When You Lose Faith, Listen for the Bells

Elise Anderson, an alum from YAGM in Southern Africa in 2011-2012 (MUD 4), writes about her faith journey:

Being the daughter of two Lutheran pastors does not leave you much of a choice in how you grow up. Like most PKs and other “church kids” (kids of council presidents, choir members, alter guild members and general awesome church people) my childhood was spent playing hide and go seek in the church basement, taking naps in the pews, and spending more time with your church family than your actual extended family. I was surrounded by theology all the time, but never felt smothered by it, my parents created a good balance and were generally great in that way. Where you were going to be on Sunday morning as well as your faith was never questioned. The people of the church weren’t just your faith community they were your faith family. It was an environment that I thrived in and that I loved, I knew my place, I was the “Pastor’s kid”, I was the constant acolyte, I was the Sunday School stand out, and I loved it. All the way through high school I didn’t waver, I never questioned my place. But, as us PKs and church kids also know, this doesn’t last. Once the time comes to go off to college and leave home, you also leave the rock that you rest your faith on, you leave your church. Suddenly you’re thrown the overwhelming task of finding a new church. This is seemingly impossible, you walk into a new church on Sunday and no one knows who you are and you selfishly think that they should. You have a Reese Witherspoon moment of “dont you know who I am?!? I’m the Pastor’s kid!”… but then you realize, of course, that the robed wonder in the pulpit is not, in fact, your mother or father, you will not be taking a nap in these pews, or be obligated to stay for 4 hours after everyone else has gone home and flip through the children’s bible to kill time while your parents are in council meetings. You can leave, like every other person there, because you, like everyone else are just another sheep in the flock. It is both liberating and terrifying… and lets not forget that in your mind, no pastor will ever live up to your pastor mom or pastor dad… so good luck with that. 

Some will turn to college ministry and spend their college years bonding with a super cool pastor who wears birkenstocks and doesn’t “robe up” for service and who is always around for those soul searching moments most of us have in college. Those years in university ministry feed a lot of young people’s faith and do a lot of good, but for some they don’t quite fit with the pastor’s style or the group of people that are the most active Lutheran students, this my friends, happened to me. I spent four years of college and two years of grad school absolutely avoiding the church. I wanted nothing to do with it. I had my faith in God, so why did it matter where I prayed or spent my Sunday mornings… why were my pastor parents freaking out about the fact that I had no church community??

So, feeling lost in almost every aspect of life I turned to change. I turned to YAGM. I’ll never forget my phone interview with Heidi and feeling absolutely terrified when she asked the question “so, can you tell me about your faith journey?!” How was I supposed to answer this?? I was the daughter of TWO pastors and I was basically a church dropout! No WAY was I getting into this program, I thought, I am a failure and a fake and they’ll see it. So I was honest… I told Heidi that I was currently uninvolved in the church and was struggling to find my place. Well, what I had clearly forgotten was that that was totally ok, that the church has room for the lost and the found. And for reasons unknown to me Heidi and her crew thought I deserved a place among the YAGMs.

Going to the DIP [Discernment, Interview, Placement] event was terrifying. There were people in our group who did daily devotions, volunteered to give the sermon on Sunday, to organize our church service, who taught Sunday school through college!! Who are these people?? That’s all I could think, the whole weekend was consumed by my inner struggle that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, that these other people were just on another level, a level that I was only on in my dreams. These are the people who my parents want me to be, I thought, and I’m not even close.

The faith journey continued through my year in South Africa and has only picked up steam  since I got back. Instead of being intimidated by the faithful awesomeness that was my fellow YAGM I became inspired by it. I’m going to find a church! I’m ready! I can do this! And I did…. I’ve found my way to an awesome church community and for the first time in YEARS I feel like I’m back where I belong. I even go to Sunday School! yeah, that’s right people…. gone are the days of sneaking in during the sermon and sneaking out during the last hymn. Those days are in the past.

During my inquirers class today, which was taught by the head pastor, I was blown away. This pastor, Pastor Tim, knows his stuff and I probably could have continued our conversation all day. But, what stuck with me the most was when he talked about the church being a faith family. And that when one person looses their faith they shouldn’t run from the church they should run towards it, because as a faith family we pick up the slack for each other, we believe for each other. I thought that was so beautiful and a concept I’ve never given much thought to. He talked about how a student of Martin Luther once asked him, “Luther, if I loose faith what should I do?” and Luther’s repsonse was “if you should ever loose faith all you need to do is listen for the bells, and when you hear them run towards them, because there you will find the faithful.”

And then it hit me, like a ton of bricks, when I went towards YAGM I went towards the bells. It was the community I needed to remind me of not just the awesomeness of the church but the awesomeness of my church, the ELCA. And with the echoes of the YAGM bells in my heart and mind I am walking towards a different faith community, one that I think, will keep me around for quite a while.

Um, why are you in South Africa?

Taisha packs communion wafers made at her site

Taisha packs communion wafers made at her site

Taisha puts language to why she decided to spend the year with YAGM in South Africa:

This question has probably been in the mind of many as they have heard, one way or another,  that I was going to South Africa for a year. I have also been asking the same question. Here is my feeble attempt at how I got here and why I am here.

As of this past year, and pretty much the majority of my “senior” years, I have not had a clear grasp of a vocational calling. Most of my searching has been in the medical field, so I majored in Cell Biology & Neuroscience (Montana State’s fancy name for a premedical degree), which I graduated from in May. Many probably figured I would follow the straight and narrow right into medical school, as my high school class voted me “Most Likely to be Successful”, but I didn’t. Something was missing. I couldn’t make the commitment to at least eight more years of my life if I wasn’t completely sure. What do I count as success anyways? Is medical school a grasp at success? As of late, I have been realizing my definition is becoming more and more distant from the norms American society raised me to believe.

Therefore, if I was not continuing my education, what on earth was I going to do with my life? Something new. Somewhere new. But, who knew what that would be? One day while I was making small talk with the Lutheran campus ministry pastor, whose office just happened to be in the same building I lived in, my future came up.  I explained that I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation as I didn’t know if the commitment and lifestyle of a doctor blah blah…blah blah blah. After listening, pastors’ specialty, he told me I should look into Young Adults in Global Mission, as I am a Lutheran.

I, checked out the YAGM website and looked into the country programs they had available. After perusing, I knew that this could be a great option because, not only was the time commitment right, but, moreover, it was through the church that I trusted and focused more on being rather than doing. I was ready to ‘just be’ at the end of finishing the university years of ‘do do do’.  I wanted to serve – not succeed. Live – not produce. Attempt to not be selfish? I really don’t know if it is humanly possible, especially after living here about three months, but always worth striving for.

Many think I am running. Many think I am scared that I may not succeed in med school. Many think I am doing this for selfish reasons. Honestly, all of those thoughts are valid, and true in some way or another, but I hope that my main motive always remains true: I want to know and follow God. I want to experience and trust Him like never before, and it is happening – in the most unexpected ways.