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Young adults step into a multicultural reality

In contrast to other young adults swept into the mainstream message to grab as much as they can and hold onto it, Kerrie Yarnell has devoted the last year to living simply in community, offering hospitality and reaching out to the mixed-race community surrounding Campbell Farm in Wapato.

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Kerrie Yarnell and a child.

Her year as a Young Adult Volunteer with the Presbyterian Church USA has set her in a crossroad of cultures.

The surrounding community on the Yakama reservation has a near-equal mix of Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians.

“The farm sits in the midst of the communities and cultures that carve out a life here,” she said.

Kerrie works with the Native American Youth Group at Wapato Presbyterian Church and with Lutheran pastor Jillian Ross of the Yakima Valley Hispanic Outreach in Kingdom Kids, an after-school program for Latino children. 

After graduating three years ago in music at Columbia College in Columbia, S.C., Kerrie worked two years with a campus ministry at University of South Carolina.

At Campbell Farm, she uses skills in music and arts as “a way to walk with people to help them express themselves,” she said.

Part of the hospitality is gathering people and facilitating conversations, part is engaging in community outreach, and part is in living simply in community with others, respecting the need to share the resources of the earth.

“The mainstream approach of grabbing what you can for yourself pushes people out.  Community living means walking with people, rather than pushing them aside and watching out for yourself,” said Kerrie, an Episcopalian, who is applying for another year with the Presbyterian Church’s Young Adult Volunteer Program in Tuscon.

The church started the program to provide national and international opportunities to help young adults—from 18 to 30 years old—in the church find ways to serve and have a part in church life by plugging them into missions, service and advocacy.

Kerrie said the application process asks applicants to reflect on why they want to volunteer and to present what gifts they bring, to help discern the best place for each to serve.

This year, there are 30 volunteers.  Next year, there will be two new U.S. sites.  Through Campbell Farm, four volunteers have worked since September, living in community with the farm directors David Hacker and Sheri Noah. 

They assist community programs led by Corey Greaves, David Norwood and Cheryl Rohret, as well as Jillian, discovering what ministry in the community is like and sharing their gifts.

“We have been surprised that ministry does not easily fall into place.  There are challenges and conflicts, but we are all at the table and care about the direction of the ministry.  We strive for the grace to hear and work through the conflicts,” said Kerrie.

That honest interchange of ideas is new for her.  Growing up in Southeast U.S., she is familiar with a culture of communication that is often indirect in expressing needs and intentions.

“We have grown to trust each other and benefit from our vulnerability and authenticity,” Kerrie said.  “I have learned that trusting people builds the common good.

“I am amazed at the stories I hear and things I see in the community and on the reservation,” she said.  “Being here has opened my eyes to realities in which  people live and the reality that it tends to be okay with the people around them.  People live in substandard housing that is cold in the winter and hot in the summer while they try to make a living and survive with their children.

“I have learned about how in living simply, the Yakama people have traditionally lived abundantly without a sense of rush and with a clear sense of what is central in life: family and creation.”

Kerrie sees how people in the Yakama nation respond even now, 150 years after treaties were signed with European-Americans who settled there.  Some are angry or depressed; some joyful or nonchalant.  Those who settled on the land changed their way of living, she said.  It is a struggle for them to protect their heritage and values.

Kerrie finds that the Hispanic community in Wapato lands on the bottom of the social structure because they are the newest arrivals and lack access to resources.

About two-thirds of the 4,000 people in Wapato, which is on the Yakama reservation, are Hispanic—first or second generation Mexicans.

Because schools have bilingual Spanish/English classes, Kerrie said some Native Americans ask why schools don’t teach Sahaptin, the main Yakama language.  Indian children learn it at the tribal school and in Indian clubs, along with dancing, clothing and bead traditions that have been preserved for generations.

With the farm a place for dialogue, speakers who come explore such issues as loss of language and the role of language in culture.

The young adult volunteers will stay for the summer, when the farm shifts to be like a camp, with young people coming from different parts of the country to  learn about cultures and to work with the Northwest Harvest Food Bank, Union Gospel Mission or Volunteer Chore Services.

“By learning about the history and life in this place, these youth will begin to understand how breaking down cultural stereotypes can help us all experience the abundance of grace that exists in community.  After our time in Wapato, we are able to help them unpack what they experience each day,” said Kerrie.

“Jesus talked in the Sermon on the Mount about what brings happiness and blessing.  He called us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty and visit people who are sick or in prison,” she said.  “Jesus shows us who our neighbors are.

“This year made my neighborhood bigger.  Loving my neighbor has global reaches for me,” she said.  “It also makes me aware that my walk on earth should not step on someone else’s dignity.

“God created everyone with deliberate care, with gifts and with dreams,” she said.  “I hope that the way I walk will open doors so other people will feel empowered to use their gifts and the way we help does not subject others to dependency.  We need to love our neighbors in more ways than charity.  We must also work for social justice.”

Community living includes morning devotions, in which the volunteers, Dave and Sheri have read the book of Luke and are now reading Food and Faith, a book on the abundance of food and meals as a source of joy.  They pray and discuss what they have read.

Cheryl meets with the volunteers as a group and individually for spiritual direction, helping them discern where they are in their journeys of faith and life, and what it means for their calling.

Kerrie also is chaplain, organizing the spiritual element for their life on the farm.  One focus has been on water as a symbol of faith and water as a resource.

“Water is a rich symbol in the Bible.  That contrasts with the reality here that we expect the worst drought in the summer,” said Kerrie.

“Cutting usage in this drought year will change the landscape.  It will also make people realize what a gift water is.  The land is dry and hot like a desert, but a river runs through it bringing water as a source of life,” she said.

On the farm she has become aware about the need to conserve water.  She has begun to think about how many times people flush, run water when they wash dishes or take long showers.

“If we realize what a gift we have, we may consider how we use and waste the resources.  Water is a spiritual as well as a physical reality,” Kerrie said.

Kerrie shared comments from two other volunteers:

Linda Pak of Ogden, Utah, also discovered “how to be a good steward of God’s creation and to learn more about what my role is in the scheme of everything.

“I have become more aware of places, people and situations, insights I can apply to other contexts, whether designing architecture or working with community organizing,” she said.

Linda now realizes that the opportunity for ministry happens anytime and anywhere.

Craig Hay of Asheville, N.C., sees the mission at the Campbell Farm as: 1) to practice hospitality and 2) to teach life skills. 

He has discovered that hospitality fosters life skills.

“It seems that if you pay attention you’ll see that God’s presence is everywhere,” Craig said.


For information, call 877-6413.



By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - © May 2005