This is What the Kingdom of God Looks Like

A little over two years ago, Pastor Yehiel Curry of Rescue, Release, Restore applied for and received a grant from the ELCA — and the vision of MYLA (Multicultural Youth Leadership Academy) came into being. But this was not a solo endeavor. Rescue, Release, Restore partnered with Living Water Ministries and ELCA Glocal to shape MYLA camp together. When the combined efforts and gifts of each organization came together, MYLA was born. Coincidentally, this partnership is analogous of MYLA’s baseline essence– learning about, growing from, and celebrating each other’s unique qualities.

Based in Chicago, Rescue, Release, Restore is best known for their acclaimed S.I.M.B.A. and S.I.M.S.A. camps. Rescue, Release, Restore has found the key to honing in on the potential in young people and empowering them to become leaders in their communities, all within the context of the realities African Americans face every day. Now enter Glocal. This organization’s play on words reminds us that we are not only citizens of our local communities but citizens of the world. Glocal reminds us that we’re united by song, traditions, and Christ’s inclusive love. Like Glocal and Rescue, Release, Restore, Living Water Ministries’ mission draws us into creating loving, inclusive space for all of God’s children.  MYLA serves as a beautiful expression of this shared mission.

MYLA is a camp like no other. We may learn about cultures in our textbooks or from our friends, but rarely are we offered the opportunity to jump into a culture’s tradition and experience it for ourselves. These experiences are multi-sensory. Campers can sing songs in Sranan Tongo, taste traditional Vietnamese pho, or practice dance moves native to West Africa. But these things are only the tip of the iceberg of multicultural awareness. MYLA also teaches campers why these traditions and customs exist to promote a more well rounded understanding of each culture. I will never forget last year when I was invited into the sacred space of a Native American sweat lodge. Sweating was very visceral for me. As I endured the heat and steam emitted from lava rocks, I worshipped in a way I had never worshipped before. Because of experiences like this, MYLA gives campers the ability to see God in our neighbors and their customs.

Allowing campers to safely step into unfamiliar cultural contexts is one way MYLA fosters leadership in young people. It is not enough anymore for us to only become leaders in areas that we are familiar. More and more each day the world is calling on us to claim our brothers and sisters that don’t look or act exactly like us. After this week the campers can go home and combat stereotypes that arise by saying, “Hey, I lived with this kind of person for a week, and that’s not my experience”. With MYLA, we are giving youth the resources to rewrite the dominant narratives that separate us. The closer we are to dismantling these exclusionary ideals that society presents us, the closer we are to making the world look like the Kingdom of God.