A Sacred Gift: Helping Teens Face Death

November 7, 2013

“I’ve had two careers in my life,” Rebecca Brown (MDiv ‘05) said during her TedxUF talk in February. “Both involved making a safe place for young people to ask questions and to find some purpose of living.”

Brown’s first career started after she graduated from University of Florida with a Bachelor of Music degree. She started working in youth ministry, creating a well-known and much-loved safe space for adolescents in Gainesville, FL.

But when one of the members of the program was diagnosed with cancer, Brown’s calling changed.

“My experience with her was beginning to move me out of the church, and into a place of even greater challenge,” Brown said during her TedxUF Talk.

Brown entered PSR in 2002, and while studying under Boyung Lee, created the first incarnation of what would be her second career: Streetlight, a program that provides psychosocial and spiritual support for young people with life-limiting illnesses.

“The dream and vision evolved,” she said of the program. “What it is today is not what I imagined it being when I left PSR […] the details changed so much as I got to really know these young people who were facing such enormous physical and spiritual challenges.”

Inspired by the interfaith community she found at PSR, Brown brought that into the program, making its focus more spiritual than religious.

“On my Streetlight team I have devout Muslims, Hindus, Evangelicals, Agnostics, Catholics, and everything in between,” she said. “We find such spiritual harmony in caring for the dying, that dogma and theology just fall away.”

The day-to-day in a program like Streetlight that helps adolescents who are suffering can be overwhelming, as well as affirming.

“[The children] teach me and inspire me more than any sermon or theologian,” Brown said. “I believe that being with someone who is dying is a sacred gift and if you lean into it you will be touched in an indescribable way.“

When asked what she’d like to see at PSR in the future, Brown said out-of-the-box youth ministry.

“We cannot let the Christian Right define Christianity for this generation,” she said. “Progressive truth is still attractive.”

Brown will be leaving Shands Hospital, where Streetlight has been based since 2006, to share the program with others who discovered it via her TedXUF Talk. For now, you can find more about Streetlight at http://streetlight.ufhealth.org/.