In case you didn’t know it, the US Mission Network is just one piece of a worldwide puzzle. God is alive and well in the YMCA all around the globe. Recently Janele Nelson, Association Mission Director of the Pierce-Kitsap County YMCA, traveled to Europe to attend the Unify Leadership Conference. While there Janele represented not only her YMCA, but also the US Mission as a member of our Ministry Cabinet. Her trip to Germany, Romania and Ukraine will certainly be a lifetime memory for her, and an inspiring challenge for us all. Here’s a part of the report she shared with us following her exciting journey.

“The 11 day trip to Europe connected me with 26 YMCA leaders from 8 European countries making up the leadership of UNIFY. UNIFY is a network of YMCA staff and volunteers from Europe who are lifting up the Christian mission with the YMCA. The conference in Cluj Romania built and strengthen the Unify leadership and my presence connected them to the YMCA US Mission Network which is the leadership of those intentionally lifting up the Christian mission in the US. Unify was encouraged by the report of the US Mission Network. I learned about the programming and the ways these countries lift up the Christian mission of the YMCA. The presentation I gave of the Journey to Freedom, a signature program of the YMCA US Mission Network, inspired four of the countries to ask how they could build awareness and capacity to deliver Journey to Freedom. Action steps were determined and the invitation to present Journey to Freedom at the various Unify conferences was discussed as a possibility.”

“My time spent in the Munich Germany YMCA was encouraging and enlightening. The Munich YMCA is led by three person CEO Team. They hire Christians and encourage them to be a part of The Fellowship; a group that meets weekly to read a scripture, pray and encourage one another with stories and song. They also have a strong internship program serving about 20 young adults yearly. Part of the internship includes a 6 – 8 week experience abroad in a sister YMCA. The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties was asked to participate. I received excellent hospitality as I stayed 2 nights at the YMCA Munich Hotel/Hostel. They have numerous outreach programs throughout the city targeted mostly at young people.”

“The 2 day visit to Lviv Ukraine brought YMCA leadership from 3 Ukraine Ys together. Odessa YMCA, being only 1 year old benefited greatly from the history Ivanna shared about the Ukraine YMCA. The 6 leaders of these 3 YMCAs as well 3 volunteers from the Lviv YMCA shared the effects of the war in Ukraine. The Lviv YMCA has shifted their service to the 10,000 displaced people from eastern Ukraine. Olexandra, President of the Lviv YMCA in partnership with the United Nations is providing a center from which displaced Ukrainians can find services and resources. They are also seeing affects on those returning from the war and their families. They are describing symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other emotional and relational problems.”

“Tanya and Sasha from the Odessa YMCA are in great need of a center – a place – to call the YMCA. The center would be a gathering place for Journey to Freedom groups and Sasha emphasized the need for a consistent place for young adult men to gather. Sasha has done great work building relationships with numerous young people through JTF groups held at a partnering church and did some hiking activities in the summer. He has lost some contact with them due to the fact there is no place for him to regularly gather them in a casual setting. A center would keep the men connected through additional active programming that could be done in this center. We discussed that Sasha’s craftsman skills possibly could be taught to the young men as a point of additional connection and development. If a product could be sold this could possibly help subsidize the cost of the ministry. The center would bring visibility and credibility to the YMCA in Odessa. Funds of $500 – $700 monthly would give them 2 to 3 room adequate space. I was intrigued by the idea I received of creating a relationship with the Youth Investment Center of the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties with the potential Center of Odessa YMCA. Building a cultural bridge of learning and encouragement would benefit the young people of both countries.”

“I was honored to represent the US Mission Network of the YMCA and the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties at the Unify Leadership Conference and to continue building relationships in Ukraine. There are great benefits for the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties to foster these relationships and work following this trip. The benefits are:

1. Cultural Learning for Youth – The potential of cultural exchanges through the arts programs of Lutsk Ukraine, Youth of the Odessa Center and Youth Investment Center of Puyallup being “Sister Centers” and the Interns to the US from Germany would bring rich friendships and cultural learning of our youth in our YMCAs.
2. Strengthen our Mission – Continued connection to European Unify will provide for mutual learning and encouragement to lift the Y Mission, especially with England and Germany for the cultural parallels are strong. The invitation for Y staff to participate in Youth Unify and Unify Conferences is a great cultural exchange and professional development opportunity.
3. Deepen our Journey to Freedom Work – spreading and supporting Journey to Freedom within the world will deepen the local credibility and interest in our Journey to Freedom work.
4. Grow the World Mission Network – International learning and support within the World Mission Network is needed to deepen and strengthen the Christian mission of the YMCA worldwide. Representing the US Mission Network within the World YMCA movement lifts the profile of the work and commitment of the YMCA of the Pierce and Kitsap Counties.”

You can contact Janele directly at JNelson@ymcapkc.org