My Cup of Tea: A Youth Workers Journey from the US to the UK
I should start by admitting that I have never blogged before. In fact, the amount of time I have spent just trying to think of a title for my blog is a bit of a “Damp Squib.” Jesus Fish & Chips…no. God Save the Blog…no. Bob’s Your Uncle…no, not actually. So, I decided to settle on “My Cup of Tea,” a phrase that if my coffee guzzling Seattle friends heard me say may cause them to choke on their non-fat-half-calf-cold-press. But it seemed fitting. The phrase means something you enjoy, something you are good at or something you love doing. While you should ask my youth about the second, the other two describe how I feel about youth ministry.
Over the past decade, my life in youth ministry has seen me travel from my home state of Minnesota to my adopted home of Seattle, Washington and now to my adopted country of the United Kingdom. I have had the privilege of being a part of hundreds if not thousands of lives of young people as they try to figure out exactly what it means to follow Jesus. It also means a lot of road trips, nights spent sleeping in dodgy camp cabins, games that usually involve me covered in food products, and some pre-mature grey hair.
It also means a lot of conversations with a lot of youth about what it means to live out following Jesus.
I suppose that is what brings us to this moment really. Most of my posts, I think, will revolve around what youth ministry in another culture compared to my home country is teaching me. In my short few months here in the UK, I have already found some aspects of ministry to be lightyears ahead of what is going on in the states. At other times, I find myself scratching my head and wondering why certain things are still going on here when they seem to have faded from youth ministry in the US ages ago.
But occasionally, I just need the catharsis of adjusting to a new life, new culture and new calling. That’s where I am today. The words of the song Oceans ring true for me most days.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me…”
For years now, I have told my youth that following Jesus will take you to places you could never have imagined. That the idea of trusting God and being willing to do what he asks isn’t a sacrifice, but an open initiation to having life abundant. When Jesus said things like, “I will make you fishers of men” or “Foxes have dens and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” I don’t think he was speaking cryptically. I think he was calling us all to a life less ordinary.
I thought I had done my part already too.
About halfway through my life in ministry, my wife, myself, our cat Elliott and our chinchilla Arlo loaded up in our cars and drove from St. Paul, Minnesota, where we had both lived the first 25 years of our lives, and head off to Seattle, Washington to start a new life, build new relationships and live out this wild idea that God was calling us to a brand-new place! I thought that would be the end of my journey, though. Not that I was retiring in Seattle or that God wouldn’t continue to use me in the lives of others, not even that I wouldn’t continue to experience new things and see the world from my new home. It’s just that I thought that’s where I would be settled.
I loved my time in Seattle. They were both personally and ministry-wise the best years of my life. I could go on for pages and pages about my times at Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Washington: the people I got to know in my time there, the friends and peers I grew to love, the amazing kids I grew to love even more, and all the amazing things God did there. The truth is that I didn’t have any strong desire to move on, I was happy…I was content.
That’s when God decided I was ready for the next adventure.
It wasn’t a drastic chain of events or any one moment that set me on this course to my new home and ministry. It was the subtle whisper of His voice and the gentle nudge of His hand calling me to life abundant. A life where I never know what’s around the corner. A life where I get to travel from nest to nest and den to den. A life where I must practice what I preach. That following Jesus will take you to places you could never have imagined. Now here I am and here is where my next journey begins.
I hope to take you along with me in a way. I hope that hearing my journey will help you on yours. Choosing to leave your comfort zone and take Jesus at his words when he said, “Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth” is a big deal. So my question to you is where are you heading? If you are comfortable maybe you need to ask God if that’s ok. Maybe you are in a season of sowing, harvesting or rest.
Maybe your journey involves staying at one church for your whole life and journeying through generations of lives. Maybe it means a few different places or states. Or maybe, like me, you are feeling a subtle voice and a gentle nudge into deeper waters. I want to offer a few pieces of advice.
1. Pray about it.
Even if God is gentle He can be clear. There could have been a million things that went wrong with my visa application so each step of the way I prayed, “God if this is what you want, make it happen. If it isn’t, just allow any of the details to not work out.” Maybe this seems like an escape clause but I found that just trusting in God to work out the details when he sends you is a good place to start.
2. Make sure your spouse/family/friends are behind you!
My wife and I moved together. God didn’t call me and forget about her!
3. Find help in the process.
Talk to your mentors, pastors and other peers in ministry. They can offer you their advice and maybe even help you in the looking and discernment process. If you don’t feel like you have that support system, I would recommend talking to the YS Coaches or YS Search. They are great places to start!
Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.