In 2012/13 I had the opportunity to participate in the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. The YAV program is one in which young people live together in an intentional Christian community, working at either a church or an agency that is focused for social change. I served here in Chicago in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on the West Side. I worked at Breakthrough Urban Ministries’ youth network. This was an after school program where children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade would come and have a meal and get academic lessons in reading and math. There were also athletic programs for this same age group as well as high school aged kids. There were also evening and weekend arts classes. These included sewing classes, creative writing classes, poetry writing, and many other creative classes.
I worked primarily with the kindergarten through second grade classes. I had many opportunities to teach reading lessons and help the kids one on one with homework. One day a week, I also taught music to the morning preschool class called Breakthrough Beginners.
I used my year as a time of discernment. I knew I was called to ministry, but wasn’t sure in what capacity or what it would look like for me. I had always dreamed of becoming a teacher and then working in a school in a large city. I thought working at Breakthrough would help confirm that. Boy, was I wrong. I learned that I am not cut out for that kind of work. I also learned that youth ministry doesn’t always happen in a church. There were many times I had the opportunity to listen to the stories of life the kids would tell me. In doing so, I was able to share parts of my own story and give the kids hope that things do get better.
During my time I had thought about seminary and others had also suggested seminary to me. I was concerned about it because I never finished my undergraduate degree. I had put the idea of seminary on the back burner until one day someone told me to check out McCormick. They told me that I could get in without a degree and that I should really consider it. So, I began to look into it. I held on to the application for more than six months before I finally turned it in. I turned in my application a week late because I wasn’t sure if I was actually capable of keeping up with the academic load. I had sincerely considered not going at all. But I did turn in my application and a few weeks later was notified that I had been accepted.
Immediately after my YAV year, I felt as though it was an experience I would greatly regret. There were many things I thought and felt could have been so much better than what they were. After a year and a half after completing my YAV year, I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. I see those experiences that I once thought were negative experiences as opportunities for preparing me for my future ministry. I’ve taken those lessons learned and have begun applying them to seminary life, ministry life, and personal life.
James Potts is a second year MDiv student at MTS. He is originally from Danville, IL. The youngest of four children, he grew up in a Baptist church. He has a passion for youth ministry and feels that is where God is calling him.
To learn more about the Young Adult Volunteer program, visit the YAV website.