Young Adults in Global Mission: Relational Ministry in the 21st Century

Date posted: Wednesday 06 December 2017

“Young Adults in Global Mission is the single best thing the ELCA is doing right now”.


I’ve heard these words spoken by several pastors and church leaders across the country, and although there’s an array of ministries ongoing across the ELCA, I agree.


The Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program invites young people into a year of service across the world. Within this year, service experiences are wide-ranging, but have similar impacts — reshaped hearts and minds through intentional learning, expanding zones of comfort, relationship building, service work, and spiritual formation. As a result, YAGM is not simply a gap-year program or a “trip” outside the country. Rather, it’s a living experience that speaks to the life of Jesus — walking hand in hand, in solidarity, with our neighbors across the world to serve and practice mission that embodies mutuality and human interconnectedness. This methodology of ministry shatters the heavy historical context that the word “missionary” has carried in past decades. Those who participate in YAGM embark on a year of service not only centered on tactile accomplishment, but relational mission.

I worked with an NGO centered on rural development in Cambodia, called Life With Dignity, that has strong Lutheran roots. It originated from the Lutheran World Federation as a humanitarian aid organization and has evolved into a localized development NGO over the decades.


Human Community, Relational Ministry

Since YAGM’s inception, 900 young adults have partaken in the program. This mass of young people already has and will continue to invigorate ELCA congregations and its ministries, and guide the ELCA as we navigate the unchartered waters of the 21st century. Nearly one-third of alumni have entered seminary education, providing means to fill much needed church leadership in the future. And roughly two-thirds are entering social-services careers, which often translates to strong lay leaders or bolstered diaconal ministry in congregations.


My experience in Cambodia, where I served as a YAGM volunteer, has influenced me in so many ways — some of which that I’m still uncovering. As a statistics major in college, I was a “numbers guy” and didn’t quite grasp how impactful human community and relational ministry are in this world. But after such an experience, I’ve never been so keenly aware of the power in being proximate with those around me and lending not only my hands and feet, but my eyes, ears, and heart to others. Human relationship has immense potential to influence mission and to help change the world through collective thought, action, and faith.


I’ve seen God, in ways so visceral and alive that were previously unknown to me during my time in Cambodia. My experiences with my colleagues and friends in Cambodia, many of whom are Buddhist, molded me in ways of how it means to practice justice, reconciliation, and hospitality — true embodiments of Christ’s gospel. And this experience is not exclusive to me. Other YAGM volunteers across the world encounter God and the message of Jesus through congregational ministry, evangelism, human rights work, education, healthcare, music, and youth ministry.


What We Are Capable Of

Currently, I’m traveling across the ELCA to help promote Young Adults in Global Mission, as well as lift-up other global ministries across the ELCA, through the lens of the ongoing “Always Being Made New” Campaign. During my travels, a current narrative I’ve come across these past months is worry, disorientation, and despair for what may lay ahead for the church in the future. But I don’t share this concern. From what I’ve witnessed these past three months being back in the US has told me otherwise. Instead, what I see across the ELCA is a church that is alive; a church that is engaged and passionate about local and global outreach; a church that is dedicated to faith formation centered on the message of Jesus; a church that contains the capacity to embrace Christ-focused change; and a church that practices church together.


And sure, young people aren’t a demographic one readily associates with church, but do not be mistaken — this program is not just maintaining the presence of a presumed scarce demographic, but growing it in its numbers and in its intensity across the ELCA. As waves of global service-minded adults engage the ranks of the church, fresh off their immersive and world experience, the possibilities are endless for what this church is capable of.


The 85 YAGM volunteers that I served with during 2016-2017. This year, 93 volunteers are serving in 11 country programs that span 6 continents in the world.

Join Us

Applications for the 2018-2019 program year are now open. I hope that you will see the positivity stemming from Young Adults in Global Mission and prayerfully consider ways in which you may encourage the invitation to young adults. I hope that you will also pray, share the story, and praise God for abundance, energy, and passion for mission here in our communities, and across the world.




Applications for the 2018-2019 program year close February 15, 2018 for service beginning in August 2018. Learn more and apply at


Kurt Hellmann

Campaign Interpreter, Global Church Sponsorship