Young leaders in the Hendrix Youth Institute is an annual service trip for Hendrix students. One of the stops on this year’s trip was in Birmingham, Alabama to assist low-income residents in that area.
Rev. Eva Englert-Jessen
HYI Project Director and Director of the Center for Calling & Christian Leadership
My journal on June 28, 2021 read:
“Thirty-six hours out from the end of this year’s Hendrix Youth Institute and I’m still awestruck. I’m awestruck by this insightful and kindhearted group of young people. I’m grateful for their willingness to confront histories and present realities of racial injustice in our country’s past and present, and by the spirit of grace and truth among them as we engaged in hard conversations about what it means to be white people of faith in the midst of these realities. I’m amazed by their hearts of service, and the ways in which they bear witness to the Gospel.”
Nearly two months later, I’m still in awe.
Hendrix Youth Institute is a two-week high school program for high school juniors and seniors in Arkansas who are exploring a call to ministry. After COVID-19 cancellations in 2020 and delays in decision-making and planning in early 2021, the planning staff — which included me and Rev. Ellen Alston, Hendrix College Chaplain — and mentor supervisor — Miranda Donakey, a current seminarian — were grateful for the opportunity to host nine high school students and three college staff as part of this summer’s program. Below are reflections from three of our participants: Marleigh Hayes (Mt. Sequoyah UMC), Jeb Mathis (Greenbrier FUMC), and Julia Staggs (Sardis UMC). I suspect and pray you will also experience awe as you read them.
-Rev. Eva Englert-Jessen, HYI Project Director and Director of the Center for Calling & Christian Leadership
On my first mission trip, I was told that God sends us where His heart is the most broken, and I’ve never felt that statement more evidently in my life than this past June.
Luckily, I was able to return to Hendrix Youth Institute 2021 with an encouraging group of youth and mentors. During these two weeks, our eyes were opened to the very real, heartbreaking circumstances both in the church and in the world. The first week on campus, we heard from a panel of pastors from across the state who shared their perspectives on the injustices in the world and church today. Over the past year, I have felt emotions about the state of the church and the world that I have not been able to relate with others about. After listening to the laments of these four pastors, my struggles and concerns felt seen and comforted, and my call to ministry was affirmed. The vulnerability shared during this conversation meant a lot to my peers and me, and gave us a perspective as we traveled to Birmingham to dive deeper into mission and many current social justice issues, especially racism.
In Alabama, we learned many things that were tough but necessary to hear. One of the most impactful moments for me was simply walking around the city of Montgomery, thinking about the history and significance of where we stood. We stood in the Legacy Museum, formerly used to hold slaves between their time of arrival from the sea and the moment of their auctioning. As a privileged white person in America walking where slaves walked, I felt a heavy sense of guilt and remorse. We also visited museums and memorials where we learned about another side of history, including the evolution from slavery to lynching and mass incarceration. Although the experience was heavy, I am so grateful to be more informed about our nation’s history so that I can use that knowledge to make greater change in the future. This experience made me feel more confident in my call to be a Deacon in the United Methodist Church, so that I can further connect the church with justice issues that need our action.
We learned and observed so much during HYI 2021. These weeks are designed for us to discern our call to ministry, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that this experience made a significant impact. I know that whatever my ministry becomes in the future, I am not the same person I was before HYI.
There were many meaningful parts of HYI to me, including:
- Morning reflections that positively began each day, and all of the worship services that helped us praise and give thanks to God;
- All of the museums that we visited helped educate us and help us not forget the past, but learn it so that we may have the opportunity to move forward;
- Small group meetings in which we had meaningful and thought-provoking conversations and bonded with each other;
- Working at Canvas Community where we served our homeless friends and had the opportunity to connect with them;
- Working at Urban Ministry in Alabama and painting rooms that will someday educate children, and painting Ms. Theresa’s house and seeing her priceless reaction;
- The church service at Community Church Without Walls, which was such an influential environment and felt like home for so many people.
Overall, the most impactful part of the experience was the relationships built. On the first day of HYI, I was hesitant and worried that this was going to be a difficult two weeks. But God works in mysterious ways and changed my mind, making these two of the best weeks of my life. I am so grateful to my fellow participants for their presence, and your awe-inspiring words and actions. We formed friendships that I hope will last my lifetime. I am grateful to the staff for everything they did for me, and for all of us—planning and working relentlessly so that we could have a worthwhile experience.
I walked into HYI thinking I would figure out my call to ministry. Little did I know, I’d leave with an entirely different understanding of callings, a fire for Jesus and his mission on earth, friends to last a lifetime, and a broader perspective of what it means to not only be Christian but human as well.
We met and interacted with so many people of so many backgrounds, and we served and loved, and were served and loved as well. The Urban Ministry Center provided a well-needed reminder of the true mission of the church — to glorify God through true service and love. The people and organizations we were able to interact with provided some of the greatest examples of what it means to love your neighbor that I’ve ever seen.
As I got to know and love so many different people, it was put on my heart again and again that we are all beautifully and immensely human. This mindset has continued to help me in my faith and ministry at home. Hendrix Youth Institute and the many experiences, friendships, and lessons it brought me have helped me to grow in faith and my expectations of ministry in ways I will forever be thankful for.”
Learn more about HYI at @hdxyouthinstitute and at Hendrix.edu/hyi.
Information about HYI 2022 coming soon!