This is a really cool post from a friend of mine doing youth ministry down in Oregon. Her name is Vik. I find both her personal story and the way in which that story prompted a call from God to be deeply moving. The intersection of the unique story that God has told in and through someone and the Divine knocking that opens a new sort of call is one of the most coolest things to watch and hear about. She is one of the people I see regularly online that is doing youth ministry in new and innovative ways.
"Wake up early. Stay up late. Change the world. This is the mantra I have lived by the past ten years. Youth ministry is a lifestyle, not a career. The way I work reflects the way I live and the opposite. There is no getting around the way my life and career have been intertwined as an unmarried person in the field. As an upper 20’s something adolescent, I am constantly reaching for something that will make a larger impact in the lives of my students. I want to give them opportunities to grow and change and become people of God on their own terms. The ability for a student to truly know who he or she is and the freedom to develop his or her own personality are essential to the style of youth ministry I have established. This means doing things a little radical. It means being innovative in my approach to changing young lives. It requires a bit of flexibility and a whole lot of prayer in order to make big and important paradigm shifts happen for my students through not so ordinary experiences.
Who am I? I am Victoria. I am a child of the system. I was raised in a broken home on government cheese sandwiches, low test scores and credit card debt. Somehow I managed to tread water and the scholarship game enough to earn my Bachelors of Arts degree in Religion and Christian Ministries from a private Oregon college. I am a recovering Catholic, a middle child and an emergent Presbyterian. My story is not unlike many of the students I have encountered and had the honor to mentor in the last decade. The road I took was far less traveled, but it made all the difference. It has informed my philosophy of youth ministry every step of the way.
I am now an employee of the Presbyterian Church USA. I function purely as a non-profit and seek to partner with other non-profits to change the world. I had a professor in college who used to say, “You live in a world, not an environment.” While the world itself is usually thought of in terms of billions of people, the world I inhabit is much smaller. The world I live in is roughly 150,000 people. The world I grew up in is a mere 4,000 people. The world I serve is comprised of only 600 people. It was these nine words from my philosophy professor that brought two of my worlds together for a project near and dear to my heart.
In 2013 and 2014, I took my youth group to my hometown of Reedsport, Oregon to participate in a program called “Christmas in July”. It is a community effort funded by private donations and grants which seeks to renovate and maintain homes for low income or disabled persons. My youth loved being in a coastal community, working alongside homeowners, learning new skills and feeling like their efforts were making a real difference. While we were in Reedsport, I took them to the park I used to play at growing up. I was shocked by the disrepair of the playground structures. The big yellow spiral slide was gone and its entrance had been boarded up. The climbing web eroded and was taken down. The zip line handle was broken, the ball bearings in the merry-go-round were shot and nearly every inch of metal was rusted! There were nails sticking out and the wood structure was jagged. I knew we had to do something. I was certain that with the help of my youth, I was going to rebuild my childhood park.
I began writing grants and collecting community donations last November. Support began to grow quickly for the project. After seven months of early mornings and late nights we had raised $62,000! This was the result of seven separate grants and many community donations from my hometown and my current church. The town’s parks and beautifications committee, the city government, and the local hospital foundation all jumped on board as well. The participants of Christmas in July tore out the broken playground equipment and ten of my students and several church members have dropped their plans for three days to rebuild this park with me! The church I grew up attending in Reedsport is hosting our group free of charge as well.
It has truly been nothing short of a small miracle to watch a dream come to fruition in such a short period of time. I look forward to working alongside my students on this project and helping them continue to develop hands-on construction skills that they might be able to use someday as a means of earning an income. But most importantly, I look forward to seeing the way God continues to shape this ministry and these hearts moving forward. I am hopeful I will change one of my own worlds through the rebuilding of this community park."
For more information on this project, check out our website www.gofundme.com/lionspark or like us on facebook: Rebuild Lion’s Park. The total project budget is $100,000 and we hope to complete this project by August of 2016.