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The GMS has had three recent participants in the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. Laura Hermanns spent a year in Rwanda, Anneka Potter Barrow spent a year in Mexico, and Ayona Riley is currently in Mexico. We wanted to know about their experiences with the program, and what being a YAGM means to them. Here’s what Laura and Anneka said:

1. In your mind, what is a YAGM?

Laura: There are so many possible answers because YAGM come from so many different places, with different backgrounds, different gifts, and different paths. The things we do have in common are a willingness to ask questions and be challenged, a desire to wrestle with our faith and put it into action, and a passion for service to others.
Anneka: In my mind, YAGM is the new way that mission work is being defined. I used to be someone who cringed a little when I heard the word missionary – I thought a lot about privilege, imposing whiteness, and colonialism..THEN I became one! The YAGM program runs on an accompaniment model, meaning that we are walking together in solidarity and practicing interdependence and mutuality with the communities that we are serving. This means that we really get a chance to just BE, and to really immerse ourselves into our communities and be transformed by them through radical hospitality. YAGM allows young people to spend a year learning so much about themselves, the places they go, and the communities that surround them and then brings them home to share what they have learned about God’s world.

2. What was the best part of being a YAGM?

Laura: The relationships, connections, and community both in my country of service and with my fellow volunteers and the program staff. One of the biggest challenges and joys of my time in Rwanda was becoming part of a community of people that were completely different than me, but loving and being loved by them anyway. I could not have learned that lesson without the constant support, guidance, and grace of my fellow volunteers, past volunteers, and Country Coordinator.
Anneka: Once a YAGM, always a YAGM! The best part of being a YAGM is that so many people are rooting for you. There is a strong alumni network, a strong community of support within the church, and so many people who learn about YAGM and immediately are praying for you and your well-being. Being a YAGM taught me that church goes far wider and far deeper than we give it credit for and that there is so much love in this world.

3. What piece of advice would you give young adults who are thinking about becoming a YAGM?

Laura: I first heard about YAGM when I was a junior in college but didn’t apply for another 4 years after that! For me, it took the right mixture of life circumstances and finally listening to those persistent little God nudges to get me to answer the call. So, my advice would be to listen to those nudges, whispers, and ideas you might have. Then pray, ask questions, and get in touch with an alum to learn more!
Anneka: If you’re thinking about becoming a YAGM, BECOME ONE! I was so worried about the societal expectations to get a job or continue onto more education after graduating from college, but becoming a YAGM taught me so much more than either of those things could do. It was truly an opportunity to walk humbly and be transformed in so many ways, something that every young person should embrace the opportunity of if they can.

4. What is one lesson you learned through the experience?

Laura: I was blown away by the strength, resilience, and determination of my host community and the country of Rwanda as a whole. Most people still associate Rwanda with “genocide,” and while the country will always bear those scars, the dedication of Rwandans to forgiveness and reconciliation will forever be an example of love-in-action to me. They practice peace with deep intention and have completely rebuilt their country in a mere 22 years through restorative justice, community service, commemoration, music, art, even agriculture, and business cooperatives.

For instance, in my host community of Huye, a Rwandan theater director formed a women’s drumming group after the genocide as a way to bring widows, orphans, mothers, and daughters, victims, and perpetrators from both sides of the conflict together to heal through music. They were so successful they decided to build their business around a universal symbol of joy: ice cream. On the last Saturday of the month, all able-bodied Rwandans gather for community service projects, including building homes for genocide victims. During the month of April, the country collectively pauses to remember and acknowledge their history, honor those that were lost, and discuss ways to move forward.
I think our country and our church can learn a lot from Rwanda– both about the dangers of fear, hate, and division but also about the power of forgiveness, grace, and intentional peacebuilding.
Anneka: I learned so much about grace during my YAGM year. God’s grace, grace from AND for others, and grace for myself. I learned to both give, expect, and receive grace on my hardest days and always remember that I am a child of God.

5. How did your relationship with God grow or change during your year?

Laura: Living in a new country with new cultural norms, new forms of transportation, a new language, new foods, new everything meant I learned to rely on God in a completely new way. In that whirlwind of newness, God’s presence and grace became more evident to me. All illusions of control were gone, and what remained was my faith that God was guiding me, even when I could not see the path.
Anneka: My relationship with God did a lot during my year. I had a lot of questions, had my heart broken and filled up in the same day, and met people who had every reason to give up on God but still lived their lives like something truly amazing was about to happen. I learned that trusting God will get you to a point, and His grace will get you through.

© 2017 Greater Milwaukee Synod

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