When adults in their 20s grow hungry for adventure, sometimes the only things holding them back are practical questions: can I afford to travel abroad? Will it be safe? Could I have a meaningful experience and learn some useful skills?
Those with ties to the Episcopal Church are increasingly answering yes to those questions as they discover what’s possible through the Young Adult Service Corps. Now in its 14th year, YASC sends young men and women abroad for a year of mission work in a province of the Anglican Communion. The application deadline for 2015 is January 2.
Six years ago, YASC had just seven missionaries in the field. But in the past three years the yearly average has climbed to 20. This year, they’re serving in 13 countries, including three provinces that often host several missionaries at a time: the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Applicants are drawn in part to YASC’s pragmatic assurances: they’ll receive housing, a stipend, and health insurance. But they’re attracted just as much to the prospect of making a difference through Anglican Communion partnerships.
“Young adults help create a vision and are intimately involved in the impact that the ministry has on their host communities and themselves,” said Elizabeth Boe, officer for global networking at the Episcopal Church, via email. “They are able to see that they are making a difference in themselves and the world around them.”
Most YASC missionaries work in one of four areas: education, communication/administration, development, or agriculture. In their applications, they are invited to list skills, interests, and geographic preferences, which are then considered at a multi-day discernment gathering.
Becky Gleason of Oceanside, California, was 25 when she left her youth ministry job last year and traveled to Tela, Honduras. The small, oceanfront town was a fit for her personality and interests. She did not want to be in a big city, but hoped instead for a small setting where she could work with youth and practice her Spanish.
“I felt there was something else out there that I hadn’t experienced yet,” Gleason said. “When you travel to other parts of the world, you see the body of Christ in a whole different way. You see how big the body of Christ really is.”
Her life in Honduras had a steady, relaxed rhythm. She lived in an apartment, taught English at Holy Spirit Episcopal Bilingual School, attended an afternoon Bible study, and traveled by bicycle and bus. At night she would play guitar, read, grade papers, call her family in the U.S., and maintain her weblog, la alegría compartida ~ shared joy. On weekends, she would attend church and take part in the congregation’s mission outreach efforts.
Gleason’s Honduran experience has opened doors back in the Diocese of San Diego. She’s returned to St. Michael’s by-the-Sea in Carlsbad, where she had been a youth minister and now has a broader job description that includes children’s ministry. Having become fluent in Spanish during her year abroad, she now helps interpret for the Rt. Rev. James Mathes, Bishop of San Diego. She also works as a diocesan staff intern in Latino and young adult ministries, which has led to guest preaching opportunities.
“I’m always kind of praying about how I should be living my life,” Gleason said. “I don’t necessarily think that I know what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life, but I at least know where I’m supposed to be now.”
As the program evolves, YASC is helping strengthen relationships between the Episcopal Church and each of the dioceses where missionaries serve, Boe said.
More applicants are signing up in their late 20s and using the experience as part of their discernment. Nurse Keri Geiger of the Diocese of Virginia spent a year doing hospice work in South Africa. Upon return, she earned certification in caring for HIV/AIDS patients.
“Much of the missionary experience — regardless of your age — is about listening, learning, sharing yourself, and just being present,” Boe said. “Being open to the mutual transformation that will take place is essential to getting the most out of the YASC year.”
G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Image: Becky Gleason of the Young Adult Service Corps interprets during her year in Honduras. • Photo courtesy of Becky Gleason