Young Adults in Global Mission – Argentina Uruguay
When I applied for the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program with the ELCA last December, I wanted nothing more than to escape the US for a year. I was blessed with the opportunity to study for four months in Italy as part of my master’s program at Kansas State University, and since that semester in Europe my hunger for global travel has grown insatiable. I wanted to see, to explore, to consume (as is the nature of the tourist), and if I could serve the Lord while doing so, then what could be a more incredible opportunity? So, when applications opened on the first of December 2017, mine was submitted that same afternoon. I told myself I was doing it in service of God, and I suppose in part I was, but mostly I was doing it for myself.
Then in March, I was accepted to the program, and in April attended the Discernment Interview Placement event (DIP). At the end of what proved to be the most spiritually challenging, and empowering, four days of my life, I received my placement: the United Kingdom. I was going back to Europe! My heart overflowed with joy; there wasn’t anything more I could have hoped for, and my family was thrilled. I was headed to a nice, safe, English speaking country for my year of service. Then in May, with a fresh Master’s degree under my belt, I headed out to California for the summer to lead staff at Mt. Cross Ministries in the redwood forest. Everything seemed to be going my way, but in the back of my mind something felt off; something felt too comfortable. Then, in the middle of summer camp week four, everything changed. I sat down to breakfast one morning with some of our family campers, and felt my phone buzzing up a storm inside my pocket. I pulled it out to see that my YAGM UK group text was going nonstop, which was actually a relatively common occurrence. Yet, as I quickly scanned the messages, my eyes slowed as they moved down the screen… Something was wrong. As I reached the bottom message, I saw these words, “Guys. Check your email right now.” Sitting in my inbox was an email from YAGM with the subject line “Difficult news”. Similar to the “America-First” movement with the Trump Administration, the UK is experiencing greater and greater isolationist sentiment in their post-Brexit policy. What had happened was, YAGM is partnered with an organization in the UK called Time for God. TfG handles all the logistics for site-placement, visa application, and volunteer work for the YAGM UK Country Program, and the UK government had recently passed legislation which suspended TfG’s ability to receive foreign-work-visas. The short version? With just over a month before we were supposed to leave country, all the members of my country group, myself included, were reassigned to new country placements. And I stared dumbstruck at my phone’s screen as I read the tiny words “Argentina/Uruguay” sitting next to my name.
Argentina or Uruguay?? My mind raced. I can’t speak Spanish, I have no interest in South America, I don’t know anything about the culture or people of those nations! Why on Earth am I going there? And then I took a deep breath. Actually, I took a lot of deep breaths; like an hour and a half of deep breaths. As I tried to even begin to process what all of this would mean for myself, my family, and my year, something somehow felt right in the midst of all the chaos. It wasn’t that I believe God wants us to live in perpetual fear, frustration, or concern, but up until my reassignment I was living the year for me. I was wholeheartedly going to dive into the ministry work I was assigned while working in the United Kingdom, but that was where I had always hoped I’d be assigned. To instead receive news that, “No Eric, you won’t be doing what is comfortable, what you’ve hoped, or what you’ve expected. Instead you’ll be forced into a more humble role. One where you do not know the place or the people. Where you do not know the language or the work. One where you will truly be forced to accompany; not to walk before or behind, but beside the Argentinian people.”
I will be simultaneously working at two different sites during my year of service. Living in the capital city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, I will be volunteering at a hogar, a living facility for adults with developmental disabilities, and also at a Lutheran church, where I will help with their youth program. What usefulness I will provide, with my limited experience in both these ministries, I cannot say. Quite honestly, it scares me a lot. But at the same time, I feel increased conviction with every day that passes, that Argentina is where the Lord truly wants me to serve. The thing that caught my attention with YAGM in the first place is how it does not seek to be the missionaries of the past. Those cultures and peoples who have forced their culture, beliefs, and religion on so many others, at the expense of the “other’s” destruction. YAGM seeks to be different, to walk with, instead of over. I wish I could tell all of you what this year will bring, but honestly I cannot. Other than that I know it will profoundly change myself, and my seventy-six other brothers and sisters in Christ, who have also found it on their hearts to follow this mission. I ask for your prayers and your thoughts in our discernment and our work.
I began writing by saying I applied to YAGM to escape the US. To run from its brokenness, and to instead try to help the brokenness of another nation. I’ve realized that I will not be doing any “fixing”. I will watch, and learn, and try to love as best as I am able, in the hopes that what I take from this experience I can bring home. And when I return home, I can share that experience to hopefully widen the views of others, as my own views have been expanded. My fears for this year are nearly as numerous as my excitement, but in the end this year isn’t about me. This year is for God, the church, and the world.
My name is Eric Jensen; I grew up in Wichita, KS and attended college at Kansas State University, where I received my Master’s Degree in Architecture this past May. My home congregations are Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, where I grew up, and First Lutheran Church in Manhattan, where I attended while at university. If you are interested in reading more of my experiences in the upcoming year, you can find my blog at https://arquitectodelcambio.wordpress.com/ , where I will be posting regular updates throughout my time in Argentina. Grace and peace to you all.