Last week I had the opportunity to take a group of young people to Church of the Advocate, a regular mission site for AYM throughout the summer. Church of the Advocate is an open-arms congregation, welcoming any and all to come worship, have a meal, and create community with one another. My group and I joined the congregation for worship, and, although most of the service is traditional, part of the sermon includes allowing people in the crowd to share their thoughts on scripture.
Before I go further with the story, I’d like for you to take a moment to visualize what this crowd looked like…physically, emotionally, mentally. The service took place outside in a courtyard. It was completely open, an inviting space for anyone who may be walking down the street. There were people from every walk of life…some live inside, some live outside. Some are healthy, some are sick with mental or physical illness. Some face daily prejudice because of who they are, and some do not. Many of these people are commonly ignored by the everyday tourist-crowd of Asheville because they are, according to most of society, “different” from the rest of us. That being said, for many people in the crowd, this service was the only day this week they had the opportunity to share their opinion with people who care. This led to some interesting and uneasy topics during that day’s worship service, throwing my group off-guard. After everyone had shared, the service soon came to a close, and my group and I had a chance to reflect on what we had experienced.
Overall, the young people and their adult leaders were particularly moved by the fact that people had a place to come be at peace when the rest of their life is often unsteady. However, they all agreed that they didn’t think they would be able to handle all of the different opinions and stories shared from everyone each week; it was overwhelming and hard to relate and connect with people in the short time we were there. Then, someone asked Pastor Vic and I, “How do you keep doing this?”
I was immediately struck by the boldness of this young man’s question. I had never thought about how I do my job in this context, but Pastor Vic had the perfect response, “You show up every week, and you just do it.” As he kept speaking with the group, I hung on to this response, thinking about my experience with relational ministry throughout the summer. I thought back to the first time I had visited Haywood Street Congregation or 12 Baskets or Church of the Advocate, or even when I just stopped to say hello to someone I had met on the street. I remembered how nervous and uncomfortable I was the first time…and the second, and even the third, but Pastor Vic was right- I just kept showing up and doing it, and soon, these folk were becoming my friends.
This experience with my group hit home for me because it was the first time I realized that my experience as an AYM intern is changing me into who I have always wanted to be- I am beginning to become a friend to people who I typically wouldn’t be friends with. I look forward to seeing them throughout my week, and I wonder about them if I don’t run into them. I am working with people, and I am building relationships with them, which is exactly what Youth Mission Co is all about: making the uncomfortable, comfortable.
When we accomplish this goal as an organization, we are able to show young people that they can do this anywhere. They can take the experiences they have meeting people, connecting with people, and relating with people throughout their week with us and leave knowing that when they go back home, they can begin to build relationships with people in their own communities as long as they continue to show up, and just do it!