Authentic Community

By Jacob VanDam

Before attending Gallatin Valley SERVE, I didn’t have a framework for what would take place at SERVE or how Christ’s would connect me with two influential communities. Once I arrived, strangers from across the country quickly became family. One of the main topics was community, which I initially thought was just simply “making friends”. But it wasn’t just that; it was having a spiritual bond with the whole community and everyone there.


A few weeks after SERVE, my family received the news that my dad has stage four colon cancer. This was a blow to the huge spiritual high I was on through the week in Montana. I continued devotions every night, hoping God had my dad in his hands, but every night it kept feeling like the things said at SERVE were just thoughts and ideas that were never actually going to happen, and that bothered me.


Soon after, I got a text from one of my best friends I met at SERVE. They were bringing everyone from Montana back here to Minnesota. This mini weekend retreat helped me realize the ways I could make a difference in my own community. You never know what it’s like until you actually witness it done in your own community.


These two SERVE trips have affected my life like no other. These experiences have helped me see the hope in my dad’s battle with cancer and other family tragedies I have witnessed. My dad going with me on these two trips, as weak as he has been with chemotherapy and other operations, helps me see how many easy obstacles I have turned into hardships in the past years.


My dad has battled cancer and fought with it for seven months now as I’m writing this. He’s conquered a twelve-hour surgery on his birthday and is an inspiration to any battle I go through in my life. What SERVE has done for me through this, is allowed me to see the authentic community right here in our small town. We have received so many cards and prayers, and it’s my goal to give others the same support I got.


I love talking to people and being there for anyone who needs me. I don’t ever want anyone to be alone for any battle they are going through in their life, and I learned this through SERVE. Without the two trips, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have been able to take my dad’s diagnosis the way I did and translate it to the way I live my life right now.


About the Author:
Jacob was a student participant at Gallatin Valley SERVE 2017.

The Year I Went To All The Canadian SERVE Sites

By: Ron deVries

The summer of 2017 will forever be etched in my hard drive (and human brain) as the year I thought it would be a cool idea to visit every Canadian SERVE site.

I knew it would be a lot of traveling and although some things prevented me (I am reminded of the two and half hour delay waiting somewhere in the seemingly far reaches of highway between 427 and 403) from spending more time with each of these incredible sites.

Here are a few highlights for me.

  • Watching our host teams in action made me swell up with Christian pride. I witnessed Kingdom people doing Kingdom work and truly reflecting Authentic Community.
  • Visiting various work sites and being inspired by the “Hands and Feet” of so many who GAVE UP a week of their summer to GIVE OF their hearts to God’s children. Amazing!
  • Worship leaders and speakers who ran with this year’s theme using a variety of voices and then collectively, shared a message of hope in all areas of this great land.
  • Finally, hearing stories of God’s sovereign nature and love for this world through students who will forever be changed by these faith forming experiences.

Thank you to all the host teams for a job well done.

God is good.

About Ron:

Ron is the Canadian SERVE Director. He lives in Alberta with his wife and enjoys sailing, motorcycling, hockey, and talking about youth ministry. To learn more about the Youth Unlimited staff click here.

About SERVE:

SERVE youth mission experiences are all-inclusive, five to seven-day trips for middle or high school age students. More than just a short trip, SERVE is a faith-forming experience where the communities, congregations, and students involved all experience lasting transformation. If you are interested in learning more about SERVE and signing up for SERVE 2018 click here.

Life Together – A Book Review

“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”

As a freshman in college, I was assigned the reading of Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Like most 18 year-olds, Bonhoeffer’s writing was far beyond the grasp of both my attention and my comprehension.

Years later, now, while working on the SERVE 2017 theme materials, I fell more and more in love with the very concept we’re trying to reiterate, Authentic Community. Seeking other resources that speak into Authentic Community, I naturally landed back at Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. Older and hopefully wiser at this point in my life, I gobbled the book up like a good meal and started using quotes from it, asking questions about it and encouraging others to read it.

While Bonhoeffer faced trials that appear to be much different than those we face today (living during the Nazi regime and, ultimately, becoming a martyr) many of his thoughts, musings and observations collected in Life Together are still eminent today.

“In the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray.”

The book ventures through four different aspects of Christian community; the day with others, the day alone, ministry and confession & communion. Each aspect is broken down into timeless pieces of advice that lead us back to our call to live in community and how we are to execute doing so. When reading, my constant thought was yes, this is what I want to be a part of. I want to be a part of a community who’s faith is so deeply rooted in Christ that it is all that matters.

“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”

We so often get caught up in the media, soaking up every truth and falsity that comes our way without remembering our place in this world as Christians. Bonhoeffer’s book is a reminder that we’re a people who are called. We’re a part of a bigger story than what’s on the news, a part of the story of Christ on earth. Being a part of that story calls us to live, respond and interact in certain ways, and Bonhoeffer repeatedly points out that the Scriptures are very clear about what those ways are.

“We are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth.”

Because of its connectedness to the theme of SERVE 2017, the Youth Unlimited staff took the time to read through Life Together as well and to discuss together its many implications for SERVE and the experience students have during that week of their summer.

We’re so grateful to be able to give students the opportunity to experience Christian community at SERVE – the opportunity to begin each day in God’s Word, to worship together, to work for the Kingdom, to share meals together and to genuinely do Life Together. We’re grateful to be able to open the space for students to enter into koinonia, and we can’t wait to see the impact of SERVE 2017!

So would I recommend the book? I’d give the book 5 stars out of 5, so I would definitely recommend you read it, and then I’d say to be sure to follow along on our Facebook and Instagram pages this summer as our students study, grow in and learn Authentic Community. It’s going to be a special summer!