At first when Erin Gerber heard about the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program, a one-year service opportunity for young adults with at least one year post-high school experience, she wasn’t sure it was the right program for her.
“Pray about it,” she was told by Steve Nelson, who was working to recruit missionaries at the time. “Just know that there are people in England who are poor and need someone to help them,” he told her.
Erin accepted the offer and became the ELCA’s first young adult in the program. That was in 1999. Today Erin’s life continues to be fueled by a desire to serve with a deep sense of mission. A graduate of Boston College with two master’s degrees, Erin now serves in South Sudan, fulfilling a passion that started when she was a youth.
Drawn to serve
“My faith was always a really huge part of who I am,” says Erin, who has been an ELCA member since childhood.
Active in youth group and confirmation class, Erin says her experiences at church exposed her to a world of service.
During confirmation, Erin was encouraged to engage in social work. “I became really interested in homeless shelters,” she says. “I really was just drawn (in), and I volunteered at homeless shelters throughout high school and college.”
Once in college, Erin knew she wanted to serve others for the rest of her life. In her senior year, she looked into various service work opportunities and discovered an application for missionaries on the ELCA’s website. Shortly after applying, she received a call from Steve.
“Steve Nelson said, ‘We have this pilot project for young adult ministries,’” Erin remembers. She didn’t commit right away. “When he started sending me more information about the kind of places that were there, I thought it could be a good place for me.”
That pilot project is now known as the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. It has grown to 57 young adults serving in nine countries around the world. At the time Erin applied, England was the only country in the program.
Service in England
After her acceptance into the program, Erin was placed at The Quay Foyer in Poole, a charity in England that provides accommodation, personal support, access to activities and employment opportunities for people ages 16 to 25.
“I was really lucky I ended up in Poole,” says Erin, “The supervisor was a Christian and was excited about getting a Christian volunteer.”
While working at The Quay Foyer, she interacted with young people of all backgrounds and was touched by their unique stories.
There were many who were addicted to drugs, teenagers with mental health issues, HIV and AIDS, everything you could think of, says Erin. “I realized that housing was an issue that really impacted poverty,” she says. And it was at this program that she realized the most effective way to help others was to build relationships.
With her experiences in England, Erin knew what she wanted to do with her future. “It was an incredible year. I was exposed to so much,” Erin says of her time in England, where she engaged in crisis counseling work. And that’s what she continues to do today.
A continued life of service
In addition, with graduate education Erin continued to travel, working among people who are in need in Haiti, Thailand, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Not only is she engaged in service, but Erin is committed to learning more about people.
“I learned so much from sitting back and listening,” says Erin, “I didn’t teach them anything. I learned everything from them.”
As the ELCA’s first participant in the Young Adults in Global Mission program, Erin represents the start of a generation called to serve and continues to live a life of mission and service today.
“If God is tugging on your heart in any way to serve,” Erin says, “I would jump up and down to encourage you to (do so).”
Megan Nuehring is a student at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, majoring in public relations and religion with a minor in leadership.