Alex Revelle

Attending YTI was single-handedly the most transformative event of my entire life and still impacts me to this day.


Why did you attend the program?

I attended the Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) purely because my parents told me I was going, not because I wanted to go. Another family at my home church recommended YTI because their daughter had attended years ago, and that's how I ended up at YTI. I had no clue what YTI was about, what it would involve, or what it would have to do with me. I honestly thought it was just another regular summer camp my parents were putting me in to keep me busy during the summer.


What kind of questions or decisions were you struggling with?

I really wasn't struggling with any questions that I knew of at the time, again because I didn't know what YTI really was or what it was about. Obviously experiencing it first-hand was a huge shock to my reality and my world in a positive way.


How was your experience during the event? 

Attending YTI was single-handedly the most transformative event of my entire life and still impacts me to this day. It was so unexpected but so needed for me at that critical age and time-frame where I was ending my high school career and beginning my college career and entering young adulthood. My experience was challenging, comforting and uplifting. It consisted of a lot of deep soul-wrenching work that not only challenged my views but also challenged me to find and experience God in a deeper, new, authentic, real and lasting way.


What did it feel like to be there?

To be at YTI at a beautiful campus like Emory University in the buzzing city of Atlanta, Georgia, is like no other. Being in the atmosphere just somehow pushes you to want to learn and inquire more. The YTI staff and coordinators allowed us to engage with the local Atlanta community and this really did a wonderful job of expanding some of the theological practices, thoughts and ideas that they shared with us. Along with the practical in-group session studies we did, the out-of-group sessions we had were just as informative in building my new theological understanding and worldview.


What were some of the changes you noticed after? 

The biggest change I noticed when I returned back home after attending YTI was just how unsatisfied I was with the status quo that I had learned my entire life in my community, from my church, to my school, to my beliefs and practices. I felt boxed in after attending as life-giving and diverse an experience as YTI. The biggest change I noticed was just how unsettled I was with the norm and how I wanted to continue to push the boundaries after attending YTI.

As a result of this discontentment, when I went off to college I left God, the church and the Christian faith because I had a hard time reconciling the two differences of having an experience like YTI with coming back home to my community and still experiencing the same status quo there. It was so hard for me to reconcile the two that I left the church and the faith. As a result, it took me several years to come back to the faith. Once I was able to do that and really figure out who God was for me, I was able to perceive God in a new way.


What did you learn about yourself, the world, or ministry at this time?

The primary point I learned from this experience is how boxed in we all are in our own worlds and the importance of expanding our view of the world. Attending YTI revealed to me how diverse and vast God in the Christian faith is. That was probably the most healing and empowering realization for me. Realizing that there are so many different ways to worship, praise and pray to God was transformative for me. I always make it a point, whether I'm relaxing or working, to push myself to read and understand different thoughts of the Christian faith from around the world. I want to make sure that I can continue to understand God in a new way, not just based upon Western understanding but a global understanding.


Do you feel better equipped for the future after attending? 

I would be so bold as to say that every single student and peer who attended YTI with me are, without question, better prepared for the future and better prepared for what is to come, even so many years after attending the YTI program. What the YTI program did for us at a young age was stretch and challenge our norms and beliefs based upon the environments and cultures we came from. The program helped reveal to us how God can fit into many diverse beliefs and thoughts. That really applies to every occupation any of us eventually went into. As a result of YTI, I think we are all more open and can think critically about a lot of different ideas, views and beliefs. I think the diversity of so many beliefs in our own Christianity really left an indelible impact on us internally. It continues to allow our perception of the world to change, and will for the rest of our lives.


What was the best thing about attending?

For me, the best thing about attending YTI is the deep relationships that you make at such a young age with your friends and your peers. These relationships are a result of so much deep soul work you go through during the program. YTI does an amazing job of drawing students in from all across the globe and country. As a result, you meet so many different people from so many diverse backgrounds and realities. Those relationships and friendships really do last a lifetime, and that's something so unique to go through at a young age. The lifetime friendships that are born are so deep and authentic. That is one of the best things about YTI and this even includes relationships with staff.


How have you engaged in ministry since the program, or how do you plan to be engaged in ministry in the future? 

Attending YTI was the catalyst that would, around nine to ten years later, activate my calling to go into the ministry and work on becoming an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and to attend seminary. Without attending YTI I can confidently say that I don't think I would be on the path I am now in the place I am now. YTI was really one of the biggest life events that led me into the ministry and gave me a lot of the skills and talents I put towards the ministry. I also think it's important to add that I'm attending seminary at Emory University Candler School of Theology currently, the place where I first activated my calling ten years ago. God has a unique way of working in which it all comes back around full circle.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to attend?

The biggest piece of advice I think I would share with someone who is interested in attending the program is to keep an open mind, an open heart and prepare to do some challenging work. It is really hard to prepare someone for a YTI experience because there's literally nothing like it. If you go in with an open mind and heart and are willing to learn and challenge yourself you will come out as not only a better theological student, but as a better human being for the rest of your life. What the world needs at this point in time are people with a wide and broad worldview who are willing and able to challenge some of the norms in order to continue helping it evolve to be the place we all know it should be.


Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

The last thing I want to share with people is that if you are a parent or pastor who is thinking about or curious about putting your child in the program, allow me to be the first to say you should do it. I can't emphasize enough the impact it has at that critical age where you're entering college and ending your teenage years. Having a moment that challenges and questions your beliefs as a young person prior to college has a huge impact on your life. You enter college with more confidence because you’ve done the hard work of beginning to figure out who you are in the world.

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