Carmen My call to ministry rang out in the midst of youth and music long before I came to or even applied to Candler. As a teenager, I was lively and ambitious, a part of every club and every team but I was also watching my father, the strongest man I knew in both spirit and in stature, battle with leukemia. My adolescent self learned to mask pain, confusion and struggling with my faith and identity behind the masks of pageants, points and prom dresses. However, in the midst of my wrestling, I found God in the Word through gospel music and learned to listen. That phase of my life is an important part of my faith journey and it shapes my vocational aspirations now.

My primary motive when applying to Candler was to access youth-centered spaces in order to learn and grow alongside the buds of a distinctively blossoming generation. In my pursuit of this goal, I came across Emory University’s Youth Theological Initiative (YTI), a three-week summer program that brings 40 high school students from around the world to campus to learn about theology. I felt inspired to apply to be a YTI mentor. I knew that this opportunity would be one in which I could sharpen my abilities to see, hear and walk alongside young people, with no intentions except to love and learn with them. And I was right.

Between move-in day and saying our goodbyes, we attended worship at a synagogue, a mosque temple, a Catholic church, traditional black churches, non-denominational churches and everything in between. Scholars were invited to plan their own unique worship services in Cannon Chapel, and shared many of their gifts with other people for the first time. Tears were shed that had been held in for years and thoughts were expressed that had never been uttered before.

Carmen and YTI scholars at the M.L. King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.We lived in an intentional community that was always messy, from early morning class preparations, long midday games of Bananagrams and late night ramen noodle and Sour Patch Kid snacks. We shared, and critiqued, meals with origins from across the globe and we danced, sang and laughed every chance we had. Most centrally, we conversed about religion, culture, race, sexuality, sexual ethics, biblical hermeneutics, identity, morals, social justice, and more. We agreed and we disagreed and we learned and we wrestled and we were disappointed and we were excited and we missed our families and by the end, we didn’t want to leave.

That is – until we realized that everything we experienced together would both bind us beyond the proximal limits of Emory University and to the world around us, and to whatever we feel called to do in this world. We all (mentor, scholar, exploratory leader, dean, director, everyone) experienced something special during the YTI Summer 2017 Academy. I am hopeful that the seeds of affirmation, inspiration and information from our special something will be continued proof of God in the world and the foundation for the beautiful garden of our future.