My time at YTI before my senior year of high school meant the world to me. Even though it's only been two years since, I can safely say that YTI changed me and the path I’m supposed to follow, through not only the things I learned, but the lifelong friends I made. During those three weeks, I took classes in “Nonviolence and the Dangerous Politics of Jesus Christ” and Food Justice while living in an intentional community with 30 other high schoolers from around the world. Prior to YTI, I knew that I cared about equanimity among people, but the three weeks at Emory taught me how to arrive there through religion as a whole. YTI focused heavily on social issues, mainly race issues, privilege, and how to work against the “Powers That Be,” and systematic oppressions, just as Jesus did in his time: with compassion and kindness. My food justice class, along with the class about the refugee experience took a field trip to Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA. This summer, I will continue my fight against Powers That Be with Jubilee Partners. Jubilee is another intentional Christian community, though this one is focused on service rather than YTI’s focus on education. I will teach new immigrants to the United States English, work on the farm to promote sustainable living, and protest the death penalty, all while developing, exploring, and challenging my Christian faith. I cannot wait to shift my focus from school work to what I really care about: making a difference in places I didn’t know I had a voice in until YTI. I look forward to continuing to find my voice and make it heard with the skills I learned at Youth Theological Initiative.
I didn't know I had a voice until YTI.
Taste of YTI runs June 11-15 and The YTI Summer Academy runs July 2-22. As we look forward to this year of scholars we asked folks to look back on their time at YTI and how it continues to impact their life today. We asked Courtney Godwin (Scholar 2015) about the impact YTI had on her life and how it influenced her to spend the summer at Jubilee Farms.
I can safely say that YTI changed me and the path I'm supposed to follow
How did you first become involved with YTI?
I think it goes back to when I first got here in 2001. I remember YTI being spoken of very highly by the faculty members in faculty meetings and stuff like that, and it was a big deal to get invited. They would say, "No Strawn you're a new guy, you're not going to get asked to do this, this is for Luke Johnson and Luther Smith." So I thought it was a real distinct privilege when I got to do it!
What workshop do you teach?
So the first several years there, for a while, I did a plenary on interpretation, “The Twelve Theses of the Bible and Their Interpretation." I wrote them up to take the YTI scholars from ground zero, trying to restructure things to make it maximally accessible. Over the years we have tried to maximize the effectiveness of Plenary to address the same thing in varying ways so we've oriented it around the prophets or the prophetic call and Jonah to illustrate. I have also taught several workshops like on the Psalms.
A lot of professors might shy away from teaching with high school students. What can you tell them about its value for you? Or, for theological education?
I would say to the faculty that if you want something like native fluency in theology, someone who comes in after college, or second career, or they are a career student, it's in one sense too late and what you have to do is get into these kids' brains, lives, and everything at a much earlier stage to make the biggest impact and impression.
Has your experience in YTI impacted your teaching in any way?
Well, it helped me rethink my whole intro class, or at least the opening unit of my intro classes but it really started me on the whole process of thinking about language acquisition. I mean it's nothing new right? It's stepped education, you know graded education where you're moving through certain steps starting with smaller pieces and moving to bigger blocks and all that so that the learning is cumulative and building on itself. So that's helped me in teaching courses at Candler. But it's also just helped me in general thinking about when opportunities like YTI come along I try never to turn them down. They're gifts to me but also they force me to not be an ivory tower, head in the clouds, and communicate with real people.
What would you say to a faculty member who is considering teaching at YTI?
I would say they need to drink lots of coffee, they need plenty of energy, bring their A game, no boring teachers need apply. Have passion and don't under estimate the scholars, they're capable of thinking about things. I basically teach those scholars what I teach in my intro class. I'm not dumbing anything down and at the same time I'm also not presuming that they have been raised in the church from day one and that they are massively secure in their personal theology. Most churches fail massively in terms of Christian education and that is why again I think that the analytical component is so important, even if we also think that’s a part of our job.
Why should others support YTI?
Well, for me this relates back to this linguistic analogy that has sort of captured my brain for the past few years. It only takes one generation for an entire language group to die out, 20 years-max, maybe 40, for a whole language to die out. When I was a kid growing up in the church they used to always say, 'Christianity can die out in one generation, ' then you had to go forward and pray about it, and that’s true at the linguistic level. If the language of scripture, the language of theology, the language of faith is not properly passed on to people who could acquire it and speak it fluently, then we’re done for. That's why it's so important, so crucial and why I recommend it and why I think people should support it. It's because it's so vital to pass this on the language of faith.
Dr. Brent Strawn is Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program and has taught workshops and plenary at YTI. We caught up with him to find out why he chooses to teach at YTI in the summer and how it has impacted his teaching.
We polled former YTI scholars and staff and asked them to describe what YTI means to them in a few words. These words were transformed into a Word Cloud that shows what words were used and which one were used more often. The larger the word, the more often it was used to describe YTI. As someone who has been on staff at YTI for three years and is getting ready for a fourth, I agree with these terms to describe YTI. I have never been the kind of person who sees God everywhere I go, I know I probably shouldn't say that, but it's true. YTI became this place, this eternal place, where I saw and experienced God in ways I have never experienced before. I believe that the peaceable kingdom in which the lion lies down with the lamb is possible, because I have seen it at YTI. Society and the church tell us that young people are incapable of critically engaging difficult issues. Yet, year after year, young people from all over the world come to YTI and critically engage issues of theology and social justice. It's life changing to see this in action.
I hope you read the words below, take them in, and leave excited about all the possibilities for growth, community, and eye-opening experiences the scholars of YTI2017 will come to see and know.
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Because You Gave Reflection by Olha Seredyuk
YTI has been a gift that keeps on giving to our family. The academy has remarkably contributed to my sister Viktoriya’s (YTI 12, OX15, C17) personal growth and heavily influenced her decision to attend Emory. As an older sister, I have been fortunate to witness her grow into an open-minded, confident young woman with bold plans for the future. And that’s why it became only natural to recommend the program to other youth and their families. More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to be more involved with the development side of things, and the experience has been really special for me.
YTI donors are inspiring. They have real, authentic connections to the academy and our relationships are not one-sided or transactional. I love calling donors, because while it’s an interaction with a business intention, it almost always involves a dialogue, and you fall a little bit in love with everyone you get to know. I feel incredibly lucky to inspire the joy of giving and people’s lives in this meaningful way.
I invite you to join in the important community of YTI supporters. Please consider making a gift securely online at http://yti.emory.edu/give. Thank you for all you do to support YTI.
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