There I was, sitting on my couch in Minneapolis with one of my roommates, watching meaningless TV to pass the evening, falling into a monotonous routine of searching for jobs and programs, but lacking the connection to what they stand for and without real understanding of what it is that I really need to do next. That is when I was referred to check out the Young Adult Service Corps, I think I watched the playlist of videos five times that night, my heart racing and my skin chilling. It was like it was meant to be, I knew this is what I wanted to do and this is what I should be doing.
My path to YASC really is a journey that started way before I even knew what YASC was. While at my time attending Gustavus, I really didn't know what I wanted to do next. I had plenty of ideas and plans, started countless applications to jobs and service organizations, like the Peace Corps - but it never clicked. I never felt comfortable sending those off and it didn't seem like that really was where I should go. It was the total opposite while I was writing my YASC app. I don't think I stopped writing once, I didn't get easily distracted by procrastination websites on my laptop. I sat down and emotion flowed into my writing. It all seemed like it fell into place, right then and there.
Not too soon after, I was invited to a discernment weekend in Stony Point, New York with the group of applied YASCers, staff and a couple alumni (to serve in a non-staff peer role). It may seem exaggerated, but it was one honestly of the best experiences I have had since I graduated from Gustavus. After the 3 hour journey turned into a 36 hour one, with an unplanned overnight layover in Charlotte, NC, I made it to the Stony Point Center, a multi-cultural retreat center about an hour north of NYC.
As everyone trickled in for the weekend from across the country, following a myriad of cancelled and delayed flights, it was great to meet everyone, and we seemed to bond instantly. As I felt like we might get yelled at for being too loud too late, I reminded myself that I really didn't know these people. It was just so great to be surrounded by such an accepting, loving group of empowered and driven young adults. There we spent a weekend filled with deep conversation, prompted by questions in a large group to others around the delicious food served in the cafeteria. I was able to be open about my goals, my struggles and how they brought me to YASC, and how I can utilize my experiences to be a missionary with the Episcopal Church. We were able to worship as a small community, and talk about what the next year might have in store, talk about reclaiming the word 'missionary' as it relates to our placement with YASC, and express our goals which we would like to attain through YASC. We want to stray from the post colonial connotations surrounding the word 'missionary' placing more emphasis on a ministry of presence centered on fellowship. As we left, we were charged to pray and reflect on what it will mean to be a international missionary, and if global service is correct for us. I think part of the reason the bending and twisting, pulling and collapsing worked so easily at discernment was the support for us to sincerely make the best decision for ourselves, it was ok for us to not be sure about YASC, or to determine that it was not right, however, I never second guessed going on with my decision, it only strengthened my passion toward YASC and its mission.
After I officially sent of my discernment decision (which seems kind of odd because discernment is a lifelong tour) I waited with bated breath, I do not think I have ever checked my email as often as I did for those weeks, constantly looking for some word on my placement. Once I finally found out, I was ecstatic, a harsh understatement. I was in my house in Minneapolis, jumping and running around with excitement. South Africa is where I wanted to go, and working with sustainable solutions has developed into one of my passions. A perfect fit.
I would also like to share something about what I learned about 'discernment' on my trip to New York for my discernment weekend. Prior to it, people asked me what I was doing in New York, was it an interview? No it wasn't, it was discernment. I avoided using that word because I wasn't quite sure what I was doing either, I even looked it up to see what it means. I would start out by saying it is generally a churchy word, meaning to make a guided decision, but it also leads to a decision. I had thought that it was something I really never had done before, but then enlightened that it is something that we will always be doing. Going through the YASC discernment process made my understanding clearer and more muddled, as well. Discernment doesn't happen overnight, and does not leave you alone. It takes conversation, and it takes silence and reflection- a conversation with yourself and God. In NY we talked about where discernment is at its best. It's where we gently hold onto questions without a definite sense of resolution, a complicated answer. As I try to define it I am only guided to question it further. In discernment we are called to step up, and step back. What I may have to say may be pertinent and should be heard , and other times it is more important to observe the silence and make space for God.
Now is the time for my fundraising, I'm sure the time I have in next four months, before I depart, will go by faster than I can imagine. Here is the letter I have written for the Diocese of SD newsletter with more info on my placement and how to get invested in my placement, take a look and become part of my mission along with me, if you have not already!
Hi! My name is Willie Lutes, many of you may know me very well, and others of you may have never met me or heard of me, but someone you know knows me. I want to let you know about the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC), let you know a little about me, and ask for your assistance in sending me to my Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) placement in Cape Town, South Africa! A little about me and my mission- I have grown up in the Episcopal Church and followed my mom, The Reverend Kathy Monson Lutes, along with our dad, Rick, and my brother Tom from church to church and to and from seminary. I am currently a member at St. Andrew's in Rapid City, however, I am currently living in Minneapolis during this odd transition period post college. Last spring I graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN with a BA in Biology. When I was approached with the application for YASC, I knew it was what I wanted to do, I have never felt so right and confident about an application, ever. Just watching the promo videos, I had goosebumps. It was a feeling that this is what I need to be doing this year. I invite you all to watch those videos as well at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/young-adult-service-corps.
Part of the reason I feel so connected already is the mission of YASC, I love how Grace Flint put it in the video, "the concept that you go to be with people... just to be." It is a 12 month period in which I have the opportunity to give my talents and devote myself to a piece of the global mission of the Episcopal Church. I realize this experience will not be a magic cure for me to know exactly what I will be doing for the rest of my life, but I am definitely looking forward to the opportunity to center myself, and become closer to what it means to be me, and better know what my role is in the chaos of the world. I am no stranger to global travel as well, I am looking forward to all the new experiences, friends, and connections I will make along the way. This will be one of the most challenging years of my life to date, but I am confident the skills I bring and growth I hope for can guide my experience.
My specific placement is working with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which incorporates the countries of South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique, while supporting the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN). The Anglican Church of Southern Africa is one of the biggest supporters of YASC, and has become a perennial receiving province for YASCers. ACEN is a great fit for me, it will utilize my passion and knowledge of conservation and sustainability and I bring an ex-pat and servant viewpoint to work with a culture different than our own. According to the website, the mission of ACEN is "to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the earth." I also was attracted to a statement released to Anglicans worldwide and friends of creation, expressing support for "a world which promotes justice and harmony for all and hope for future generations." I urge you to take a look at the ACEN website as well, http://acen.anglicancommunion.org/.
So where do you fit into this? I hope everyone feels like there is a place for them in my placement. I am looking to fundraise a minimum of $10,000, a figure given to me by the Mission Personnel Office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, an administrative branch Episcopal Church. Where does that donation go? I will be given airfare to and from my placement, health, dental and life insurance while I am overseas, a $500 stipend monthly for living expenses, and $1,000 on my return to get back onto my feet once I return to the United States. I hope that you will choose to support me for a certain period of time, one day will take about $28, one week about $192, for one month with a donation of $833, or another figure which you feel fitting.
It is my vision, that along with a donation, you can feel like it is an investment into the mission I will serve. Whether or not you feel you can donate money at this time, I ask for your prayers for me and for the mission of the Young Adult Service Corps. I would like the community of the Episcopal Church, and wider, to come together to support sustainability on a global level and to feel connected to my experience. If you are not Episcopalian or Anglican, I pray that you may see the wider good and impact I hope to have, outside of the church as well as in the larger community. In order for me to be better connected to you, I will keep a blog during my period of mission. If you wish, please follow my experiences through this medium. I have set up a blog with the address willieyasc.blogspot.com.
If you wish to donate, please go the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota website, https://www.diocesesd.org/donations/ and in the comment area write Willie Lutes. If you wish to send a check, please send it to The Diocese of South Dakota, 500 S. Main Avenue, Sioux Falls SD 57104, and in the memo line write Willie Lutes.