Northwest coordinator explains how the pandemic has challenged the network to think creatively
CLARK COUNTY — Phillip Ball loves unity. His vision, which he shares with many he works alongside, is that organizations, churches and people would lay down their egos and logos for the betterment of America’s youth.
As the Northwest Coordinator of Engagement and Training for the National Network of Youth Ministries (NNYM), Ball has worked on the ground with youth workers and leaders from Alaska to Wyoming and everywhere in between. His home base, though, is Vancouver.
As the pandemic has progressed, Ball and his teams have been stretched and learned new skills, but also had opportunities to share valuable ideas and skills they already had. The times may have changed, but NNYM’s goal remains the same: reach every young person with hope.
“We want to build networks of youth workers all across the country in reach of every church, every school,” Ball said. “We want to build networks, where youth workers are praying together, building relationships, sharing strategies, or developing strategies, and sharing resources, so that we can reach every student in every school in every community for Christ.”
In just the last year, NNYM in the northwest has equipped 70 new youth leaders in communities across the region. These people then connect with churches, parachurch organizations and schools to create more unity.
Ball explained how too often, he has witnessed a strong and overbearing sense of individualism when it comes to many of the churches and programs he connects. This can lead to lack of interest in a different way of doing things, at the expense of fostering a strong network of youth workers, he said.
“There’s a fierce independence of individuals that kind of weaves into the churches,” Ball added.
These difficulties in collaboration are exactly why NNYM exists; to remove barriers and bring people together. With the pandemic creating isolation in many places, like schools, and the current national situation with racial inequities added to the mix, NNYM is taking the situation as a challenge to overcome, Ball explained.
“One of the ways that NNYM was uniquely prepared for this was that we’ve been using Zoom for years,” Ball said. “You know, and so when everything got shut down, people had to leave their offices to go home, school at home … We had a unique opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we can help.’”
Ball said they were able to open up a Zoom call room for youth leaders all over the country for over 12 hours to have conversations with them on new ideas and simply encourage them. He also explained how many times with churches or youth groups, the youth often are playing a pivotal role in implementing new technology like live streaming, or even a community-wide Minecraft Server in Alaska.
When it comes to healing the issues around racial and cultural division, Ball explained that NNYM is making concerted, but genuine efforts to network with youth leaders and youth outside of the usual social bubbles of the team members, himself included.
“Historically, and currently, our staff is predominantly white, middle aged men, and if we’re going to reach every student, in every community, in every school, we need to have people on our team, that are more like the communities that we’re serving, so that the gospel can go forward,” Ball said. “I’ve been reaching out to people in the Asian community, people in African American community. I have a good friend over the past few years in the Native American community, all of which have really helped me to better understand and hopefully then also better serve the community here in the Northwest.”
NNYM is currently working with many youth ministries in Clark County to close the generation gap and allow students to share their skills, often in technology, with churches and nonprofits in the area. Many youth pastors and teachers are a part of the local network, especially in the case of Faith Based Coffee, which is a program initiated by the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts to connect with churches.
“It’s been super encouraging to see, and there’s a higher value of our young people. Now [they] know that they have an integral part to play,” Ball said. “I firmly believe young people are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today. This COVID season has given them an opportunity to see that in new ways that I’m just in awe of.”
To learn more about the National Network of Youth Ministries or to partner with them, visit their website at www.youthworkers.net. To connect with Phillip Ball, you can send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.