Grace Jung, a public health and pre-medicine student at Calvin College, recalled arriving in Kenya, not knowing what the future might hold for her after she finished school. Each time she talked to someone about her plans and grad school, she felt weighed down by a “suffocating heaviness” in her heart, she said.
Jung’s struggle to make decisions about her future is one generations of young people have faced as they gain independence and begin to make their own decisions about faith, purpose, and calling.
A growing number of young men and women are choosing to tackle these decisions by doing acts of service. By reaching out beyond themselves, they are making a difference in the world as they also learn about themselves and their potential. That is exactly what Jung did.
In the summer of 2014, she traveled to Kenya and Uganda as a volunteer intern with World Renew and spent two-and-a-half months helping the agency and its local partners with health programs. This included training young mothers in nutrition and assisting at a public hospital.
Jung said that seeing the conditions at a hospital in Kenya—where there is only one doctor on staff and patients resist going because they are unsure how they will pay the bill—opened her eyes to the inequalities in our world. It also made her want to tackle systems and structures that seem to value some lives more than others.
One of her most memorable experiences, she said, involved training Ugandan migrant fishermen about HIV prevention.
“After talking with the fishermen and hearing their stories, I realized just how strong a hold our culture and surroundings have on us,” Jung said, noting that the fishing communities had a culture of drinking and promiscuity without regard for marital fidelity or sexually transmitted diseases. That struck a nerve.
“I am no better than these fishermen,” Jung commented. “We are all broken.
“When it comes to changing behavior, it is equally difficult for me and often requires sacrifices that I don't want to make. We all need to be empowered and transformed if we want to truly let go of our old habits and change.”
These internship experiences renewed Jung’s passion for public health and deepened her faith in God. She became confident that God could use her for his kingdom work.
“Each of my experiences was so perfectly tailored for me, down to the smallest detail, that it gives me goosebumps when I think about it,” she said.
“I felt as though God had put me in a time machine to show me a glimpse of what my future could look like.”
Young men and women don’t have to go overseas to serve God and others. There are many opportunities for volunteering within Canada and the United States—some as close as your local congregation.
In 2013, for example, World Renew, together with Christian Reformed World Missions and the Office of Social Justice, started a three-year project called Linked Engagement Action Programs or LEAP.
LEAP was started as a way to help youth and young adults better engage in ministry. One aspect of the initiative was to offer internships in local churches.
After her volunteer work in East Africa, Jung returned to North America and was asked to consider doing a LEAP internship at her home congregation, Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
At first she was hesitant at the prospect of committing such a large chunk of time to the church. But after some prayer and thought, she decided to give it a try for 10 weeks.
During this time, she helped the church make the transition from having an emergency food pantry for its neighbors to running a community food cooperative where those who receive resources from the food bank also have the opportunity to give back by donating their time.
Jung also helped to organize an advocacy group. The experience was so rewarding that she decided to extend the internship until she graduates in May of this year.
“I grew up as a missionary kid in India and attended a boarding school through middle and high school,” Jung explained. “Due to the frequent moves, I never quite felt like I belonged to a church.
“I was raised to believe that the church was an important part of my relationship with God, but it was not until my involvement with Madison Square Church that I began to understand what that meant.
“Through my volunteer experiences, church has become an inextricable part of my spiritual walk and growth.”
As for her future, Jung says she is convinced that God is calling her to a life that involves working with communities in the fields of public health and medicine. After graduating, she plans to attend the Medical School for International Health in Beer Sheva, Israel, and hopes to go into primary care or family practice.
“I have felt more alive than ever over the past few months, because I believe God was showing me that this is the kind of work he is calling me to do,” she said.
“I am excited to see what he can do in my future.”
Volunteer Opportunities Available
Are you a young person exploring options for your future? Do you know someone who has a heart for service?
The Christian Reformed Church and its agencies have service opportunities available for young people each year. Here are a few:
- A variety of service-learning opportunities
- Spring break service learning trips
- Bible studies
2. Christian Reformed World Missions
- International work teams
- International service & learning teams
- Individual opportunities
- Cohort opportunities
- Sexual assault prevention teams
4. Service Link
- Opportunities for individuals and groups in the United States, Canada, and internationally
5. World Renew
- Serve With a Purpose (SWAP) program
- International internships
- International work teams
- North American Disaster Response groups
- College/University semester internships and interim opportunities
- Co-op placements
- Gap year opportunities
- Discovery tours
- Justice mobilizers
- Office opportunities