This summer the congregation sent Joe Cox to the Theological Education for Youth (TEY) Crossroads Event at Gettysburg Seminary. I finally had the opportunity to sit down and talk to him about it this month. To begin with, I have to say, that Joe had to be nominated, apply and be accepted in order to attend the program. Only 25 youth from the North East are accepted. The TEY program seeks to “cherish, respect, dwell with and learn with high school youth as practicing theologians and dynamic disciples of Christ. We seek to amplify in young people a passionate, reflective and constructive love of theology in service to the gospel, and to invite young people to express that love in leadership, including leadership in God’s church.” I nominated Joe for this program because he has the desire to work for justice, but needed the opportunity to get out in the world with a new community. As part of his application essay, Joe wrote that he “feel(s) the need to see what can possibly drive groups of fellow human beings to commit atrocities such as the one that is occurring right now in Darfur, and if (he) can find what drives them (he believes he can) someday attempt to make a difference to at least one of the people that live in a state of constant terror and confusion.”
During the week, Joe and the other 10 youth participants traveled with seminary staff and student volunteers between Gettysburg, Baltimore, and Washington DC. They were in constant discussion about social justice, how Jesus taught social justice, what scripture says, and how to practice social justice. Professor Gil Waldkoenig from the seminary as well as four other advisors traveled with them. Waldkoenig and Chandler Carriker, the director of the program, provided a nightly worship experience that allowed them to participate, unwind, explore and worship. Each day, they had an eye opening and truly unique experience that would push them into deeper thoughts about social justice. One day, they visited Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and learned how the church serves individuals who have been forced to leave their country. They help them start over, achieve financial self sufficiency, and work to reunite families. Another night, they stayed at Luther Place Memorial Church in DC. Luther Place is not just a church. It’s a church that provided transitional housing for women recovering from addictions and other issues. The church helps them get back on their feet. One night, while the group was in DC, they had to have a $1 dinner. The group knew from the beginning that they were going to have to pool their resources, but it still was not going to go very far. Joe talked the group into a feast of Ramen noodles. Through Lutheran Social Services, the group visited a retirement village and learned how lose their community and family connections as they grow older, learning the justice behind caring for our elders, even if they are not family. Then the group spent time at the home just visiting those who lived there. In between all of these service and justice orientated activities, the group saw the sites in DC and even went to an Oriels game, the contrast between the “haves” and the “have not’s” becoming clearer and more defined with each new experience.
As Joe says, “Attending Crossroads changed my perspective on the people of the world and on how most of the world really doesn’t have what we do. It made me more reflective. This experience is one of the reasons I want to do medical work in Africa.” Joe’s week with the Crossroads program opened his eyes, his ears, his heart and his vocation to the cry of justice around the world.