#YEstrong

(The hashtag I used as the title has been circulating, so I decided it’d work.)
Okay, so I initially had a different blog planned (and almost completed) for today, but with the announcement yesterday, I felt the need to change gears. And don’t worry, you’ll get the other blog later this week!

What’s the announcement you ask? A wonderful organization that I volunteered for starting in August 2013 and ending in August 2015 is officially closing it doors in April.
Click here to read the official news.
I’m not going to go over all of the details of why Youth Encounter is coming to an end. If you want to know, go to the link!

Anyway, I’m just gonna write from my heart. I want to share with you how this organization impacted my life, and why I’m saddened by the announcement.

(If you are my teammate or already know how I got involved with Youth Encounter, you may skip this paragraph.)
I first applied to be on a Youth Encounter team in the summer of 2013, just over a month before I left. At the time, I knew very little about what I was getting myself into. I had met this pretty cool guy (shoutout to Kevin!) in college and happened to be Facebook friends with him. He made a post about Youth Encounter still accepting applications for the coming year, and I applied, got accepted, and signed my letter of call. (That’s the short version by the way. If you want to know the whole story, let me know.) I signed in early August and left for Minnesota by the end of the month. To say I was scared is an understatement, but once I was there, it felt so right.

My first year of ministry, August 2013 – August 2014, I was a part of a team called Captive Free East Coast. Here’s a photo of my team at the start of our year:

promo photo
Back: Ben, Mary, Beth; Front: J.D., Me, Miriam

That year was a crazy whirlwind of experiences! Obviously I was in a new place with new people. I traveled to literally half the United States in a fifteen passenger van. I “learned” how to planned the drums. (I use quotations because I’d hardly say I’m any good.) I made new friends. I relied on God to provide for me and my team. I taught songs and did puppet shows for children. I ate new foods. I learned all about a Christian denomination I previously knew nothing about. I laughed, cried, got angry, shared my feelings, had fun, and looked forward to Mondays! (Mondays were our days off which meant sleeping in!) I learned how to (attempt) to live in a healthy community and put up with people with different personalities. My favourite thing about the whole year though? The people I met across those 25 states. I’m so thankful for Facebook to keep in contact with a lot of those people. I could tell stories for days about the year!
(If you’re interested in reading some, click here assuming the link works!)

(More call story stuff coming in this next paragraph.)
When Easter break came around, I started to realize that one year would not be enough. By our Vacation Bible School training just before Memorial Day, I pretty much knew another year was going to happen, but I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, even myself. Eventually through some talks with J.D. and Beth, I decided to apply for a second year. With some prodding from friends, I finally admitted the application during my very last week of VBS with Captive Free East Coast that summer and signed my letter of call for a second year with Youth Encounter exactly one year after the first.

The second year I was on a team called Captive Free East Lakes. Here we are the day we met:

first team photo.jpg
Taylor, Johanna, Katie, me, Josh

I knew it was going to be a completely different year than the first, but I could’ve never imagined how it would all happen. The first difference, there was one less team member. We also weren’t all American, which created some cultural differences, some frustrating, but mostly funny. (Shoutout to our German, Johanna!) Both Taylor and I were alumni. We faced different challenges as a team that I would have never seen coming, and I faced some personal challenges. We visited a lot of new places, but it wasn’t all different. I had the amazing opportunity to visit a total of about fifteen places throughout the year that I had been to with my East Coast team. I cannot begin to explain to you how amazing it is to see people that you’d never expected to see again! While my second year was a different experience than the first, I could never tell you which one was better! This was also another one of the best years of my life! When it ended, I cried like baby!

Since being back home from Youth Encounter, I’ve noticed a lot about myself. I can pretty much find everything in a kitchen on the first try and am no longer stumped by how to work a weird shower. I can tell you which sandwiches at Subway are the cheapest, and I know how to make a bed out of whatever resources I have. But seriously, I’m a lot more aware of how people communicate with each other. When someone starts to interrupt me, I’m not afraid to tell them to wait. I’m more confident talking to people I don’t know, though I am still a bit socially awkward. I know how to be the listening ear someone needs. I’m not afraid to dress and act like a weirdo, and many many more things! What I’m trying to say is that YE taught me so many strange skills and life lessons that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

I have to say, I’m not surprised by the fact that Youth Encounter is closing its doors after 51 years. During my two years being involved in the organization, I could feel the decline. The first year, I didn’t have much to compare to except for stories from alumni. My second year, it was pretty obvious to me. There were less team members, fewer events with fewer youth attending them, and a lack of churches jumping at the chance to book us. It’s tough to see such a big part of my life come to an end, but really its not an end. All of the host families, youth groups, staff, and alumni will forever be impacted by this organization, whether big or small. Just because Youth Encounter will no longer exist does not mean that those relationships made through it will cease.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” -Dr. Seuss

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