Author’s note: It took far longer than it should have, but the blog chronicling my YAV year in Chicago is finally up and running. Apologies for the delay, and enjoy!
One year ago, I was living on the west side of Buffalo, employed in a semi-decent paying job at a restaurant, and primarily commuted by car.
Today, I’m living on the west side of Chicago, working for the Heartland Alliance, living of an exceedingly modest stipend of $100 per month, and commute almost exclusively via the subway and the bus.
How did this change come to be?
Allow me to introduce myself- my name is Mackintosh Barker, and I’m one of 91 participants in the Presbyterian Church (USA)‘s Young Adult Volunteer Program. YAVs, as they are known, serve with under-resourced and forgotten populations– the least, the lost, and the lonely, if you will– in 21 sites around the United States and the world. Volunteers partner with various agencies and organizations in these cities for “a year of service for a lifetime of change.”
A couple of weeks ago, all of the YAVs got together at the Stony Point Conference Center north of New York City for a weeklong orientation- or “dis-orientation,” as it was framed to us. Now, this orientation consisted of many things– workshops on cultural competency, former PCUSA moderator Rick Ufford-Chase teaching us to read the Bible in a whole new way, and time for reflection with small groups.
We heard from Larissa Kwong Abazia, vice-moderator of the 221st PCUSA General Assembly, and J. Herbert Nelson, from the PCUSA’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. We even spent a day in Manhattan spent learning about the Presbyterian Church USA’s mission to the United Nations.
And, like any good Presbyterian gathering, there were energizers.
And also the “evangelization” of Kan-Jam. (You know that as a Western New Yorker, I’m particularly pleased with this one.)
Every night, we would gather for worship, and every night we would hear stories from the YAV Alumni (or ‘YAVA’) about their years. Some were funny, some were serious. One left us all in tears, too shocked for words.
And every night, we would close in song. One of my favorites was called “¡Este Momento!,” which means “This is the Moment!”
The last line of the chorus reads “This is the moment, and it belongs to God.” Not only were we reminded to take and cherish the good and the bad–and trust me, all of us will definitely experience both the good and the bad this year–but also that it all belongs to God. All of us gathered in that place, gathered together in certain uncertainty, we’re all where we are for a reason. We’re all part of God’s plan. We all belong to God.
On Sunday, preparation and orientation turned to action when went to various churches throughout the Lower Hudson Valley to be commissioned. The church I went to, First Presbyterian Church of Beacon, actually invited the five of us to lead worship, which included some of us sharing about how we came to join the YAV program. For the offertory, we taught the congregation “Sanna, Sannanina,” complete with bongos, maracas, and tambourines. After the service, we took a stroll through town and had homemade tacos with some of the congregants. It was quite a lovely day.
Then on Monday morning, it was goodbye New York, and hello YAV Year. As I was standing there, on a Metro-North train station platform in Nanuet, NY, running on far too much adrenaline and far too little sleep, it finally hit me.
This is actually happening.
This is the moment, and it belongs to God.
Ain’t that the gospel truth.
In an update coming this weekend, I’ll discuss my first couple weeks in Chicago, including where I live and what I’m doing. Things it will probably include: My neighborhood, my new job, my intentional community, and Veggie Tales.