“So what is it that you do for a living?” This may be the one question I most avoid. Not that I am not happy with my job or embarrassed by what I do. It is just difficult to explain what I do in a sentence or two. There is the “Executive Director of a national not-for-profit” option. I usually go with this when I am on a plane. It has that “I have an important job” aura and in most cases is sufficient enough that I do not have to explain any further.
When I am in a feistier mood I like to tell people I am the director of a faith based not-for-profit and we are connected to Mennonite Church USA and Presbyterian Church USA. This approach scares all but the most curious folks. When the conversation is pursued it usually ends with a comment about how fulfilling my work must be.
When I start to reflect on what I do for a living, I find myself conflicted.
Our Discover program invites youth groups into the city. The hope is that they catch a glimpse of God’s face. From a certain perspective this almost sounds heroic. Introducing people to what God is doing in the city can be shocking. You see, God has a way of working in and through people who might not be accepted in the church. I remember asking a homeless man to speak on a Monday night. He began his talk by declaring that he and Jesus had more in common with each other than the church group who was in the audience. He reminded them that Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine. From his perspective both he and Jesus were drinking men.
Our Dwell program invites young adults into the city for one year. Many of these people come wanting to make a difference. More often than not they are recent college graduates. They want to be useful and used by God. This impulse is encouraging, but so often the desire to “do ministry” has been built on misconceptions of the people from the city and what their needs are. There is a sense that the first step in working with these Dwellers is to deconstruct their idea of “the call.” Once this happens space is created to reimagine who God is and what that call might require. This work is painful and fulfilling all at the same time.
Then there is our Discern program. These are our summer staff. Seventy percent of these young people are from the communities in which we are located. Asking urban young people of color to provide leadership over mostly Anglo suburban and rural youth and their sponsors often leads to frustration. There are the inevitable cultural misunderstandings layered with different faith and life experiences. All of this is a prescription for disaster and the most amazing God moments.
There you have it, an overview of my job.