Four young adults spend 10 months serving agencies in Spokane
For nearly 10 months, four young adults living in a house beside North Hill Christian Church have been exploring what it means to care while serving with four community nonprofits through XPLOR, a program of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)'s National Benevolent Association.
Their program ends June 17.
Greg Skinner, pastor at Country Homes Christian Church, has been their spiritual companion, meeting with them each Friday for breakfast, what they call "Gregfast."
• Colby Robb, who is from Hallsville, Mo., has worked with Family Promise's program for homeless families.
• Rachel Bechtol, who is from Sacramento, has been equity and inclusion coordinator with the YWCA-Spokane.
• Emily Newsom, who is from Virginia Beach, Va., has done case management at Northwest Fair Housing.
• Nathaniel Nelson, who is from Los Angeles, has worked with Transitions' Women's Hearth, New Leaf Bakery and Café.
Colby and Rachel participate in North Hill Christian Church. Emily and Nathaniel are at Country Homes Christian Church. Both churches have about 100 members, with 50 to 60 attending Sundays.
The four told of their paths into XPLOR and their experiences with the nonprofits.
Colby, who is finishing a degree in religion and philosophy at Culver-Stockton College, said he wants go into religion to help people.
"I didn't know what that looked like. Coming from a conservative church, I had a faith crisis in college, learning to question things I took for granted and becoming more open minded."
He attended a conservative church with his grandmother, then in middle school attended a small Disciples of Christ (DOC) Church. In college, Ben Bohren, national coordinator of XPLOR, came to his campus. Seeking spiritual and vocational discernment, and a break before graduate school, Colby signed up.
As the assistant supervisor at Family Promise's Open Doors program, he maintains the shelter, keeps people safe and comfortable, talks with people about their daily struggles, contacts services and helps people address small stresses that add up.
"I have discovered my vocation," he said. "There is nothing like Open Doors/Family Promise near me in Missouri, but there are many homeless families, so I'll work with Family Promise nationally to start a program."
Emily, who grew up Presbyterian, graduated in May 2018 in business at Lynchburg (Va.) College.
"I learned about XPLOR as a sophomore at a leadership training program. My senior year, I applied."
"I'm passionate about housing, dealing with conflicts with business and corporate America," she said.
At Northwest Fair Housing, Emily has accompanied people when they file complaints about discrimination in housing and has planned a conference.
"I like both collaborating with people and working independently. We work under grants, government funding and do fund raising," she said.
When Rachel, who uses the pronoun "their," was ready to start community college, "their" parent also wanted to go to school. Needing to earn money, Rachel worked as caregiver in an assisted living center and then in data processing. For three years, Rachel worked at a call center for the Gap and plans to return to that job.
Rachel, who is a member of the Manchester Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians, helped start a church with "their" parent and sister. Heartbeat Organic, which affiliates with the DOC, challenges the Doctrine of Discovery, which justified European settlers converting indigenous people and taking their lands.
Learning about XPLOR, Rachel decided to step away from "their" life to do something different. With the YWCA, Rachel leads discussions on inclusion with staff and is liaison on the YWCA's racial and social justice work.
"Working with a nonprofit, I have learned how hard it is to gather busy people to partner," Rachel said.
Rachel has also met with the Black Prisoners Caucus at Coyote Ridge Prison in Kahlotus and the editor of The Black Lens.
"Spokane is a petri dish for what works when nonprofits come together to build a just city," said Rachel.
Nathaniel's parents raised him in the inner city of Los Angeles with his younger siblings, a brother adopted from Guatemala and a sister from foster care. His parents were church planters with World Impact, a nondenominational organization.
He majored in creative writing and minored in dance at Hope College in Michigan, graduating in December 2017.
"I needed a transition that provided structure after college to gain life skills," said Nathaniel, who did an internship at Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga., in the spring of 2018. He wanted to do a year of service and after learning about XPLOR, he applied.
Working with homeless women at the Women's Hearth drop-in center downtown has been "adventurous" because it's open to women whatever their condition.
At New Leaf, he makes deliveries, works in the kitchen, hosts events, holds bake sales and provides lunches. Participants learn job skills in catering meals and baking.
"I have no illusion that nonprofit work will save the world. Nonprofits often clean up after the mess systems make," Nathaniel said. "We could operate shelters for 5,000 years but still have women living on the streets.
"Nonprofit work was a natural step for me, because I grew up believing people of faith are to do justice. From connecting with the Spokane Alliance, I gained clarity on my sense of purpose. I want to do community organizing," he said.
Three years ago, Greg and some other Disciples in Spokane discussed doing XPLOR. They built a team and recruited nonprofit sites. This year, there was an opening for Spokane in XPLOR, which is in its seventh year nationally. Spokane has a three-year commitment.
Greg came to Country Homes seven years ago from Vacaville, Calif. Previously, he earned a master's in pastoral ministry at Gonzaga University in 2001 and was interim pastor at North Hill Christian after he was ordained in 2008.
"As pastor in an aging congregation and denomination, I had limited interaction with young adults. I wanted to intersect with young adults to learn from them. A spiritual companion is not a spiritual director or counselor," he said. "We discuss the world and our place in it."
In the first month, Colby, who had felt crippled by his faith in college, figured out his faith direction.
Nathaniel finds it refreshing to be with spiritual companions sharing frustrations with church and doubts without considering it dangerous.
Not seeing a future for the church unless it is involved in working for justice, he has been excited to learn about churches' roles in challenging the Doctrine of Discovery in the U.S. and ending apartheid in South Africa. "Inspired by faith, hope and love, we will act for greater purpose," he said.
Emily is relearning that the role of faith is to work with people and the community "in authentic relationships despite our background stories or political views." She enjoys working with older people at Country Homes.
Rachel was accustomed to wrestling with faith in Heartbeat Organic, but has been learning about liturgical order and selecting songs for worship.
Emily and Nathaniel are helping Country Homes look at alternative uses for land the declining-member mainstream church owns. They are helping the church explore ways to use its land for the greater good.
Emily believes it may be possible to match church-owned land with the need for affordable housing.
Nathaniel is applying relationship-based organizing in the church, learning about decision makers and change makers in the 1960s church.
At North Hill Christian, Colby and Rachel help as lay leaders planning worship, events and a retreat.
On Bloomsday, they helped plan a joint afternoon service with the Ukrainian Church, which meets afternoons at North Hill. Rachel is helping North Hill participate in the PRIDE Parade.
The four-member young adult team for 2019-20 will work with Family Promise, Transitions, Volunteers of America and Northwest Fair Housing.
"This first year of XPLOR has been an exciting learning experience. We had the best team of XPLOR residents. It will be sad to see them leave, but exciting to see what life brings them next. We will welcome the new XPLOR residents in August," said Debbie Jennison, who is the site coordinator for XPLOR in Spokane
For information, cal 280-4888, email email@example.com or visit nbacares.org/xplor.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2019