A former travel magazine editor, 29-year-old Midwest native Jess Hoffert is taking a 6-month break from the cubicle life to become immersed in the colorful culture of Southern California.

Teaching with our lives

Teaching with our lives

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend Church of the Brethren Young Adult Conference in northern Virginia. It marked my first trip outside of California since arriving here in January. And it was just the renewing, inspirational and motivational weekend I needed. 

The conference was held at Brethren Woods camp in the rolling, densely wooded Shenandoah Valley. I’ve attended Young Adult Conference (YAC) for the past six years, and each year, it feels more and more like a family reunion as I’m reunited with incredible Brethren young adults from across the country.  We worship, sing, learn and play games together. It's basically camp for kids at heart.

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This year felt a little different, and I expected that. Being in the midst of Brethren service work, I found myself doing as much sharing about my current experiences as I listened to others share of their work around the world. Usually, I like to be a sponge at this conference and absorb all of the great lessons and challenges presented. This year, I presented a workshop about Príncipe de Paz church and what I’ve learned from my experiences here. 

About 12 of the conference’s 30-some participants attended the workshop, which was such a cool full-circle moment. Two years ago, I was at this same conference, listening to Pastor Richard talk about his church in Santa Ana and eventually taking him up on his invitation to experience it for myself. This time around, I got to be the one extending the invitation, hopefully planting the seed for the next person to serve after I leave in July.

It took me more than a year to discern that moving to Santa Ana for six months was the best decision for my life at this point (and in hindsight, it totally has been). So I don’t expect someone to make the decision right away. But I was encouraged and thrilled when one of the conference attendees shared that he had been on the fence about committing a year to Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS), and after hearing me and other presenters at the conference, he was moved to officially say “yes” to the call. 

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This year’s conference theme was “Teach with your life,” inspired by 1 Timothy 4:11­­–16 in The Message. Here’s an excerpt: “Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.”

The four worship speakers this weekend did a wonderful job of putting their own spin on this scripture. A couple highlights were elementary art teacher Chris Michael’s talk about the importance of learning from and building relationships with his students. It’s so easy to punish a kid for doing something wrong (I can relate as a Sunday School teacher). It’s much harder but also much more meaningful to have a one-on-one talk with the kid and turn something negative into a teachable moment. 

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Dawna Welch, pastor of spiritual formation at the La Verne Church of the Brethren (about 45 minutes from Santa Ana), pleaded with us to stay active and make our voices heard in the church. She was tired of hearing that Millennials are lazy and complacent because she knows from experience that’s largely false. “We need you,” she said. “Will you lead us?”

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I also had the opportunity to share a brief testimony about the importance of listening to younger voices, recalling the experience I had in the Sunday School class at Príncipe when I asked the group of 9- to 12-year-olds what they were most afraid of and some of them came back with the answers “the government, school shootings and the future.” My eyes welled up as I shared my inability to grasp how to handle such answers. How can I teach with my life when my life looks so different from those I’m trying to teach? I prayed for an answer, and my answer was prayer. No matter whether we’re scared of spiders or school shootings, we can pray to God, who is our refuge and strength. We are all in need of something, and God is there to help us in our time of need.

I know that these amazing young adults are also here for me. And so are my church families at Príncipe de Paz and back in Minnesota and Iowa. This past Monday, my laptop was stolen from the church, and I had a few moments of panic before calling Pastor Richard. He calmly (per usual) said not to worry, and that we could use some grant money for my work to cover a new one, so I don’t have to pay anything out of pocket. I can’t even describe how thankful I am for this gift.

While I was at the conference this weekend, the church also took up a collection for me, simply because they felt bad about what happened. So not only do I have a new laptop, but I have additional funds from the church, simply to say, “We love you and wish this hadn’t happened to you.” I’m so blown away by the generosity of this church, a community that teaches with its life by giving more than it receives. That’s what the Brethren are known for. And I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of this church. 

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A jolt of reverse culture shock

A jolt of reverse culture shock

Sharing the blessed journey

Sharing the blessed journey