from Charlotte to give us their perspective on the situation there– their thoughts, feelings, hopes, concerns, and prayers.

Here is a statement from several youth at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Charlotte.

It has been a sad and frightening week in Charlotte. The events in the national news were happening just a few miles from our homes, and that was pretty scary. Responses to this tragic event have even been taking place in our schools. The violence that we witnessed was very upsetting. We are worried that others will think our hometown of Charlotte is a violent and bad place, but that does not reflect the city we have grown up in. Charlotte is a good place with nice people. Moving forward, we hope that people will choose to protest peacefully and that the rioting is over. Rioting and violence does not help solve the problems that exist. As Christians, we are committed to having open minds to other people and their opinions. The Bible tells us to love unconditionally, and we strive to respect everyone and be peacemakers as Charlotte and the nation heal.
By: Jimmy Click, Molly Click, Marshall Coley, William Coley, Dean Gutnecht, Graham Gutnecht, David Hood, John Hood, and Hank Smith
If you are a youth from the Charlotte area and you would like to share your perspective with us, let us know!  This can be in the form of a statement like this one, or a poem, a song, some visual art, or something else you are inspired to create.  We continue to pray for the city of Charlotte, its leaders, and its people.  May God keep guiding us as we work for justice and peace in our community, nation, and world.

“We Cannot be Christians Alone” by Caitlyn Hathaway

As a student at Presbyterian College, a professor taught me the phrase, “You cannot be a Christian alone.” Whether this was an original quote or simply borrowed words, the phrase stuck with me after graduation, and as I began my year serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Asheville. I first began to fully grasp its meaning during my first few months here. I was given the task of working in a new worshipping community where I didn’t quite understand some of the viewpoints of the members there, and I began to struggle with what God was calling me to do. It was during a phone conversation with a friend from college that I was reminded that, “We cannot be Christians alone.” She said to me, “What good is faith if it is only lived out among those who look, think, believe, and act like us?” Little did I know, she was setting me up for a life-changing 7 months working for Asheville Youth Mission.

These last several months, serving at our many partner agencies across the Asheville area, these words have become more real for me. While I knew that as Christians we are called to create peace on earth, what I learned is that this task is too monumental for any one person, one group of people, or one organization to accomplish alone. Before working at AYM, I closed myself off to those who didn’t think or believe like I do, calling their theology “bad,” and the work they were doing “wrong.” I was closed off to seeing the goodness in their work and the change they were making in people’s lives every day. At AYM, though, we partner with agencies grounded in theologies that span the spectrum from conservative to liberal and everywhere in between. As I have worked with each of these agencies, I have learned to step outside of my fear of those who believe differently from me, and rather partner with them in love for our neighbors. When we work together, our world is more united, and we see glimpses of the Kingdom of God. When we don’t, we simply create more division in our world, and cracks for the people we serve to fall into. We cannot be Christians alone, and we cannot do Christ’s work alone.

This year I have also learned that this phrase doesn’t just mean working alongside those who are different from us, but also building community with them. As a Young Adult Volunteer, one of our requirements is to live in intentional community with one another. Here, I learned that the community Christ calls us into is not one where we can turn a blind eye to the ugliness of life. We are called to be vulnerable with one another, and to accept one another’s vulnerabilities. I learned to do that with the five Asheville YAVs I served alongside of this year, but it wasn’t until I began my work at AYM that I truly understood that this is not limited to the handful of people we surround ourselves with everyday, but must be extended to even the strangers we pass on the street. Our society often tells us to shy away from things in life that make us uncomfortable, but when we live in community, we are forced to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly. We cannot turn a blind eye to addiction, homelessness, poverty, inequality, or any of the things that make us uncomfortable. When we do, we shut out the voices of those struggling with those things. My most vivid memory of this was just a few days ago as we were setting up a free food market at Kairos West. A lady arrived at 1:30, ready for the market to begin, and was frustrated that we were not running on time. She lashed out at us and the volunteers at Kairos. Our culture would tell us to strike back, tell her to wait her turn, but the community Christ calls us into means confronting the food insecurity she faces that caused her to be upset (I mean, we’ve all been “hangry” at times). “We cannot be Christians alone,” and that means loving the whole person, not just the things that make us feel good or comfortable.

As I transition out of this YAV year and my time at AYM, this is what I will take with me. As long as I am a Christian, I cannot live in a bubble– isolating myself from those I disagree with or the things that make me uncomfortable. I must step out of this fear, and into love for God, the world, and God’s people.




“Superpowers” by Troy Schmidt

The nice part about a job with a fairly consistent schedule is that on any given day I can provide a pretty good guess about what I’ll be doing. Every Sunday a few things happen: I forget to eat dinner because of poor time management, groups arrive, I struggle in the name game we play, and the night concludes with orientation. During orientation every week we ask the kids to put on flexibility pants and humility vests, two (imaginary) articles of clothing that provide them with superpowers. Flexibility pants give you the power to be flexible at work sites, which means being prepared if plans change. Humility vests give you the power of being humble enough to do any job that’s asked of you.

These often go hand in hand at our various worksites. For example, at Manna FoodBank a group may be sorting bulk products like potatoes or pasta when Josh comes and asks for two volunteers to come throw out old moldy squash. Thanks to both of these superpowers any member of the group can do this with only an acceptable amount of complaining. Our flexibility pants and humility vests also don’t come off, which means, by my count, I have on at least nine of each of these articles of clothing on right now. All of these pants and vests come in handy, because as an intern our weeks/days/hours often call for us to be flexible and humble. Sometimes you get to a worksite and it takes longer than expected to check in on the computer, sometimes you get to a worksite and finish everything the agency asked you to do all day in the first hour, and sometimes you make a wrong turn even though you’ve already practiced driving that route and know where to go.

No job site requires more flexibility or humility than a Wednesday afternoon at Haywood Street Congregation. Haywood Street is a congregation of mostly homeless members who come together for a worship service every Wednesday and Sunday. There’s also a free meal served before the worship (you don’t have to stay for worship to eat the meal) so on an average summer Wednesday they see between 300-500 people. In the middle of all this craziness our groups set up tents, giant Jenga, and corn hole. We then walk up and down the street, handing out popsicles as a way to break the ice and start a conversation with our neighbors. This five cent Popsicle can lead to an invitation to play games or simply provide our neighbors with a way to cool off. Handing out popsicles often requires a lot of humility. These are people who we are taught growing up to avoid. These are people who we avoid eye contact with when we’re driving or walking downtown. These are people we are taught that are very different from us. We use the Popsicle to humble ourselves and share the love that God calls us to share. When we do this right, and truly humble ourselves, some amazing things can happen. Some groups bring guitars and our neighbors teach them how to play new songs. Some groups make friends with the children of Haywood Street, children they wouldn’t otherwise talk to. Some groups even get to study the bible with our neighbors, and hear new perspectives.

Once we finish handing out popsicles and eating our lunch we join the worship service of Haywood Street. Worship at Haywood Street is unlike any worship most of the kids have experienced before. There is much more crowd involvement, people are allowed to speak their minds after the scripture is read. Anyone from the body is invited to serve communion. I’ve had communion offered to me by members of the youth group and a young adult wearing a shirt with a picture of Michael Jordan dunking. And, if you’re really lucky, sometimes the closing hymn will be “Celebrate” by Kool & the Gang and the entire congregation will form a conga line around the sanctuary.

As 3:00 rolls around and we end our day at Haywood Street, groups are typically exhausted. Wednesday afternoon marks the end of that week’s worksites and being in the sun all day in this summer heat can drain even the most energized of kids. Which is why there’s one Wednesday afternoon that stands out to me. We were all standing around waiting for the adult leader to bring the van around so we could load it with our supplies. The kids were playing corn hole and I was talking to a different adult off to the side. A man walked out of the kitchen pushing a silverware cart. On a typical Wednesday they serve between 200-500 people so you can imagine how much silverware there was. I heard a crash and immediately knew what had happened. I turned around to tell the kids to help him pick the silverware up but I no longer saw them by the corn hole boards. I continued my scan towards the cart and found that all of the kids were already on their hands and knees picking up silverware. Even after they were told they were done for the day, they did not hesitate to serve, and to serve humbly. Because the worksite might end, but flexibility pants and humility vests never come off.

“Our Valley” by Lauren Nalley

Hey guys! My name is Lauren Nalley and I’m a intern at Asheville Youth Mission this summer. I’m currently a sophomore in college in Colorado, but I am really excited about being able to work in Asheville this summer because this is where I was raised. I’ve lived in Asheville for 18 years and am super excited about giving back to the community which has given me so much in the past. My blog post this year is a video of spoken word slam poetry. I wrote this poem about my time in Asheville through out my life and what I have learned while being a part of AYM. It refers to many social justice issues which I have noticed in particular throughout these past weeks including homelessness, racism, police brutality , and many others. I hope you enjoy!

“What’s Your Name?” by Jane Langston

Every Wednesday evening, after groups have finished their last day of work sites and are participating in discussion and reflection during program, we do what we like to call “taking inventory”. We ask groups to reflect back on where they went, what they did, and who they met throughout the week. This is a time for them to recall favorite worksites, funny anecdotes, interesting observations, and meaningful interactions. It’s usually fairly easy to recall places they visited and things they did, but sometimes names slip away during the hustle and bustle of the day.

As we go to every work site, we always encourage the groups to get to know people—learn their names, have a conversation, make a connection—but we meet a lot of people and sometimes it’s difficult to recall everyone. Sometimes when people are remembered but their names aren’t, they’re identified by a nickname— Mr. No Ice Man, Suit Guy, Mad Hatter, etc. It’s understandable that sometimes names get forgotten. When that happens, identifying someone by the experience had with them is a good way to keep the interaction with that person alive. However, it’s important that when we remember people in this way we take care to remember them as real people and members of the community, not just as their funniest characteristic.

RYM Week 1 group at Love Wins Ministries

Last week while serving at Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen with a group, I ran into a community member, Andrew*, that I had spoken to several times before at another of our agencies, Love Wins Ministries. I greeted him by name, and we had a brief but warm exchange about how he was doing. Because of the rotation of interns through different sites every week, my RYM shirt is usually recognized before I am, but Andrew told me that he remembered my face from previous Love Wins visits. It meant a lot to me that I was recognized, and as I thanked him for it, he reciprocated with his own happiness at being recognized and left me with a simple but profound observation: “There’s a difference between standing out and being recognized.”

Because life is a beautifully funny thing and God speaks to us in the most serendipitous ways, the following Sunday I happened to be visiting a church during their sermon series on how we are labeled by society. Every Thursday morning, my Urban Walk route takes my groups and me past the corner of Morgan and Blount Streets where Church on Morgan (a table of Edenton Street United Methodist Church) is located. It just so happens that this holiday weekend was the Sunday that I chose to visit. As the guest pastor, Lisa Yebuah, began her beautiful sermon I was struck by the relevance the message had to the observation made by Andrew earlier in the week. The message Yebuah gave that Sunday denounced the worldly labels that can unfairly become part of our identity. Sometimes the world incorrectly names us with words like addict, screw up, lazy, dirty, or any number of hurtful titles. We can become so familiar with these names that it’s difficult to remember that our only true identifier is that which God gives us: “my delight” (Isaiah 62:4).

As I type, my notebook sits beside me opened to the page where I scribbled the parts of Sunday’s sermon that spoke to me. The paper marking this page’s place happens to be a bulletin from the service with large bold letters announcing where we are in the liturgical year—Ordinary Time. The words, which catch my eye every time I glance at my notes, serve as a reminder that as perspectives are changed and eyes are opened throughout the summer, the lessons we learn need to be taken home with us as we go back to our usual communities and should be practiced throughout the year…even in “ordinary time”. In the combined words of Andrew and Lisa Yebuah: There’s a difference between standing out as…addict, weird, lazy, dirty…and being recognized as a Child of God in whom God delights. If my time with YMCo has taught me anything, then it’s taught me this: Learn a name. Learn a story. Connect with others. We do share a name after all: Children of God.


*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our community members.

Palms Presbyterian Youth Reflect on What Mission Means to Them

Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, FL is one that has made mission partnership their intentional focus, and have been engaging their youth in mission work for more than 30 years. Youth Director, Wilson Kennedy, says, “It’s the hallmark of youth ministry at Palms. This is how our youth are engaged in the world and think theologically and critically about our world and about how our faith calls us to be active and engaging in it.” A few months ago, before kicking off a summer of mission trips and local service work, Palms youth came together for a mission retreat. At the end of it, high school senior and Palms’ resident videographer, Jacob May, created this video, highlighting trips they’ve been on in the past, and what each member of the youth group feels is most special to them about these trips. The photos in this video are not only from their mission trips to the Carolinas and beyond, but also from work they’ve done in their home community of Jacksonville. Wilson says, “Because we’re situated two blocks from the beach, we’re intentional about being engaged in mission, and in partnership, and in solidarity in the beaches. There are over 250 chronically homeless people in Jacksonville, so we partner with organizations like Mission House and BEAM, which stands for Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry. Our church is also undertaking a study on issues of access [to services, affordable healthcare, job creation, and job training] at the beaches because we have the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor living together. So we’re constantly serving in different ways in our community and our neighborhood.”

Check out their video below, and then let us know what your youth group is doing, and why they think it’s so important. Email us at [email protected]!


“Finding God in the Traffic” by Michelle Beers

Driving down I-240 with Top 40 radio set to a dull roar has never been my ideal time for reflection or an experience ripe with opportunities to learn how to better show love to others. I usually keep the windows rolled down, the radio up high, and my thoughts on mute—using the highway only as a necessary means to a more purposeful end. But this summer I have found myself sitting in a lot of 240 traffic—on the way to and from the office or leading groups to and from worksites—consequently with loads of time to think.

In the midst of bobbing and weaving around tourist traffic, and trying to master the skillful art of down shifting on a manual transmission in the mountains of western North Carolina, I have found myself turning down the radio and rolling up the windows— silencing out the noise—to pray.

I cannot express in words how terribly shocking and uncomfortable this development is for me. I don’t dislike prayer—in fact I often find being in the presence of prayer to be one of the most powerful evidences of the Holy Spirit moving through our world, but I don’t pray. I don’t pray by myself or in front of other people. In ministerial work there are times I have led prayer and prayed in groups with and in front of others, but those moments have always felt disingenuous and laden with self-conscious thoughts: “What if I forget a prayer request? Or get my words tangled? Or forget to say ‘in Jesus’ name’ at the end?”

In those moments my focus was rarely on what I was actually saying, who I was praying for, or whatever Divine power I was appealing to. Instead, I placed my own fears and insecurities at the center of this deeply spiritual and communal act.

But this summer, driving down 240, my prayer life and my own understanding of how I am constantly short-changing my faith by feeding my fears have been transformed. I now cherish my commute as a time to openly, messily, and freely talk to God, to lift up my fears, my hopes and passions, my family, my co-workers, and the friends and connections I’m making in Asheville this summer.

What I am learning on the road as the summer continues to unfold is that God’s loving presence has no bounds. Divine love is not confined to our pre-meditated interactions with others during ministerial and mission work. No matter how detailed a service schedule, we cannot plan to encounter God’s presence. I am finding, with a stubborn mind and humbling heart, that God’s presence is waiting, everywhere, for our open hearts to meet his love in the world. Whether I choose to see that love in a new friend I meet at Hinds Feet Farm while tie-dying t-shirts, at Manna Food Bank while bagging pasta, or in the car on a busy highway in the middle of the summer heat: no matter where I am, God is also there to embrace my fears with overwhelming, and always abiding, love.

New Perspective by Alec Powell

My few weeks in Asheville have opened my eyes to how different my hometown is to other places. I was born in Clinton, South Carolina. I grew up in Clinton, and I go to Presbyterian College, which is also in Clinton. I have never really had the chance to experience the world outside of my little bubble, AYM has given me that chance. There is no way that I would see someone walking down the streets of Clinton with a blue mohawk, or witness a scheduled drum circle in the middle of the city where people of all backgrounds are given the chance to be united through music. I needed to see and experience these things, to get a taste of the world outside of my bubble. I have been a member of the same church since birth; I have only been a part of other congregations a handful of times.  Since I have been molded in such a deliberate way for so long, it becomes difficult to imagine anything different. I have become trained to believe that the way the things are done in my church is the right way to do things. Which is not always the case.

Since I have been in Asheville, and have begun to work at our different agencies there is one that I always leave feeling spiritually aware, and that is Haywood St. Congregation. The ministry that takes place at Haywood St. can only be described as beautiful. The people represented are from all different backgrounds. On any day, half of the people in the congregation could be individuals experiencing homelessness. The others are people from the community that are compassionate and want to learn about their less fortunate neighbors by sharing in the special worship together. The congregation is an intentional refuge for people experiencing homelessness who are looking to find a Christian home that will never turn them away. The structure of the service goes like this: there is a welcome, a prayer of the people, a Bible reading and discussion, and communion is served. There are also several hymns spread throughout.

The first time I went to Haywood St. Congregation was during the AYM orientation week. I was completely awed by everything that went on. I had my mouth hanging opened for most of the service, just because I had never seen anything like this in my life. The prayers of the people, at my church in Clinton, involves the pastor going to the pulpit and reading the list of people that had been collected that may have gone to the hospital that week, or had recently passed away.

The Haywood St. Congregation does this a little bit differently. Someone from the congregation will get up and lead the prayer. They will then ask the congregation, “Who needs prayer?” and people respond with names, and stories of people that are in need of prayer. After a prayer is asked, we (the congregation) pick up noise makers, which are plastic bottles filled with dried beans, and we shake them profusely. So loud that after we stop shaking the noise makers, we can still hear an echo. When I first encountered this method I thought it was silly, and I didn’t quite understand the point. Then, I started to think about it. When my pastor announces who needs prayer, I’m not sure anyone remembers to pray outside of worship. I don’t think I have ever remembered a name that has been said during a prayers of the people at my church, which is bad, I know. At Haywood St. Congregation there is no need to remember the name of the people for later. At Haywood St. we are all praying right then, at that moment, together, and the person who offered the prayer knows how many people are lifting up their prayer by the sound of the noise makers. This participation of the congregation in the service is something I had never witnessed, and I believe it is wonderful.

My experiences at Haywood St. Congregation have really changed how I think a worship service should be. Up until this point in my life, it feels like I have been doing church wrong. At my home church we always talk about trying to be inclusive, to build a community. I felt more a part of a community in the two times I participated in worship at Haywood St. than I have felt in the last 21 years at my home church. I have heard the phrase “a thin place” where our separation from God is almost transparent, Haywood St. is one of those places.