The beauty of the Emerging Leader Cohort (ELC) program is the ability to create a supportive and encouraging community of young adults seeking to understand better the calling God has placed on their lives. This program is primarily online, but in June, the ELC had the amazing opportunity for almost all its members to gather in person in Puerto Rico for one week. During this week, these young adults spent three days serving the local community, almost a full day in a spiritual retreat, and nearly three full days attending ABC’s Biennial Mission Summit.
During their time of service, the team was split into two groups: indoor and outdoor.
The outdoor group spent the first two days serving in a local neighborhood and working on two different homes. They were able to power wash the first one and prepare it to be painted and restored after hurricane damage. On the second home, they were able to paint the exterior walls helping to protect it from the sun and rain.
The indoor group was able to help at the church where the team and I were staying. They were able to help prepare for some VBS activities, organize materials left behind from a previous team, and prepare for other events happening at the church. This group was also able to minister to one of the church leaders and create a space where she could relax and take a moment to pause.
On the third day, the team and I had the opportunity to serve alongside the American Baptist Home Mission Society team to pack 550 educational backpacks and 250 hygiene backpacks for the local communities.
Following our service days, the team was able to pause themselves and spend some time reflecting on their faith journeys. Spending almost a full day in retreat with one another, diving deeper into their spiritual disciplines and the concepts of containment and attunement.
After the retreat, the team was able to spend nearly three days attending the Biennial Mission Summit Conferences. During this time, they were able to participate in sessions and network with other young adults, missionaries, and pastors. They asked, “What’s next?” discerning what the Fall semester of school could hold, what the next chapter of their life could hold after graduation, and more.
This week required a high demand on this team physically—one which they all meet with grace and strength. But this week’s natural beauty was how they interacted with each other and those around them. For most of these 12 ELC members, it was the first time they could be in person with their cohort members. Over the course of this week, the power of God’s presence shining through each of these young adults was breathe taking to witness.
“Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.”
1 Timothy 4:12, The Message
This verse from 1 Timothy is one of many that is a guiding factor for me as the leader of ELC. During this week in Puerto Rico, I have never seen this verse lived out as thoroughly as by these 12 ELC members.
When you spend as much time as this group has online with one another, being in person is a precious gift. One that can and will change the course of relationship building. For these young adults, it was no exception. They were given the space to sit with one another and ask,
“How are you?”
“Tell me more about your journey.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
As wonderful as Zoom and technology are, there is no replacing the opportunity to sit with a friend for a late-night conversation filled with encouragement and learning more about one another. To stand on top of a roof while power washing, sharing your faith journey, the highs, the lows, and everything in between. Or the joy that comes with singing Veggie Tale songs while in a van driving back to the church. The opportunity to share words was not missed on this group. They seized every opportunity to talk with one another and continue laying the building blocks of their relationships.
As the leader, the most beautiful moments to witness were the acts of love within this group. When they would check in on each other, making sure they were drinking plenty of water while in the warm Puerto Rico sun. Or the moments of encouragement and advice the older members would share with the younger ones about life’s struggles or faith questions. The times when they would support and embrace one another through the tears. Even in the moments of sadness when it was time to say, “See you later.”
When I would step back and watch this group interact, there was nothing but love for each other. It was a beautiful testimony of God’s presence working through each individual. It can only be God at work to bring these twelve young adults together for the first time and to see nothing but love.
These young adults have a passion and desire to follow God’s calling. Some are still in the discernment process with a blurry path ahead of them, while others see the way before them but are working to take one step at a time. During their time together, there was not a day that passed that you could not hear individuals sharing about their faith walk, through their struggles, the questions they held/hold or the miracles they have witnessed along the way. Taking about their faith, sharing their stories, asking their questions, and sharing resources were essential elements for these young adults and one they did not shy away from.
By Integrity, By Demeanor
I have connected these two because, for this group, you cannot have one without the other. Each one of the ELC members held others in respect, in love and welcomed them with open arms despite their tiredness, despite being stretched out of their comfort zone, and despite all the newness. They embraced all they met with God’s love. These young adults also hold firm to their faith and their beliefs but welcome new insights and new lenses through which to view the world, taking this information and letting it inform their journey. They are eager to learn more about the world and the beautiful people walking it.
As this group continues its journey together this coming year, it will be wonderful to see how relationships grow and change because of this week they have spent together. I look forward to seeing deeper conversations, more laughs, stronger connections and for the next time we can all be in person together. The blessings that emerged from this week in Puerto Rico are too many to name, but the impact of our time together will always be written on the hearts of these 12 ELC members and on mine.