This summer I was employed by an organization called YouthWorks, which works to connect youth groups with communities around the country through various service works. My time was spent leading mission trips in the incredible town of Logan, West Virginia, about an hour southwest of Charleston, the capital. Every week, 60-70 high school youth and adult leaders from various churches around the country would come to our site to repair homes and to help with a day camp for local kids. The four of us staff members would facilitate and lead their service and reflections and meals and so much more. (I am confident that I will be telling lots of stories throughout, since it was such a pivotal summer; have no fear.) We began a week of training in Philadelphia, had a week in Logan without any groups doing prep work, and then nine weeks of programming.
Throughout my time in Logan, I learned innumerable things about myself and was challenged and stretched in so many indescribable ways. In an environment where I would wake up at 6:45, go to bed after midnight, and was constantly working to ensure that the needs of youth, adults, community members were being met, it was only natural to learn quite a bit about myself. Sometimes this was more than I wanted to know.
But the beginning of my calling doesn’t come until the end of July. Something awesome that all YouthWorks sites do is Happy Fun Notes (HFNs). Each staff member, adult leader, and youth would get a locker at our housing site at orientation on the first day, and then during their week in Logan they could encourage and uplift one another with simple notes. It is a really awesome opportunity for them to be Christ to one another and to allow others to strengthen them. I would get letters ranging from amazingly heartfelt testimonials to warm compliments to minor criticisms, and even once a comment that I have skinny arms and need to work out more (seriously). A lot of times kids would stay up late on Thursday night writing to anyone and everyone before they left Friday morning. Enter the first inkling of my calling.
At the end of week 7, after we had cleaned the building, packed up the kids, bid them farewell, and took our weekly (and very necessary) hour-long nap, I peeked in my locker to discover a note from an adult leader, who was also the trip leader of his church group and just a great guy in general. The note, which I still have along with every other note I received this summer, said this:
“Mary P- Thank you for uplifting messages this week—they were excellent! You should be a youth pastor! The footwashing and prayer meant so much to me! Thank you!
Despite my tiredness and the duties ahead to prepare for the next week, these words hit me like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden something made sense. A youth pastor? Yes. Yes, please. But I really didn’t have time to consider what it meant, and at this point I was way too scared to look into too deeply. I mean, this was not in my life plans. There were about a million obstacles in my way. So no, thank you. Maybe in the next life.
Basically I was thinking that I would really like to work with youth for the rest of my life, but getting to that point involved much more work—physical, emotional, spiritual, etc—than I was prepared to put in. I pretty much decided to just tuck the idea away for a bit, until I could figure it out in a more real-life situation, away from the beauty of West Virginia and the high of living in total service of others. But at the same time, I wanted to talk to someone about this, someone who had a little experience. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hoped that I would be able to find a solid, amiable youth minister the next week and that we would be able to talk with the intention of hopefully getting things a bit more straightened out in my mind.
But again, all of this way tucked away in my mind as I needed to focus on resting up, distressing, and preparing for the second to last week in Logan.
…to be continued…
Today I turn around
Stop running away from Him.
Today I listen
And run toward.