You can tell by her confident smile that this isn’t Rebecca Yugga’s first time leading a summer camp for children in Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood. At Crossroads Community Center, an Anabaptist non-profit organization based in north Philadelphia, the summer of 2019 marks the second year she’s participated in MCC’s Summer Service Program. However, her roots in service go much deeper. In fact, when she first started volunteering with the Philly-based Anabaptist organization, she was the same age as many of the youth that the program served. Rebecca’s story, which continues to unfold, is a narrative of service to others, joy amidst challenges, collaborative ministry and indigenous leadership.
MCC’s Summer Service Program supports people like Rebecca and other young people of color in the U.S. as they serve in their home churches or community organizations during 6- to 10-week assignments during the summer. Participants receive a stipend for the duration of their service term, which comes out of a partnership between MCC and the church or organization where the participant serves. The program includes a weeklong leadership conference in early June each year where Summer Service participants from across the U.S. come together to meet their fellow program participants and to learn about MCC, Anabaptism and leadership as a person of color. Many participants in MCC’s Summer Service Program are university students and enjoy the opportunity to return to their home communities to serve and immerse themselves in a place they cherish.
Because of the generous support that her parents received when they were newcomers to the U.S., Rebecca is inspired to extend that generosity by serving others.
“IT WAS WITH THE HELP OF OTHERS…”
What motivates Yugga to give of her time and heart at Crossroads through MCC’s Summer Service program? The answer is in her parents’ immigration story. She first became passionate about volunteering in middle school, inspired by her parents’ experience with immigrating to the U.S. from South Sudan. She says, “I know where my parents are from…I know the struggles they went through to get here, and I know it was [with] the help of others, whether it was financially or taking the time to drive my parents somewhere, helping them learn English, or even just adjusting,” that her parents found their footing and put down roots in the U.S. Because of the generous support that her parents received when they were newcomers to the U.S., Rebecca is inspired to extend that generosity by serving others. “I really enjoy being able to just be there for someone,” she says.
Pastor Juan Marrero, Rebecca's supervisor and Executive Director of Crossroads Community Center, is proud of her consistent work ethic and presence that she’s demonstrated to the Crossroads community ever since she started serving there.
A SPACE FOR KIDS TO BE KIDS
Crossroads Community Center is connected to the Koinonia Fellowship of Churches, an Anabaptist network of churches primarily based in Philadelphia, and has original ties to the Eastern District Conference and the Alliance of Mennonite Evangelical Congregations.
At Crossroads, Rebecca, her supervisor and the staff provide a safe space for children in the community to play, create, learn, grow relationships and find spiritual and physical nourishment. Crossroads impacts up to 100 children and youth daily, with their street ministry reaching up to 400 neighborhood youth during the summer months.
A typical day at Crossroads includes breakfast, daily devotions, reading groups, physical activity, lunch, and free time. According to Yugga, the program allows kids to be kids in a safe and loving space. She says, “It’s them being who they are in a space they’re comfortable in. I don’t know what their life looks like outside Crossroads, but when they’re [here], they’re getting fed and they’re having fun.”
Yugga’s greatest joy is seeing the children and youth be themselves and enjoy their day. Seeing their smiles, she says, “It makes my day and makes me feel like I’ve done something for them.”
The work isn’t without its challenges, however. Pastor Juan Marrero, Executive Director of Crossroads Community Center, Co-Pastor of Christ-Centered Church and Yugga’s Summer Service Program supervisor, commends Rebecca and her staff on the way they manage 75 to 100 children and youth inside the two rowhouses that were converted into the Crossroads office and program space. He explains, “They’re dealing with urban ministry in a limited space environment. They do well for what they have to deal with.”
Marrero is proud of her consistent work ethic and presence that she’s demonstrated to the Crossroads community ever since she started serving there. Her commitment to the program, he says, means that she “can speak in her voice [with] almost just as much authority as mine. That wouldn’t have happened unless we were consistently working together,” says Marrero.
MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas
HELPING CHURCHES WORK TOGETHER
Beyond being a positive force in the lives of children and youth, Yugga and Crossroads’ participation in MCC’s Summer Service Program has paved the way for collaboration with other Philadelphia-area churches. With Rebecca on their team, the center has been able to develop a relationship with West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, a Franconia Mennonite Conference congregation where Yugga is a member. In addition, the community center has a history of being supported by Eastern District Conference congregations. Marrero says of the relationship between churches, “She made the connection that we have to each other stronger. Rebecca is that link.” He says, “That’s one of the beauties of the [Summer Service] program – it can actually help churches work together in certain ways.”
Likewise, Yugga encourages young adults, churches and organizations to participate in MCC’s Summer Service Program because of the opportunities to build and strengthen relationships. She says, “It helps build relationships between people you never would have thought of.”
“She made the connection that we have to each other stronger. Rebecca is that link. That’s one of the beauties of the [Summer Service] program – it can actually help churches work together in certain ways.”
- Pastor Juan Marrero, Executive Director of Crossroads Community Center
MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas
DEVELOPING LOCAL LEADERS
Yugga’s investment in the community over the past five years has proven to be a priceless asset for Crossroads Community Center. Her being steeped in the context of Crossroads has helped them forge an authentic and sustainable community identity. In forming their identity, Marrero emphasizes the need for indigenous leadership – leaders who are native to the community, can speak their language and are familiar with the blessings and the difficulties that are unique to their community. He says, “The Summer Service Program provides an opportunity to develop indigenous leader[s] that can work with their own people, see someone that looks like them and can relate to them.”
"Summer Service creates opportunities for young adults of color to see the leadership capabilities that lie within them. [They] learn to appreciate the value in the resources, wisdom and strengths of their own churches and communities."
- Shankar Rai, National Coordinator for MCC's Summer Service Program
The Summer Service Program, by supporting young adults to serve in their home communities, envisions participants recognizing the value and resources in their own context. Shankar Rai, National Coordinator for MCC’s Summer Service Program, says, “Summer Service creates opportunities for young adults of color to see the leadership capabilities that lie within them. Young adults learn to appreciate the value in the resources, wisdom and strengths of their own churches and communities.”
The Summer Service program gives young people opportunities to fall in love with their home community, learning its strengths and weaknesses, and working towards the kingdom of God. Marrero says, “It gives you the opportunity to work amongst your own and be mentored and grow into maturity and do it with your own.” When many young people might envision themselves following God’s call by leaving their communities to serve God elsewhere, Summer Service fosters the notion that someone can stay in their context and “work with their own people and find fulfillment in that.”
Marrero says, “The Summer Service Program is a very rare but needed program, and I don’t see nothing like it in other spheres. …The [participant] can see their self-worth in their own context.”
MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas
SUMMER SERVICE AND FUTURE CAREER GOALS
Yugga is entering her junior year of college at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Va., where she’s double majoring in Nursing and Spanish with a minor in Psychology. She wants to become a family nurse practitioner, and the Summer Service Program is preparing her by providing opportunities to “work with kids from all different backgrounds.” She says, “I’ll be able to relate to kids more and interact with them.”
When she’s not studying hard at EMU, however, I think we all know where we’ll find her – learning, growing and maturing as a leader in her home community at Crossroads.
For more information about how your congregation or organization can partner with MCC’s Summer Service program, visit mcc.org/summerservice.