My youth work calling has its roots in my experiences growing up. My parents are Salvation Army officers, and for most of my childhood they were appointed to the Bridge Programme (drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres).
My family spent a lot of time at the Bridge with the wonderful people in recovery all over the country and even in Canada. These people were so kind to us, and I never thought of them as any different to the other adults in my life. I had such respect for them—they’d had hard lives but had been given a second chance and were on the road to freedom.
I remember hearing people share at Recovery Church about how far they had fallen, but how God had given them hope again. God was so present in those moments!
These experiences impacted me hugely. I witnessed two things: one, the love my parents had for others in need; and two, how God’s love has such a transforming power in peoples’ lives.
With this foundation, I always wanted to serve God by serving others, but I wasn’t fully sure in what way.
It wasn’t until I left school that God really put on my heart to be a youth worker, even though I was young myself. From my experiences at the Bridge, I felt that everyone needs someone to encourage and support them when they are growing up.
I discovered a desire to help young people see their strengths, and discover who they are in Christ. I wanted them to have a voice where others were taking choice away from them. I didn’t want them to slip through the cracks because they weren’t connected.
Since then I have been fortunate to have a number of people give me opportunities and take a risk on me in my corps, in my training and at schools. This year I began work as a LAB (Living and Breathing) facilitator, where I oversee a training youth worker.
I had lots of awesome role models that helped me on my journey: officers, teachers and other youth workers. We have some amazing youth workers in The Salvation Army that have been around a long time and are truly an inspiration. They have helped me get to where I am now, so I hope I can share some of that and help develop and grow the next generation.
I’ve been a youth worker for five years. I have a long way to go, but I have already been really blessed far more than I could ever imagine. It is hard work, but it is worth it.
I don’t even really know how to describe it. I guess it is like seeing potential fulfilled, not only in the young people I work with, but in me. I hope to see God’s work further on in my ministry as these young people grow up —they all hold a place in my heart.
By Collette Irwin (abridged from War Cry, 24 March 2012, p9)
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