‘Ultimately, the gift is you’
At the recent Southern Ohio Synod Assembly, a Mission Moment used this personal profile to introduce synod member Katharine Ritzi, who is spending a year in the United Kingdom as part of the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. To read more from Katharine, go to her blog, "Rooted in Love." To learn how to sponsor a participant, see www.ELCA.org/YAGMsupport or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi everyone! My name is Katharine Ritzi and I am a 23-year-old Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) participant from Beavercreek, Ohio. I grew up as a member of Peace Lutheran Church and attended Wittenberg University as a psychology major/sociology minor. I absolutely love summer camp, playing guitar, tap dancing, photography and knitting scarfs.
During my senior year at the university as I questioned what career path I should be on, I realized I wanted to be on a path of service. Rather than seeking titles, I turned my attention into seeking love, applying for the Young Adults in Global Mission program through the ELCA. Thus began an intense period of discernment as I questioned who I was and how God was using me in the world. It wasn't an easy release, but eventually I was able to let go of control, saying to God "OK, here I am," and allowed myself to walk blindly in faith. Falling in love with Lesotho and South Africa during a service learning experience while in university, I was expecting to be placed somewhere similar with YAGM. Imagine my surprise when I was placed in London, England!
This year has allowed me to explore the stereotypes associated with mission work, along with the intense diversity of socioeconomic statuses in urban city life. I've also experienced the power and privilege that is associated with education, as I serve in the London school districts as a literary intervention specialist. In more real terms, I tutor children one-on-one in reading and writing through a phonics-based program. The students are referred to me through their teachers, and I am able to work with each of them twice a week, forming a personal education plan and relationship with each child. While I have become acclimated with British culture, urban city life was another subculture to learn and grow with. I am beginning to understand the ways in which our ZIP codes really reflect and determine the opportunities we are offered through education, health and diet, while forming relationships with children who were born into unequal opportunities. I may not have expected to be living in London this year, but I know God called me here and has been leading every step of the way.
I was asked to share with you a specific story from the work that I do here, and I have many to offer. I could talk about the many children I teach who speak English as their second language and have fallen behind in the school system even though they are extremely intelligent. I could write about the little girl I teach who is missing all of her upper teeth because she was fed juice in a bottle as an infant. I could speak of the heartwarming accomplishments from a number of students who have improved their reading levels in just a short period of time, or of the uncomfortable knowing that they are still not reading at an age-appropriate level. Ultimately I would just like to focus on the relationships that are built from this year of accompaniment.
As I was preparing for this year, my pastor spoke to me words that I couldn't comprehend until living through this journey. He said, "Ultimately, the gift is you." As YAGMs, we teach English, we work in churches, and we lead youth groups. We work in centers for social justice and we serve in rehabilitation centers. But ultimately, no matter what we may be "doing," we are building relationships that will last far longer than any "outcome" we may provide. As we intentionally allow ourselves to become vulnerable, we are humbly learning that we are the gift, as well as the people we are walking beside. We are learning that we did not become missionaries by being accepted into YAGM; we are realizing we're all born missionaries as beautiful creations of Christ.
I once heard it said that the ELCA sends us out as YAGMs to be messed with, so when we come back home we mess with the church. No matter the phrase used, we will return home with a greater understanding of how God is rejoicing and weeping in every corner of the world. We all have beautiful, unique callings as missionaries, and I am excited to be coming home to begin seminary at Trinity Lutheran pursuing a master's in youth and family ministry. I wish I had the opportunity to thank you all individually for the personal way you have supported our community of YAGM volunteers. For now, I hope you accept my deepest gratitude with the understanding that I would not be on this journey if it wasn't for you. Thank you for the numerous ways you have strengthened the church with your gifts and callings. We give thanks that the Holy Spirit is alive in the world.