Pentecost Offering nurtures youth and at-risk children

May 19, 2021 by Emily Enders Odom

Just when most young people were beginning to imagine what nontraditional educational instruction might look like at the outset of COVID-19, Sami Han set about picturing an even more nontraditional path. She moved to South Korea with her parents.

When the 16-year-old’s parents, the Revs. Myung Sung “Martin” Han and Jieun Kim Han, accepted the call to serve as regional liaisons for East Asia in World Mission for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), Sami left everything she knew in the U.S. behind — church, school, her two older brothers and her friends. “I was always interested in living in South Korea,” Sami wrote in an email from Seoul, “but it’s true that I’m missing my friends in America and the diversity of race.”

Little wonder, since the tenth grader — who is currently attending the Seoul Foreign School, where her favorite subjects are visual arts and Korean — was a regular fixture on the PC(USA) youth scene. Sami wasn’t just active at the local and presbytery levels, she also volunteered at national events. She remembered how excited she was to take part in two of the PC(USA)’s churchwide Big Tent events, first in Indianapolis in 2011 and then in Louisville in 2013. And Gina Yeager-Buckley remembered her.

“When Sami was a little girl, she stayed at our Big Tent booth the entire time for three days solid of exhibit hall work,” said Yeager-Buckley, who serves as mission associate for Formation, Presbyterian Youth Triennium and Youth Ministries for the PMA. “That was my first encounter with her. She was full-on enthusiastic, telling stories about youth ministry and telling everyone who came by the booth to pick up our resources.”

Teenagers like Sami and other Presbyterian youth are supported, in part, through the Pentecost Offering, one of the PC(USA)’s four Special Offerings. Not only do gifts to the Pentecost Offering benefit youth ministry, but the offering also supports the PMA’s Young Adult Volunteer program and the “Educate a Child, Transform the World” national initiative. Although the Pentecost Offering may be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Pentecost Sunday, which this year falls on May 23.

Because Sami arrived in Seoul during the pandemic when most churches have been meeting virtually, she hasn’t yet had many opportunities to be involved in hands-on mission projects and church youth activities in South Korea, which she said are even more numerous than in the U.S. “I am very curious and excited to experience youth activities in South Korea,” she said, adding that she was also looking forward to being back in the states to attend Youth Triennium in 2022.

The Pentecost Offering may very well make Sami’s dream possible, since 60% of the offering is used to support children-at-risk, youth and young adults through ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency — including the Youth Triennium — while 40% of the offering is retained by individual congregations for local ministries.

“We’d love to have Sami, and we’ll do whatever we can to get her to Triennium in 2022,” Yeager-Buckley said, “where our plan is to really go a lot farther with the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation.”

Investing in Black boys at risk

Also aligned with the Matthew 25 vision — especially its focus areas of dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty — is DREAAM, another ministry supported by the Pentecost Offering.

DREAAM, an acronym for Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males, is the brainchild of Tracy Dace, a long-standing and passionate advocate for at-risk youth. The program is designed to reach, teach and invest in African American boys at risk and to walk alongside them and their families beginning at the age of 5 until they reach the age of 24.

“Tracy wanted to do something that’s preventative,” said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People and staff person for the PC(USA)’s Educate a Child, Transform the World national initiative. “Because there are programs geared toward what happens when people are already in prison, which is important, he wanted to get to them before that could happen by giving them access to things that they didn’t have.”

Just as Dace began mapping out his vision for DREAAM — drawing from such models as Freedom Schools and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s “Passport to Manhood” curriculum — he also applied for a position as mission coordinator at First Presbyterian Church of Champaign, Illinois.

“Before I even submitted my application, I went to the church first to see if I would be comfortable working there, because more often than not in Mississippi, worship spaces are segregated,” said Dace. “Even though it can be uncomfortable for me to attend a predominantly white church because of my upbringing, when I came to this church, I was greeted, and the people were kind and nice.”

Ultimately selected as the congregation’s mission coordinator, Dace would soon resign his position not only so that he could present his concept for DREAAM to the church but also so that he could become a member without any perceived conflict of interest. After the mission committee decided in 2015 to support Dace’s vision with seed money to get the project off the ground, Dace became founder and executive director of DREAAM, a separate 501(c)(3) that is considered a ministry of the church. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Matt Matthews, who serves as president of the board, is impressed with how “nimble and fast-growing” DREAAM is, especially amid the challenges brought on by the yearlong pandemic.

“In many ways, it has opened up an opportunity for us to reprioritize what it is that we are here to do,” said Dace, “and that is to reach and teach boys and their families and empower them to actualize, to work, to develop their goals into reality and to affirm that they are resilient.” One of the ways in which DREAAM has adapted, grown and reinvented itself in the face of COVID-19 is by opening two Dream Big! Learning Centers to provide full-day, in-person educational and social emotional support during the pandemic.

Beyond the bucolic campus

Also engaged in ministry at the intersection of faith, race and justice is Langley Hoyt, an alumna of the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, which receives funding from the Pentecost Offering.

Hoyt, a 2019 graduate of the Presbyterian-related Davidson College who is currently discerning a call to ministry, ventured beyond the college’s bucolic campus into the streets of West Charlotte, North Carolina, where the world’s injustices were all too apparent. “For two summers, I worked and lived in a neighborhood in Charlotte where my neighbors were very affected by systemic racism, overpolicing and the housing crisis,” Hoyt said. “Because I wanted to keep engaging in these issues of justice while remaining deeply rooted both in faith and community, I was drawn after college to the Young Adult Volunteer program.”

The YAV program is an ecumenical, faith-based year of service for young people ages 19–30 in sites across the United States and around the world. YAVs accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation while simultaneously exploring the meaning of their Christian faith and accountability to their neighbors in the community with peers and mentors. Not to be defeated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the YAV program went completely virtual for both national and international sites during the current 2020–21 program year. Because of Hoyt’s two formative summer experiences interning at QC Family Tree — a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing and does cultural organizing in the city of Charlotte, to which she returned to work in 2020 — she listed the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness (OPW) in Washington, D.C., along with other policy and/or housing-oriented placements, among her preferences when applying to the YAV program.

Ultimately placed at the OPW, Hoyt said that her year in Washington, D.C., reinforced for her the importance of her faith as she continues to discern how she wants “to live and be in the world,” particularly in the light of the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation.

According to Destini Hodges, interim coordinator for the YAV program, the three Matthew 25 focuses to “build congregational vitality, dismantle structural racism and eradicate systemic poverty” have been at the heart of the YAV program since its inception nearly three decades ago. “I have always valued the connectional nature of our church, but working at the national level for the last three years has made me appreciate those connections all the more, especially where the Matthew 25 invitation is concerned,” Hodges said. “Because the YAV program has been heavily focused on racial reconciliation and poverty for the past 27 years, to be able to see that play out on a broader scale has been one of my greatest joys.”

In fact, it was the Matthew 25 initiative that guided much of Hoyt’s work during her service with the OPW. “I worked on researching the Presbyterian Church’s legacy of white supremacy, particularly its participation in enslaving hundreds of thousands of African Americans,” she said.

Hoyt — ever cognizant of her own privilege — encourages Presbyterians to support the Pentecost Offering so that programs like YAV are able to assist every young adult who wishes to participate.

“Although this is not always the case, white churches often have disproportionately more wealth than Black or Indigenous churches in the PC(USA),” said Hoyt. “It is essential that this not mean that only young adults from wealthier white churches feel as though they can afford to do YAV. We must continue to support the Pentecost Offering and ensure that young people from all backgrounds are fully and equitably supported.”

The Young Adult Volunteer Program, Educate a Child, Transform the World initiative and Presbyterian Youth Triennium are all supported by your gifts to the Pentecost Offering.

Incorporate this Pentecost Offering video into this Sunday’s or a future service of worship!

This was published for Presbyterians Today and republished by Presbyterian News Service on May 18, 2021.

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By giving to the Pentecost Offering, your congregation participates in helping our children, youth, and young adults grow up to proclaim with the Psalmist, "O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds."