Chris Sarkowski is the Director of Ministries for Children and Youth at First Presbyterian Church in Auburn, Alabama.
Helping others who struggle with issues surrounding food insecurity has been a mission focus
for our youth for a while now. We regularly volunteer at the Food Bank of East Alabama sorting
food and packing bags for the Backpack Buddies program. Our youth volunteer at the
Community Market where they stock shelves and prepare the market for folks to come in and
shop for groceries. We also help with the planting, harvesting, weeding and watering at our
church’s garden plot where we grow a variety of vegetables that are donated to the Community
But if you were to ask our group of junior high girls who have been to CYM the past two years
what their favorite mission thing is, they would all give the same answer without hesitation,
“Preparing and serving lunch at Neighbors Together.” And if you asked them why, each of them
would, again, give you the same answer. “The people.” “Meeting the people.” “Talking to the
people we are serving.”
The work we do in our local community to fight hunger is extremely important. The Food Bank
of East Alabama serves seven counties and provided over 4.5 million meals to families last year
alone! That can’t happen without volunteers like our youth. But it very rarely, if ever, provides
the opportunity for our youth to meet the people they are serving.
That’s part of what makes our time at CYM so meaningful to our youth. Working with
organizations like Neighbors Together allows them the opportunity to meet the people they are
serving. They see first-hand how a hot meal can affect someone who is hungry. Not only does
that meal fill someone’s belly, but it puts a smile on their face and reminds them that they are
loved by God. And it reminds our youth that although they are 400 miles from home, the
people of North Charleston are their neighbors too!
by Linzi Anderson, Asheville Youth Mission Director
It’s 10:30 on the Tuesday after Pentecost and we are headed to the vast parking lot of the abandoned Bi-Lo in Black Mountain. We pull in behind the Starbucks and see the familiar green canopy tents going up in the back corner. We make our way across the asphalt to the Bounty and Soul truck and start unloading tables. The six footers are easy to haul, but I am pretty sure I will always look like an awkward toddler anytime I attempt to haul an eight foot table by myself - that doesn’t stop me from trying though. Karla is there to greet us and is ready (as always) to point us and our tables in the right direction. This begins a flurry of activity involving Trader Joe’s flowers, yellow and white gingham table cloths, black crates and cardboard boxes brimming with produce, hand packed diapers, the bonus table getting loaded with bread and watermelons, and Claudie’s white van unloading locally grown goodness.
By 11am folks are arriving and packing into the cooking demo tent to see one of this week’s suggested recipes. Francisco gets the music going as the community continues to gather. The playlist is a millennial’s dream! As the music flows and the community gathers there is something in the air that makes my heart smile. A collection of wagons and banana boxes have appeared by the welcome table, ready for community members to load them up when the market opens. As the cooking demo wraps up and 11:30am rolls around the shopping begins. Together we are reclaiming good food and tapping into our interconnectedness. Folks walk around the market greeting one another and picking up onions, okra, oranges, salad greens, peppers, kale, herbs, and squash, to name a few things. When crates and baskets get close to empty Ruben makes sure a second and then a third wave of produce get’s unloaded from the refrigerated truck to replenish supplies.
As I empty another box of bread onto the table and take it all in, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, I can’t help but think of Pentecost and the life of the early church. Good news is being spoken at the Bi-Lo. Good news is being spoken in English, and Spanish, and in hugs, and in full bellies. This free market proclaims the good news that another way is possible, that we don’t have to accept the lie of scarcity, that together we can live in a way that means our whole community has enough. This gathering is a place where all people are welcome and where our diversity is celebrated as a gift. I can’t help but think that this holy chaos is an echo of that Pentecost day. From the soil of local community farms, to the sorting hub in an industrial estate, to this market in a Bi-Lo parking lot, to the cooking and gathering around tables, all of this work is sacred and healing. As I help sort the rye from the sourdough my mind wanders to the refrain of a favorite hymn of mine: “Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again, pass the Word around, loaves abound.” For me this hymn and this market proclaim the same hope that we need; the hope that abundance can be found in seeming scarcity, the hope that even in the face of oppressive systems the people have power, the hope that life and connection always find a way.
It’s 12:45 and the market begins to wind down. The watermelons are long gone, only a few loaves of bread remain, and the last of the produce is being gathered into baskets and wagons. As tables get emptied the gingham cloths are wiped clean and folded before the tables begin to get loaded back into the truck. The parking lot slowly empties as we load up the sandbags that were weighing down the green canopies. I direct my taller friends to undo the velcro loops at the top of the tent (because I am too short to reach) as we collapse our shaded shelters one by one, ready for Francisco to load into the van. Shortly after 1pm all traces of the market are gone from this parking lot, but I know that this community’s commitment to show up for one another continues to leave a mark on each of us. We are sent out from this place reminded that we are not alone, that we belong to a community of care, and that together we have more agency than we realize.
by Maggie Kinton
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them…
Middle school is hard, and high school can be even harder. Growing up brings struggles with friendship, confidence, and a search for purpose. For me, high school and middle school came with a lot of big questions, particularly of the God sort. I will never forget sitting in church at 14 and beginning to cry, because I felt so overwhelmed by my lack of understanding. I was constantly asking questions along the lines of "Is God real? What about hell and heaven?" The bible says a whole lot of stuff I don't agree with, and a whole lot of stuff that goes against what I believe, but at the same time I read so much that deeply resonates with me. What does this mean?
Questions like these formed the background of my teenage years, and they are questions I've yet to find perfect answers to. YMCo is a Christian organization, teaching youth through action and reflection what it is like to participate in the Kingdom of God, or the Kindom, as we call it. What we do at YMCo is rooted in what we find in the Bible. But what does the Kindom mean to someone who isn't sure about this whole God thing?
What I like most about the Bible, and about our curriculum at YMCo, is that you don't have to believe in God to understand what the bible's authors are saying about the society they lived in (and the one we live in now). Seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly are sacred acts that extend to the secular world. One does not have to be a member of a church, or a believer in the Word, to embody what we call holy. If we are crafted in God's image, and the home of God will be among mortals, everyone can experience God's love. We often ask each other at AYM, "Where did you see or experience God today?" When I ask this, I am putting a universal concept in sacred terms.
To change the wording, perhaps we could ask, "Where did you see justice, love, or peace today?" We might not understand the Bible, and we might not understand what this whole God thing is all about. However, what I find special about YMCo is that we provide a curriculum that is meaningful, even for someone questioning their religion. I still have many questions about my faith, but my belief in seeing and caring for those on the margins stands firm. Regardless of belief, we all have a common calling to uplift each other and to see our collective holiness and humanness. God is far too complex for us to ever comprehend. I believe God welcomes that middle school confusion, that crying in the church balcony, and the endless questions. God embraces that turmoil, and invites us to find our common ground as human beings. To look one another in the eye is to see God, is to see our purpose.
by Jordis Blackburn
Where do you go to church? As a native of the south, this question is all too familiar. Almost as common as “Where are you from?” or “What school do you go to?” asking where a person attends church tends to be part of our greeting. For so many regions, church identity has been interwoven with individual identity, and a lack of church attendance is reason to judge our fellow person. Church. This is a word many, including myself, have misdefined. Defining church as “a building for public and especially Christian worship,” Merriam-Webster has made a mistake in this case. Church is not just a fancy stone building in the middle of town nor is it defined as any one particular enclosed space. So then… what is “church”? Here are some mentions of the church through the bible:
“Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God”
“So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; 21 in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
“For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another”
See what I mean? Although the word for church varies from “household of God” or “dwelling place for God” to “body in Christ”, I see each of those phrases as synonyms of church. Contrary to the typical definition, I have grown to see how church is more dependent on community and relationship than it is
by Matthew Littrell
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs
up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
-Isaiah 43: 18-19
When I read Isaiah, the message of this piece of scripture particularly stands out to me. In Isaiah 43, the prophet Isaiah is giving words of encouragement to the discouraged and exiled Israelites. Isaiah is trying to get the Israelites to understand that their God is the same God now as He was in the past. The same power God exhibited when He brought his people out of Egypt and saved them in the wilderness is at work all around them today. Isaiah is trying to tell them that God made a way in the wilderness then, and He can and will do it again.
Each Monday morning, I give a glimpse of this context to our youth. I want each youth to understand that the same God at work in the Bible is at work here in Charleston. The same power God exhibited when He forged a path for the Israelites and raised Jesus from the dead is at work here in this place. That same God is at work today, preparing a way into all your hearts. I then pray that each youth will begin to experience the transformative power at work this week.
However, I did not truly understand what it meant to experience the power of God until I had time to interact with the groups this week. One of our main discussions was about being willing to be uncomfortable. Many youth on these YMCo Summer Mission Immersion Trips are stepping into the uncomfortable world of service for the very first time. Many have never had the opportunity to serve their neighbors in need of a hot meal. Most have never handed out water bottles and snacks on a hot day to locals in the community. These trips are about embracing the uncomfortable and striving to be vulnerable.
by Will Macaulay
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those
who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom. And they are getting
killed. And their lives are being taken as they pursue justice and peace for all.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil
against you, falsely on my account. And they get imprisoned for the crime they didn’t commit.”
Liturgies from Below, Cláudio Carvalhaes
After my fifth week of programming in Asheville, I’ve decided to take a moment to reflect
on the mission of YMCo; as well as my own personal mission. Included in YMCo’s mission is the
pursuit of justice, the encouragement of creativity, and the transformation of people and
As far as my own personal mission, I believe in my purpose of creating peace and
discovering what that entails in the few communities that I call home. For each, I believe that a
basic understanding of what justice looks like among the people and contrasts of a community
is the cornerstone of beginning to create peace.
Here in Asheville, our curriculum is focused on how everyone can contribute to
addressing the core issues around us that result in extreme poverty, hunger, and pain. While we
believe volunteering at various agencies to provide basic relief to the symptoms of poverty is
both necessary and, to some extent, a responsibility to the privileged, simply slapping a
bandage over the most vulnerable and marginalized groups is not enough. On top of
contributing the time and resources available to us, it is insulting and inhumane to turn our eyes
away from the things that cause many to go hungry, or go without shelter, or remain stuck in a
cycle of poverty.
“But I say to you who hear. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” - Luke 6:27-31
This passage is one that can sometimes be confusing to youth in our bible studies. At first, I read it as telling people to simply love others and treat them well. Then, after a bit more consideration, I thought it was preaching to let other people treat you poorly, to be a pushover, to not stand up for yourself.
However, one of my favorite parts of leading this Bible study is giving youth some historical context on what this verse says to do. For example, it reads, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” At first, this seems like a direction to take the pain that the world throws at you without pushing back. However, in the historical context, people in power would typically slap people below their social status with the back of their hand. To turn and offer the other cheek would be to demand that they treat you as an equal and assert your dignity.
by Alison Sink
Revelation 21: 1-3
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home[a] of God is among mortals.
He will dwell[b] with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them and be their God
The first weeks of the summer season are often a whirlwind of making sure that we all know what we’re doing and where we’re going. Seeing in our first groups is exciting, all these smiling faces that are here to learn and grow and serve. As we embark on this summer of service, we are unpacking the ideas of what it means to usher in the Kingdom of God. During my time in different agencies in the Asheville area I have had lots of little moments in which I have seen the creation of the Kingdom in this present day and age. When I think back to some of these experiences, one in particular comes to mind.
Anna J. Cooper Haywood, A Woman from Raleigh We Should Know
In honor of Women’s Month I want to share a story about an amazing woman that I discovered on my way to work one day. I was driving to my office in downtown Raleigh, while stopped at a red light, I noticed a historical marker on the side of the street. It stated: “Anna J. Cooper, educator, orator and early black feminist…” I made a note to myself to look up more information about Anna. To my amazement here is what I discovered!
“If you inquire into the history of the metropolitan area in which you live, you will probably find ample evidence of how the federal, state, and local governments unconstitutionally used housing policy to create or reinforce segregation in ways that still survive.” ― Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America