Students bring to seminary a wealth of experiences, and serving in global mission has played no small role for current M.Div intern Josh Kestner, who spent a year in Palestine with the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM).
What draws a person to global mission? Why leave everyone and everything familiar to live in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people?
A new community
Kestner also experienced God most in relationships with others, particularly their hospitality. While living in Beit Sehour, near Bethlehem, Kestner worked at a Lutheran school assisting with English and other classes, as well as participating in the life of the community and a local church. “I became a part of the community so quickly,” he says. “I was so worried about trying to learn a language and be a part of the culture, and they made it really easy for me. I was surprised by and thankful for their hospitality; right away people invited me for coffee, dinner and into their homes.” He saw God in people when they cared for others. Since they live in an occupied territory, they have to have each other’s backs and hold each other up. He says, “It was amazing to meet the people living there and to see what God is doing in a place that seems so broken but has so much love and hope.”
Kestner spoke of the model of accompaniment in mission that the ELCA fosters. He was nervous at first about considering YAGM, because he had often heard that mission meant conversion and that didn’t resonate with him. But he was soon drawn to mission being about accompaniment, about walking alongside people, being vulnerable with them and building relationships. “Mission is all about helping the other and reaching out to the other, making contact, making families out of strangers,” he says. “Though it’s not always about helping someone but about making that connection.”
Serving in global mission has shaped his time in seminary and current ministry as well. Kestner brings his experiences of having to navigate a new setting and experiencing God in Palestine to ministry, keeping in mind what different contexts need and how he can participate in what God is already doing in a place.
Showing God’s love in mission matters deeply to Kestner, who says, “I experience God’s love for and through other people, and I hope others can feel God’s love through me, too. This is what I strive for.”