This article is reprinted from Mission Crossroads, a publication of Presbyterian World Mission, winter 2015. To subscribe and receive three issues of the magazine each year at no cost, please visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads .
“Blake, if you give a person a fish they eat once; if you teach a person to fish they eat for a lifetime. But what do you do when all the fish in the river are dead? What do you do when the source of the fish is polluted? You go upstream and advocate.”
This is what the Rev. Jed Koball, a mission co-worker in Peru, said to me as I entered my year of service as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV). Jenny Valles Koball, the Peruvian YAV site coordinator, echoes a similar story as she and her husband partner with the Joining Hands Network to address the root causes of poverty. Their message: death will not have the final say.
Jenny and Jed use the story of Lazarus’ resurrection and Jesus waiting four days before going to see his friend (in the Hebrew tradition, only after four days was a person considered dead). Jed posits that perhaps Christ wept because those around Lazarus’ tomb accepted death too easily. Similarly, today we, as the body of Christ, need a message that resonates deeply to nurture and motivate us. We were learning how to be inspired continually to do the work of God’s kin-dom. This is why I am so grateful for my YAV year.
When a group visited from First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, my home congregation in Columbia, Md., we learned about Peru’s 20 years of terrorism, about the ripple effects violence and injustice have on the surrounding communities and about current imbalances.
In La Oroya, Peru, 98.6 percent of the children in a town of 11,000 suffer from severe lead poisoning due to an U.S.-owned metal smelter that ignores environmental policies. How do we ask Lazarus to take of his grave clothes knowing what’s beneath them is smelly? That’s why when First Presbyterian of Howard County chose to help fund Jed and Jenny’s work, and invited Jed to speak with the youth about advocacy, preach in their Sunday services and present on an Earth Care Forum panel, I was encouraged. The church in Peru and the church in the U.S. are growing in partnership and equipping one another through resources and prayer. The belief that a dead river can come back to life reveals that the church can be a meaningful force against worldly inequality. Life will have the final say.
It was amazing for me to live with a host family in Peru without being fluent in Spanish. To have no voice forced me to learn how to be an ally, walk alongside my Peruvian neighbors and discern the power of presence. Through the YAV program, the work of the Joining Hands Network and the support of my home congregation, I witnessed God’s people inspiring, equipping and connecting one another to continue God’s kin-dom building with our partners in responsible and loving ways. Glory be to God!
The Young Adult Volunteers program, a ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has been changing the lives of young adults ages 19 to 30 for more than two decades. Since 1994, more than 1,500 YAVs have lived in intentional Christian community, deepening and developing their faith while serving alongside partners in sites across the United States and around the world. The early decision deadline for the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program is December 1, 2015. Submit your application early, sites do fill up! Watch a short video about YAV.