A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary
Global Vision - Spring 2010
View more articles in the Spring 2010 issue.
Brian Konkol, '05
by Shelly Cunningham, '98
Brian Konkol, 2005 M.Div. grad, with his wife Kristen
Until Brian Konkol got to Luther Seminary, he hadn't been out of the United States ... or even thought much about it. Now the 2005 M.Div. graduate is coordinator of the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) project in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. It's a calling that fits his passion of working with young adults and connecting deeply with other cultures.
"Before I came to seminary, my pastors (in Wisconsin) told me, 'be sure to get to know the international students' at Luther," he said. "They were so right. Especially as someone who'd never been out of the U.S., to listen to their stories was amazing. It was fascinating to realize the way in which things are done in the U.S. might not be the best way of doing things in other contexts. It helped open my eyes right from the start."
His interest in global culture was also piqued through meeting a student who had recently returned from internship in Germany. Konkol decided to apply for an international internship site and was assigned to Guyana, South America. The experience was so rewarding that he asked to be assigned to the ELCA's division for Global Mission upon graduation, and was sent back to Guyana for his first call, where he served for three years.
Since 2008, Konkol and his wife Kristen have been residents of Pietermaritzburg. Through the ELCA YAGM program, they help mission- and theologically-minded 20-to-30-year-olds find ways to serve, learn and grow in their faith. Participants in the program spend 11 months in an international setting, largely immersed in a specific context. Several sites like the one Konkol runs exist around the world. Each year there are between 50 and 60 volunteers sent around the world; 10 serve in South Africa.
Konkol holds up the belief that "we are in a process of being globally formed and globally transformed. The biggest process during a volunteer's year is putting themselves in a situation where they can allow those things to happen."
Pietermaritzburg is a city of 400,000, but "it doesn't feel like it's that big" because the population is so dispersed, Konkol said. "The remnants of apartheid are still very visible in parts of the city. There are definite pockets pockets of segregation. You can go from extreme wealth to extreme poverty in a five- or ten-minute drive ... In one part of town there are very nice homes, and people drive BMWs. But not far away there are horrible living conditions, with shanties and no real public health system or infrastructure."
Konkol believes that it is in both of these worlds that the young adult volunteers he coordinates are called to serve. "Our program may help deepen the understanding of how people get into these situations," he said, "because the reality is, massive inequality exists in areas around the world, including the United States. That's why the time we spend together is the most valuable work we do. We spend time listening, learning and accompanying. And as we learn of physical poverty around the world, we experience the spiritual wealth of places such as South Africa."
During his time in South Africa, Konkol has seen the benefits of building those relationships.
"It's easy to come with the expectation that you're here to do something, to fix or build something. But it means so much to simply have a ministry of presence. That's what allows the Holy Spirit to work through community, and what allows us to be transformed."
It is clear Konkol is passionate about what the church is doing to engage young adults, and his role in facilitating that engagement.
"I love my job! I am in absolutely no rush to leave South Africa. It is challenging, but invigorating. We both really enjoy it here. No matter what comes in the future, I know our hearts will be invested in the global church."
Read more about the Konkols' personal stories and adventures in South Africa.
Read more about programming, current events, and reflections from participants in the Young Adults in Global Mission program in South Africa.
Read about the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission.