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Young Adults in Global Mission grows Minnesota connections

What does it mean to do ministry in an increasingly diverse world, where multicultural awareness is present not in the far corners of the world, but right across the street? How does the church take steps to create advocates for global justice issues?
The Young Adults in Global Mission Program (YAGM), an ELCA ministry, invites young missionaries (ages 19 to 29) to “step out of [their] comfort zone and challenge [themselves] to a one-year international mission-service and learning opportunity.” Through this program, approximately 50 young people spend a year in service in eight global locations each year.
Heidi Torgerson-Martinez, program director for YAGM, said the program receives about 100 applicants each year and has the capacity to place about 50 of those applicants.
Through its eight locations, YAGM has a presence on all continents. Torgerson-Martinez notes the importance of this global presence for the program holistically. “We want to be sure volunteers as a collective group have an experience as a global family. It is very intentional that our volunteers are scattered all around the world,” she said.
YAGM volunteers enter the experience at many different places in their lives and faith journey. “A lot of them are not sure about their beliefs, the whole God thing,” Torgerson-Martinez said. “About half the volunteers are in a struggling mode. But, all share a commitment to explore who God is in their lives and God’s work in the world.”
She notes that when entering worship in a foreign language, the volunteers often find comfort in recognition of the Lord’s prayer. “Being able to be wrapped in that is a testament,” she said.
This August, 57 volunteers will depart for their year of servant leadership; many of them have Minnesota connections. By following the ELCA’s global mission model of “accompaniment,” participants will give their time to service work, as opposed to a typical career position. By following this model, YAGM volunteers are called to build relationships by walking alongside those whom they are serving in ministry. In keeping with its larger global ministry mission, the ELCA hopes for YAGM participants to return as global justice advocates.

Half a world away

Among the 57 participants is Rachel Hunstad, a 2011 graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota. After spending a year as a nurse, a job she proclaims she loves, said she “couldn’t stop thinking about all the wonderful things I heard about YAGM.”
This August, Hunstad will travel to South Africa, where she will immerse herself in a ministry community, working alongside them wherever she is needed and partnering with them to find where her skills fit. While Hunstad will not know her assignment until she arrives, she notes that she is “excited to have the opportunity to discover where [the] connection between [her] healthcare background and ministry” lies.

Rachel Hunstad

This August, 57 volunteers will depart for their year of servant leadership; many of them have Minnesota connections.

“That’s always something that’s been in the back of my mind throughout my time at Concordia,” she said.
As part of the YAGM experience, the volunteers are called to step outside their comfort zones as they enter a new culture.
“They are called to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, visit the sick,” Torgerson-Martinez said. At the same time, “the volunteers become that person in need. Having experienced that they become more able to become vulnerable. They are not only learning to take care of others, but also to let other take care of them.”
Hunstad said, “As strange as it is, I’m looking forward to that state of being vulnerable. I’m not just going to South Africa to help out these people. I know that in return they are going to help me grown and learn more about myself. I know that’s something I need.”
Hunstad’s fellow Concordia graduate and 2012 YAGM volunteer, Laura Mills, echoes her sentiments. Mills, who will travel to Israel-Palestine, said of the opportunity, “As a naively and eternally optimistic human being, I’m excited to be in a different culture, engage with people, and find those universal things that make us all human beings.”
Mills notes, “It won’t be an easy journey. A year is a long time to be away. It’s a little daunting, but there’s a lot of good to be experienced. It may not all look good at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll learn more than I can ever comprehend.”

Spotlight on a volunteer

A service trip to Rwanda during her junior year at Concordia College changed Sarah Adam, perhaps in ways she didn’t expect. While there, she met a woman from London who was spending several months in service at a deaf school. “That inspired me to do a year of service,” Adam said.
So, this August, Adam is one of 57 young people who will depart for her year of servant leadership through the ELCA YAGM program.
“I’m at a time in my life when I could do it,” she said. “Rwanda changed my life. If a simple five weeks away can do that —[change] what I think about faith and love and God — how much more can a year do? I just really want to experience another culture.”
Having looked at other options, including AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, Adam found YAGM was the program that best fit her ministry goals. “I like the ‘accompaniment’ model,” Adam said. “It’s not preach the gospel and save people, but go and work. That’s what really sparked my interest in YAGM.”
During the interview process, Adam interviewed for two locations — Madagascar and Malaysia. She was placed in Madagascar, a new YAGM location in 2012.
“Madagascar is different than other parts of Africa,” Adam noted. “I’m excited to learn from people and what they know in life. … [Building] relationships is what I’m most excited about. That is how it was in Rwanda. People touch your lives, have so much love to give and welcome you into their homes. … I know [the Malagasy] will touch my life and I hope I will touch theirs too.”

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