In his book turned motion picture Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson recalls how his grandmother used to tell him all the time, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance… You have to get close.” Bryan took this message to heart; his experience in law school interning with a non-profit working with inmates on death row propelled him into a career of advocacy.
You have to get close.
Though I have lived in Asheville since 2002, I am in my second year as the Mission Immersion Director at AYM. Recently I have been thinking a lot about why groups should come to Asheville for a mission experience. In other words, why AYM? Yes, you may know Asheville is a destination city with lots of great hikes, waterfalls as well as great food & music venues. AYM is located right downtown at First Presbyterian Church, and who doesn’t love getting candy at Mast General?! Over the past dozen years we have established relationships with many non-profit partners who are doing great work in the community.
But while these are all good reasons to consider AYM, I don’t think they get to the heart of the matter. In our mission immersion experiences at AYM, what we attempt to do is offer youth and adults the opportunity to get close to mission in a variety of ways:
- Getting close to mission looks like circling up to learn about the systemic causes of hunger at Root Cause Farm, and then spending the morning with your hands in the soil harvesting organic produce.
- Getting close to mission looks like bringing donated household items for Homeward Bound’s Welcome Home Center, learning about the housing first model, and then sorting them so people who have been chronically homeless can have what they need in their new home.
- Getting close to mission means sitting at table with Asheville neighbors at the 12 Baskets Cafe or Haywood Street Congregations’s Downtown Welcome Table, listening and sharing with those society often labels as “other” or “unclean.”
- Getting close to mission means listening to friends like TJ who share about the shame and brokenness surrounding poverty, and how support from community and God is essential in the journey towards a more just society.
As a relatively small-sized city, Asheville is made even smaller by the close relationships between its non-profits and faith communities. When AYM groups participate in the “Walk in their Shoes” experience, it is not unusual to see neighbors we met earlier in the week while we were playing Jenga at the Haywood Street Congregation, or veterans we met at ABCCM’s Veteran’s Restoration Quarters. Such closeness is key not only for the breaking down of stereotypes but for missional transformation– the transformation that happens when we see our mission not so much as “helping others” but rather, that through our encounters with others we are being changed. At AYM our hope is that such transformative moments will happen during your time with us, and that through mission immersion our groups will be equipped to go back to their home context and join in God’s mission of justice and mercy in new and bold ways.
Rev. Michael Poulos
AYM Mission Immersion Director