Hello from a less wet (but still cold) Cape Town!

I realized the other day that you might not all know what YAGM is or why exactly I am living nearly 15,500 km from home (yes, I use the metric system now). So, here is my attempt to explain YAGM! It’s in a Q&A format, so enjoy!

Q: Dear Abby, what the heck is YAGM? It sounds like a tropical disease…

A: Young Adults in Global Mission, or YAGM, is a program run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) that allows people between the ages of 21 and 29 to be sent out into various countries to learn, live, and grow among new (and often marginalized) communities. This year, there are 60 YAGMs in nine countries: The UK, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Hungary, Madagascar, Malaysia, Jerusalem/West Bank, and South Africa!

The program operates under a model of accompaniment, which we define as, “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.”

What I find most attractive about the accompaniment model is its diversion from historically typical international mission work: We are not sent out to convert people to Christianity, save them from the systemic sins of poverty and injustice, or “fix” anything about them. We do not have the answers to the problems these communities are facing. We are sent to walk together on our journeys through life.

Q: . What do you do while you’re there?

A: As YAGMs in South Africa, we focus on building relationships and “being” instead of “doing.” Basically, that means we try to separate ourselves from the task-focused American way of work and life, and instead become people-focused. It is a wonderful challenge to learn to enjoy quiet and seemingly “unproductive” moments with new people and new places. At the end of each day, instead of thinking about what I can cross off of my to-do list, I think about what I learned about people, my community, and South Africa.

Q: Yeah… but what do you DO?

A: Each YAGM has a “placement site” and we usually work 35-40 hours a week. People do a wide and fascinating variety of jobs in their YAGM year. We might work in a church, a school, a local community organization, a recreational center, a daycare, an environmental organization, and countless other types of settings. The one thing we all have in common is our focus on accompaniment. My own “placement site” is still not quite defined, and it will change throughout the year. For now, let’s just say that I live in Cape Town and each day is a wonderful new adventure.

Q: What do you hope to get out of your YAGM year? What will you do when you come back? How will this affect your life plans? Where will you live? Are you going to get a “real” job?

A: Woah, slow down there, fictional friend! The YAGM year is challenging, enriching, and unpredictable. Just ask any of the impossibly cool alumni of the program! Pastor Heidi Torgerson-Martinez, Director of YAGM, loves to say, “We send you out into the world to mess with you, so you will come back and mess with us.” I am in the process of developing a new habit of simply taking each day, each moment, as it comes. Please do me a favor: practice patience with me on this journey.

As Shane Claiborne says in his book Irresistible Revolution, “I’m not too concerned with what I am going to do. I am more interested in who I am becoming. I want to be a lover of God and people.”