Get to Know Rev. Rae Karim: NBA’s Interim Program Coordinator of XPLOR/Young Adult Leadership Development

Rev. Rae Karim, Interim XPLOR/Young Adult Leadership Development Coordinator

NBA has maintained a historic commitment to creating leadership development opportunities for young adults dating back to the NBA Leadership Scholars program and onward through our most recent XPLOR residential program.  We continue this commitment today with new programs such as our young adult peer groups.

In 2014, NBA began its XPLOR Residential Program. This ten-month residency program was created for young adults ages 18-30 who were offered an opportunity to live in a new community, learn about their faith, and discern how they will construct meaningful, impactful lives. In addition to this program, NBA has increased its commitment to Disciples young adults, especially those interested in leadership development. Late last year, Rev. Rae Karim joined NBA’s staff as the Interim Program Coordinator of XPLOR/Young Adult Leadership Development.

Karim is a thought leader who pours lived experience into her work. She has served in various ministry capacities, including as Chapel Director at Christian Theological Seminary, and as a two-time history maker as the first woman and person of color to pastor non-Black churches in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Honolulu, Hawaii. She is a dynamic speaker who empowers and transforms lives and is committed to ensuring her work ignites courage on purpose for a purpose.

Get to know more about Rae, what led her to this work, and what NBA has in the works for young adults within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

NBA: Tell us a bit about yourself. What led you to ministry work? What did you enjoy most about it?

RK: Well, I’m kind of a pew baby. I wasn’t born in the church literally, but definitely figuratively. My grandparents were always in church and so I was in the church. I sang in the choir, I would review the youth Sunday School lesson, and would just kind of help out where I could, or where I was asked.

When it comes to the more formal ministry work and why Reverend is in front of my name, I have always enjoyed words, right? I’m a poet, I’m a writer, I’m a speaker. So, when it came to ministry specifically, I just wanted to know more. I wanted to know more about what the pastors or the preachers were saying, I wanted to know more about the history of the words that we were reading in the Bible. That’s what led me to seminary.

I never really had a desire to be a pastor. However, they say ‘When you give God your plans, be prepared to laugh,’ so that’s what I did. God might still be laughing because I have now pastored at two churches, Northwood Christian Church here in Indianapolis, Indiana, and most recently, I pastored at First Christian Church in Honolulu, Hawaii. So, ministry work has always been something to interest me more so around helping people arrive to a place where they recognize that God will meet them where they are. If I can be a conduit of that, why not?

NBA: Talk about your work and experience with young adults prior to NBA. Why do you enjoy working with this age group?

RK: I think the reason why I have enjoyed working with younger adults is a line from Whitney Houston’s song, The Greatest Love of All she says, ‘I believe the children are our future.’ I love Whitney, and I think that’s an amazing song. But the caveat for me is that children, youth, and young adults are right now too, they are the present. If we only look at them as being the future, then that is in essence how we treat them. We end up treating young people like they have to wait their turns and that is not how it should be.

Coming up in the church, I noticed there was always either a place for the babies or for the elders, but there’s this gap of ministry that is missed not only for the young adults but even sometimes for the youth who are in that in-between stage. So, there’s a gap of ministry that takes place. I’ve always been interested in helping to cultivate, helping to encourage, or be a role model of sorts, to youth and young adults and to show them that I made it through in a time where there were expectations that young people needed to be seen but not heard.  I’ve enjoyed being able to offer them the opportunity to be both seen and heard, not only in what they want to do when they “grow up,” or when the opportunity presents itself but also a space for them to have support in what they’re doing now. It’s important for me, and all of us, to understand how we can best serve and be encouraging to young adults now.

NBA: Why did you feel called to say yes to this opportunity at NBA?

RK: I applied and said yes to this opportunity because I was excited about creating a space for young adults to be seen and heard. Also, because it was specifically at NBA. I’d seen a lot of my ministry colleagues working with NBA in some capacity. I knew that NBA was doing this work in a spiritually social way and serving as a space that bridges the gap between the world and the church. So, the opportunity to plant my feet in a place of influence and impact for young adults called to me.

NBA: NBA’s young adult work specifically engages adults ages 21-30, why is it important for the church to be engaged with this age group?

RK: My mind automatically goes to the pandemic that we are still working our way through. These students and young people haven’t had a normal school year in three years and their lives have been upended! And while we as adults have dealt with that too, I wonder if there has really been a space for that age group to process and again, be seen and heard.

I think it’s a matter of letting them know they belong, especially in the church. There are so many ministries that support young people as they work through school and get to college, and then when they’re at college or graduate, what’s happening with them? How are we operating and supporting young people in that space?

It’s not enough to just create a table for young people and invite them to it, we need to think about how are we serving them at the table. How are we helping them at the table? What do we have at the table that can help them, that can nourish them while they’re there, and then empower them to be able to go and be who they need to be in the world when they leave the table?

NBA: You hosted a series of listening sessions in the spring to hear from Disciples young adults and those who work with them, what has stuck with you since those conversations? How does it inform what NBA is planning with young adults?

RK: Many of them want to be nourished and empowered to be the best version of themselves. Some of the issues mentioned include environmental justice and economic justice, especially around entrepreneurship, which is an NBA program area.

NBA: What do you want to say to young adults who may be reading this and want to get involved with NBA, or the denomination, but aren’t sure how?

RK: I want them to know that space is being made for them. We are cultivating a room for you to show up and to be your most authentic self, room for you to grow. There is space for you to do that at NBA. We are not reimagining young adult leadership development just to say we did it, we are being careful and taking into consideration what it is that young people are asking for from us, and what it is that they want to do. We are going to do our best to make sure that it is a program that is as conducive to and for them as possible.

NBA: What’s next for our Young Adult Leadership Program? What can you tease for us?

RK: We have some programming in the works, looking at ways we can enhance the NBA Peer Learning & Wellness Groups across the denomination and cultures, especially for our Asian-American/Pacific Island (AA/PI), and Black young adults. Because of our history of racism in the U.S., we recognize the ways that BIPOC young adults are often the ones without systems of mentorship. In NBA’s commitments and values of equity, we seek to really support, accompany, and equip youth people of faith no matter who they are or where they come from. We want them to have a space that is their own, created with their unique perspectives and needs in mind.

We are also working on programming specifically for young adult Black women, and we are really excited to be able to offer something for them to have that space to show up, be who they are, and to develop into being the best versions of themselves.

One of the things that I’m excited about is the fact that NBA recognizes that ministry happens inside and outside of the four walls of the church. We also recognize that ministry isn’t just a call to preach, but to be a teacher, a marketer, a doctor, it looks like so many things beyond the pulpit.

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