A Cause Worthy of Sacrifice: For Millennials, Pathway to Health Is a Surprising Draw

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A Cause Worthy of Sacrifice: For Millennials, Pathway to Health Is a Surprising Draw

If its social media and online engagement say anything—and in this day and age, when even the POTUS and Pontifex tweet, they say a lot—Your Best Pathway to Health should not be an organization for millennials.

I came to this realization when my editor texted me a few days ago asking if I’d found the hashtag for the Los Angeles event.

Then I remembered that Your Best Pathway to Health just opened a Twitter account. It doesn’t have an Instagram, Snapchat, or YouTube channel, and its volunteer website is functional at best. Its training webinars for volunteers included more than 2.5 hours of PowerPoint slideshows with accompanying audio.

An Adventist barber from Washington, DC, gives a haircut to a teen.

Chris Chung gives a haircut to a teen.

But strangely and wonderfully, Pathway to Health is the next big thing in Adventism, bringing more than 4,400 volunteers from across the United States and even other countries to staff its massive free clinics. At its last event in Los Angeles from April 27 to 29, it served 8,538 individuals in need of healthcare services.

These observations about Pathway’s online reach are far from a critique of the organization, but rather a statement of wonder at the organization’s draw.

A larger-than-life specter of the millennial haunts many youth ministries. Millennials are often perceived as apathetic, materialistic, and uninterested in religion.

In an effort to “appeal” to this generation, ministry leaders are often fixated on aesthetic qualities—the way the speaker is dressed, the music, the lighting of the stage, the design and layout of the program bulletin.

Pathway’s success with this generation’s young adults suggests that it’s time to think otherwise.

The organization is not about comfort, enjoyment, or aesthetic pleasantries. For its Los Angeles event, volunteers paid their own airfare, took precious vacation days, and suffered creative housing solutions for a long, tiring week of caring for others in need. Many of these volunteers are young professionals and students.

Seeking Radical Service

During Pathway, Dinda Padmasana, a materials engineer and young professional from Long Beach, California, commuted 1.5 hours with her guests to and from her house. When a work emergency came up one evening, she stayed up until 1:30 a.m. finishing a project, getting only two hours of sleep before volunteering for another full day of work as a patient transporter and interpreter.

Stories like Dinda’s point to the fact that millennials are not incapable of a spirit of sacrifice. Rather, they simply need a cause worthy of sacrifice.

A patient is tested for glaucoma at Pathway to Health LA.

A patient is tested for glaucoma at Pathway to Health LA.

“Young people want to be involved, and I think this is the reason why many organizations focus on overseas mission,” says Eric Louw, a recent graduate of Southern Adventist University who also serves as Pathway’s Director of Programming. “People want to go to the jungles of Africa and do something amazing.”

Events like Pathway to Health – Los Angeles suggest that radical Christian service is the answer that the elusive millennial generation seeks. And, as Eric points out, you don’t have to go across the sea to find such service opportunities.

Pathway to Health has, in emulating the healing ministry of Jesus, shown that Christ-centered service rather than human-centered programming is the answer to this generation’s search for an ultimate cause.

When I ask her what advice she has for young adults, Dr. Lela Lewis, president of Your Best Pathway to Health, pauses for a moment with a thoughtful look on her face.

“Put Jesus first,” she says, “and everything else will come into play.”

[Top photo: Carlos Moretta, an oral surgeon volunteering at Your Best Pathway to Health. All photos by Tanya Musgrave from North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists/Flickr]

[Article updated May 2, 2016, to add or correct names of three individuals mentioned in story and photo captions.]

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Michel Lee is a Ph.D. student studying religion in the United States at the University of Texas at Austin.