For Alex Chong and Zach Williams, the newly formed Cross Cultural Young Adult Network is an opportunity to share the gifts of their peers with the whole church.
“My hope is that our network will become a big part of the church,” said Chong, a Korean American who works in college ministry at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We have some frustration because of the lack of young adult opportunities and involvement. I think it’s awesome to give us a voice in regard to the direction the church is heading for the next generation.”
“Young adults feel like we have a voice, and we need to put that out to the world,” said Williams, a Native American who is a newly sworn law enforcement officer outside Livingston, Texas, and about to become a deacon in his church. “I heard so many great ideas and solutions from my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I would like to try them out in my own congregation. Those same ideas can be applied to the larger church.”
It’s young adults like Williams and Chong—who are passionate about the future of the PC(USA)—that has Racial Ethnic and Cross Cultural Ministries buzzing with excitement.
“We are looking to young adults to energize the whole church and to help us learn how we can engage with them,” said Rev. Raafat Girgis, associate for Multicultural Congregational Support.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency is charged with the task of “inspiring, equipping, and connecting the church to engage and join with young adults in reforming the church for Christ’s mission.” The Cross Cultural Young Adult Network is Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries’ immediate response to begin realizing that important directional goal.
The Cross Cultural Young Adult Network will develop and share ideas on how to engage more young adults and to discern how Presbyterian Mission Agency can inspire, equip, and connect the church to join with young adults in reforming the church for Christ's mission. At the same time, the network empowers young adults, ages 19 to 30, to lead rather than to follow others in this effort.
“At first it felt like they threw us under the bus, but after we reflected, it became clear that it was very wise for them to step back and see what would come out of us rather than directing us,” Chong (pictured right) told us about the first network meeting, held in Louisville in late October 2012. “We were told that we could guide and direct the meeting. So, we focused on worship and the election of officers and team leaders.”
“I was excited and nervous. When all of us first met, we all started talking to each other like we knew each other for a long time. As soon as we were together, we were like family—brothers and sisters in Christ,” Williams said about the October meeting.
Not only is the network young adult–centric, it is also an extremely diverse group. Staff members from nine ministry offices within Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women invited two young adults each to take part in the network.
“We are making sure it’s a cross cultural perspective,” Rev. Angel Suarez, associate for New Immigrant Congregational Support, said.
“This is a group of excellent young racial ethnic leaders,” Hector Rodriguez, associate for Hispanic/Latino-a Congregational Support, added. “They come from different backgrounds but are joined by the commonality of their age.”
“What I learned is that we’re all working to try to spread the word of God in some way,” Williams told us.
“The atmosphere was very different from anything I’d experienced. My worship has always been in a Korean American context,” said Chong, who is a second-generation and American-born Korean. “The multi-ethnic, cross cultural aspect of our meeting gave me a better image of who God is. It was a totally different experience.”
Staff members hope the participants' experiences with people of different cultures and their shared interest in serving Christ will provide new insight into how best to engage young adults across the church.
“We are going directly to this peer group to find answers to questions like ‘What do they see their role is in the church?’ and ‘How come more young adults are not in the church right now?’ ” Rev. Suarez said.
And the young adults taking part are ready to offer their thoughts.
“I feel the role of young adults is to teach our youth about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Williams said. “Today is a hard time for kids, and I think they’ll respond more to others who are closer to their age when it comes to talking about God.”
“My wish is that pastors and elders mentor and guide us as young adults yet do what was said at the conference (October meeting). Let us take our own steps; they should be the handrails and guide us so we can mature,” Chong said. “I would like to see that mentoring context in the church setting—a relationship-based approach. We are trying to move forward by deepening our understanding of who God is and increasing the intimacy of our relationship with God.”
The Racial Ethnic and Cross Cultural Ministries staff is already listening. Rev. Girgis will be the network participants’ mentor and link to the ministry offices.
Racial Ethnic &
Cross Cultural Ministries
African American Congregational Support
African Emerging Ministries
Asian Congregational Support
Hispanic Latino-a Congregational Support
Korean Emerging Ministries
Multicultural Congregational Support
Native American Congregational Support
New Immigrants and Emerging Ministries
includes Middle Eastern
Cross Cultural Ministries
Racial Ethnic Young Women Together
Young Women’s Leadership Development
“It is through that direct connection that we can collaborate and find ways to meet their needs and support their ministry work with other young adults while gaining new understanding,” Rev. Lonnie Oliver, associate for African American Congregational Support, said about Rev. Girgis’ role.
“They’re allowing us to take a big step forward. In a sense, they’re passing down the baton to the next generation,” Chong said.
Those involved in the network have begun to work on a young adult program to take place in August 2013 in Louisville immediately following Big Tent. They are also responsible for guiding the growth and shaping the outreach of the Cross Cultural Young Adult Network, including building a database of young adults and working to identify the needs of young adults within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
“We want everyone to know that young adults are still here, serving God,” Williams told us. “We are ready and willing to spread the word all over the world to show God is always here with us through good times and bad.”