Three Wittenberg University alumni recently set off to see the world through a different light with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Lauren Elwell, class of 2017 from Duluth, Minn., will teach in Madagascar, and Nichole Martinez, class of 2017 from Chicago, Ill., will teach in Argentina through the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program, which invites young adults ages 21 to 29 to participate in a transformative, year-long journey in international service.
“This continues a legacy of Tigers who have served in the program over the years,” said Andrew Steele, Wittenberg class of 2010 and director for the Global Church at the ELCA, which is responsible for raising funds for this program. Steele himself served in South Africa from 2010-2011.
“This program, very much modeled after the Peace Corps, is the ELCA's premier leadership development program, and Wittenberg has created a pretty steady pipeline into the program," Steele said. 'We are thrilled to have these Tigers in the program this year. This has become a very competitive program, with 170-plus applying for 95 positions. I am very proud that [Wittenberg has] such great representation.”
Elwell, a double major in biology and Spanish, will teach English at a Lutheran primary school, a blind school, a women's center, and a maternity clinic in the city of Toliara, located on the southwest coast of Madagascar. She will return to the United States in late July 2018.
“I was in the midst of planning to return to school for an accelerated nursing degree, when I realized that I wasn't quite ready to go back,” said Elwell, who was also lucky enough to study abroad in Chile during the spring semester of her junior year at Wittenberg. “Doing a year of service abroad has been on my heart since high school, and I decided with plenty of advice and conversations with family, friends and even Andrew Steele that going back to school can wait. I felt called to experience a year with YAGM as a year of cultural, spiritual, and global awareness. Who knew if I would ever get an opportunity like this again.”
Martinez majored in psychology and minored in health science. She first heard about the program in 2015 when she was selected to travel to Israel/Palestine as part of the Peace Not Walls program. Leading this trip was a former YAGM volunteer who spent her year of service in Jerusalem/West Bank.
“Being able to see how passionate she was and how much she wanted to help change what was going on in the Jerusalem/West Bank made me begin to think about participating in YAGM as a junior at Wittenberg. I have always been passionate about social justice issues,” said Martinez, who will be spending a year serving in the city of Bariloche, Argentina, a small city located at the bottom of the Andes Mountains in the Patagonia region of Argentina. Martinez will be working with two women’s groups and an art center.
“As for now, I’m not 100 percent sure what career path I’ll choose,” Martinez explained. “I’m not even sure if this year will help me make my decision. But I do know that I chose YAGM because I wanted to let God work his magic and hopefully show me what I should be doing with the rest of my life. I also think a big part of choosing YAGM was being at Wittenberg and really letting our motto 'Having light we pass it on to others' ring in my head over and over again as I began thinking about graduation. After four years of sharing my own light with students, faculty and staff at Wittenberg, I decided I was ready to let others pass their light on to me.”
A third Wittenberg student, Deanna Torstenson, class of 2017 and originally from Springfield, Va., will serve in Hungary.
As they offer themselves in service, ELCA young adults are shaped by the witness of global neighbors and share in the journeys of companion churches and organizations in one of nine countries around the world. A year of service through the YAGM program allows young adults to provide critical support to ministries and projects in communities of need and invites volunteers into a journey of self-reflection, providing space to consider their sense of identity, God’s work in the world, and their place within it all.
Areas of service include, but are not limited to, health and development, congregational ministry, human rights, education, homelessness, addiction recovery, women’s issues, and children and youth. All site placements provide opportunities for young adults to confront issues of wealth and poverty, racial privilege, and economic disparity and globalization, all through the lens of faith.
Current YAGM country programs include: Argentina/Uruguay, Australia, Cambodia, Central Europe, Jerusalem/West Bank, Madagascar, Mexico, Rwanda, Senegal, Southern Africa and the United Kingdom. Applications for the program open on December 1, and are due Feb. 15 each year, for service beginning that same August.
Pictured from left to right are Nichole Martinez, Deanna Torstenson, Maija Mikkelsen, Lauren Elwell and Andrew Steele.