Four years ago I took my first steps towards youth work by signing up for a gap year with XLP. I remember going to Soul Survivor the year before looking for something to do after college and one of the members of staff from XLP caught my attention and spoke to me about what they do. As I was listening to all the things they do, the youth work on estates, schools, mentoring, churches, my heart felt like it was on fire - it was a fire which enflamed my passion towards working with young people and I believed God was calling me to go to XLP.
As I entered into the gap year and started our induction week, the week of getting to know everyone and understanding what our days would look like each week, I was pretty shy. I didn’t know anyone and was a tad worried that I’d make the wrong impression and no one would like me! However, my confidence grew as I came to know the other gap year students and the staff – it felt like I was in a loving family. It is a week that I treasure in my heart as it built up my confidence and lots of laughter and joy came about from that week.
Once the induction week finished it was time to get started. I was placed with the incredible borough team, Southwark. The majority of our week was working in several schools doing homework clubs, lunch clubs, in-class support, as well as working in a special educational needs school. In addition we worked on the XLP bus – a mobile youth centre which entered the estates young people lived in. It was always great fun being in all these projects from which I developed a lot personally as well as in my youth work skills.
In the first term, whilst I believed God called me to XLP, my focus became more towards how I could develop as a youth worker. My focus slowly drew to being about myself – whilst I wanted to make a difference, it became what I would gain out of it. This was shaken up with a wake-up call of the reality some of these young people faced. After the Christmas holidays I returned to an estate which was trying to come to terms with the murder of a young person from the estate. The young people we worked with on that estate were affected by this, and some knew the person or their family. As someone who had lost someone close due to similar circumstances, I could not help but feel their pain, their confusion, and their anger. I didn’t tell them that I understood their feelings because I’ve had similar experiences, but I simply tried to be present with them, even if it meant sitting in silence next to them. This challenging moment pushed me to remember the true reason why I came: that God called me here to serve the young people and the community. From this situation, as well as working with the many other young people it made certain my passion for working with young people was true: I really wanted to dedicate my life to serving the young people in my community. However, it was made more certain in particular by a young person I worked with from the start of the gap year all the way through to the end of my degree which I continued at XLP – a total of four years! When I first met Samuel (not his real name) at a homework club he was quiet, and I would help him out with some of his homework. After homework was finished he was able to play some computer games which is when our relationship really started building. From our shared interests in computer games (as well as our competitiveness!) we got to know each other well and develop a strong relationship. Over the period of four years I saw him grow and see him through GCSEs and start college when I finished my degree. To see a young person you’ve worked with grow and develop is such an exciting privilege to be a part of and you cannot help but wonder where their future will take them next!
Overall, if I was to describe the gap year in one sentence it would be this: a time of being challenged and transformed towards becoming passionate about young people and the community.
As mentioned, I continued with XLP as I entered into my degree of Theology and Youth Ministry. It was a great opportunity to continue to build the relationships with the young people and be a part of their lives and see them grow towards their potential. It was from doing this degree and continuing with XLP that I am now doing a Masters in Theology, Ministry, and Mission. A Masters which I hope to apply into my youth work today and hope that it will help shape how we do youth work today and in the future.
But at the centre of it all is that heart on fire with passion.
A passion which can only be delivered by God.
A God who calls me to serve His young people.