Jessica Yoong Essay - Beyond the Spotlight - Published on November 14, 2018

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I’m so grateful for the endeavors of the North American Division [NAD] to include and laud young adult leadership. I truly believe we are headed in the right direction and our intent is genuine, even altruistic. One such example is the inclusion of student government presidents from our Adventist campuses [AIA] and collegiate officers from Adventist Christian Fellowship [ACF] as voting members of the NAD’s year-end meetings [NADYEM]. For these collegiate leaders, NADYEM is a great honor and this spotlight on the next generation is a “feel good” for all.

My hope and challenge is for the Adventist Church to build on such moments–to integrate and empower young hearts not only into leadership, but into every facet of church life. Unless we intentionally foster a more longitudinal strategy for church life and discipleship, we will find even our brightest and best challenged in being part of everyday, Adventist faith community. Beyond the warmth of the spotlight for events such as NADYEM, what might be developed to extend warmth into our unions, conferences, and ultimately into the local church setting?

 As a case-in-point, I would share Jessica’s experience. I so appreciate her candor and it’s evident that she loves the Adventist church. My hope is her honest perspective might challenge us to move beyond the spotlight–the event-based showcase of young adults–to fostering vibrant on-ramps to Adventist faith life in the everyday context. Find following her heartfelt sentiments:

One year later, I look back on my experience at the NADYEM17 with mixed emotions. When I was asked to share some reflections on my experience and where I am now as a recent graduate and former student leader, I was moved by the opportunity and yet I hesitated. Last year, I was blessed to have the privilege of serving as the Andrews University Student Association president with voice and vote at the NADYEM. I remember the passion and excitement that was alive in the hearts and minds of my fellow student association presidents as we stayed up late discussing the dreams that we had for our student body, our generation, and our church. We brainstormed ideas for change and even took our turns at the microphone, speaking passionately on the topic of “How to keep Young Adults in the Church.”

 It was an incredible opportunity to hear the hearts of our church leaders and to be invited to participate. I am grateful for the welcoming environment and for how the leaders encouraged us to provide feedback and insights as young adults. It was a mountaintop experience, and we left Maryland inspired to be involved and hopeful for the future of our church. As the year wore on, we were able to still be involved with the NAD through various campus events such as “Is This Thing On”, and Elder Jackson even accepted an invitation to speak for one of our student-led vespers at Andrews University. Several of our student association presidents were invited to be a part of an NAD educational committee, and we were even able to continue to collaborate amongst ourselves as Adventist Intercollegiate Association presidents.

The part that pains me, is the reality of the large disconnect and loss of community that many of us as young adults now experience as we leave our college campuses and enter the world as young professionals. As most of us leave our home communities and college campuses after graduation, it is challenging to build a new community and become involved in a new local church. Even as a young professional with every advantage of working and living in a city with a large Adventist population, it can be a struggle to find a church that welcomes new involvement and where young adults can find community.

I don’t plan to give up on the passions of building community and fostering discipleship that were central to my identity in college but find it increasingly difficult to stay connected in my new environment. There no longer exists the college community of student government teams, friends, clubs, campus ministries, and campus church. Even the committee and ideas that AIA presidents were invited to participate in at the previous year’s NADYEM did not materialize, despite the time that was dedicated to brainstorming and planning.

The realization that breaks my heart is that I know that not everyone is the type of person who will drive 45 minutes to attend a young adult vespers where they may not know anyone else, and that if I am having a difficult time as a person who is actually trying to get involved and connect, then what more of the young adult who is not of that personality or is already ambivalent to staying in the church? I know that it takes time to grow new roots and to re-build one’s community, but I am afraid that not every young adult is willing to wait out the periods of disconnect and that if our churches do not intentionally involve new young adult arrivals, then we will look to build our community elsewhere.

For the many young adults who once served in the spotlight of collegiate leadership, it is difficult to navigate leadership and involvement once you have lost the “voice” that student leadership afforded you. Personally, I have been blessed to begin to build community through hosting a Friday night bible study with housemates and friends who gather to end the week by digging into the Scriptures. We have some fascinating discussions and are currently delving into the book of Acts, which coincidentally explores the birth of a new kind of church and community.

 As many of us transition from college students to young professionals, there is a twilight zone that exists before church intentionally strives to draw us in as young parents. For those of us in the period of life where we are no longer students, but working professionals who have not built young families, we are standing in a gap where many will be forced to find community and meaning outside of the church. I think that we as a church can do better to embrace our young adults who have transitioned and lost their former communities. I think that this gap is a prime opportunity for our church to recruit the energy, ideas, and skills that many young adults have to offer. I believe that each of us strives to find value and meaning in life through various channels, and that the post-grad transition forces us to discover new methods and opportunities.  And while I may not have an official leadership position, I would like to encourage others who may find themselves in the same transitional boat to take heart and to do what they can to create a community and use this season of life to deepen their personal relationship with Christ.  —Jessica Yoong

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