Five years ago, I discovered the Young Adult Volunteer program and thought it would be a great way to transition from college to…whatever I would do after college. As a YAV, I served in Nashville, Tennessee, working with children and volunteers at Preston Taylor Ministries – an after-school program for low-income families in public housing. It was different from anything I had done before, and I learned much about myself in the process.
My experience was especially enhanced by my community of fellow YAVs. We each volunteered with different organizations, so we had the opportunity to learn about various forms of service. It was eye-opening to see the interconnectedness of groups that work together to make the city a better place to live, improving the daily lives of so many people. I formed a number of strong attachments in this new place, which made the end of my YAV year bittersweet. Even though I moved away from Nashville after my time of service, part of me will always remain there through the relationships I developed.
I discovered that my roots are connected not so much to a particular place but rather to my faith in God, who is not limited by time or place.
Before I went to college and then served as a YAV, I had spent the first eighteen years of my life in one place, and I felt deeply rooted in my family, my home, and my faith. Yet confronting such major issues in Nashville – poverty, racism, and homelessness, among others – I began to question the strength of my faith in God. Whenever I felt stressed and alone during my YAV year, wondering what I was doing there, I recalled an arrangement of Psalm 139 that we sang at our YAV orientation: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the heavens you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there.” Whether I was pondering the difficult lives of the children at my placement, or imagining where and how I would serve God beyond that year, this Psalm reminded me that no matter where we are, God is always there with us. I discovered that my roots are connected not so much to a particular place but rather to my faith in God, who is not limited by time or place.
I began my YAV year in Nashville interested in the program’s emphasis on vocational discernment. Five years later, I am graduating from seminary. I don’t know what I would be doing now if I had not decided to serve as a YAV. What I do recognize is the ongoing blessing of that year, which has oriented my life in such profound ways. It was a time of personal discernment, to be sure, but my personal experience took place fully in the communal context of serving with and being with others.
My ministry experiences during seminary have reminded me of the simple yet profound power of the ministry of presence that I experienced as a YAV. Being grounded in God through the gift of faith, I can feel securely rooted in the present, no matter where I am or what I am doing. I don’t have to have my entire life planned out ahead of me. But by faithfully discerning each significant decision, I can best determine where God is calling me for the present stage of my life.
AUTHOR BIO: Karol Farris grew up near Paris, Illinois, and graduated from the University of Evansville, Indiana. She will graduate in May 2014 from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity and from Bellarmine University with a Master of Arts in Spirituality. In August, she will begin an internship at Muskingum University and First Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, Ohio.
Read more stories by YAV Alumni/ae about new life routes!
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