Channeling his passion for helping others, Levi Landis sensed a calling to a vocation of service and ministry. Committed to engaging others and using community as a means to incite positive change, he felt a particular connection with other young people. "A desire to become part of the solution to problems I was seeing in churches or globally led me to see how I could help unite others under the banner of community,” he explains. “Through dialogue, questioning, and honest conversation, I saw how easily people were drawn to service and a mission of justice, mercy and hope.” Levi decided to pursue his goals through an academic route, majoring in Bible to provide a framework for his ambitions and “a new perspective of Scripture and ministry.”
Levi selected Messiah's biblical studies department "for its professors, courses, and reputation," and found that every facet surpassed his expectations. He values the department's encouragement to examine and challenge his own world view, and found that "the courses gave way to a deeper study of biblical criticism and interpretation, a personal movement toward pacifism, and a renewed hope in the church and my own abilities to serve." Outside of his classes, Levi got involved with college-initiated prison ministries, participated in philosophy and religion forums, and engaged various grassroots campus organizations. "All of these," he asserts, "broadened my understanding of faith and its implications in a postmodern world."
Taking advantage of Career Center-sponsored job fairs and other opportunities for seniors helped Levi discover more about himself and applications for work-service. He determined that he “was being called to help start a new non-profit [organization.]”
Messiah provided the avenue for Levi to critically examine how an intentional community could impact contemporary society, how a group of people could “work together to cut down poor environmental stewardship, consumerism, and waste and develop service- and missions-based programs in the local spectrum.” He applied these developmental concepts to his formulation of Emmaus. Moreover, he adds, “The emphasis on art, especially quality music, at Messiah also specifically impacted many of the music-related programs at Emmaus.”
Levi values Messiah’s emphasis on seeking Christian vocation, which he observes “really got me thinking of how important an examined life really is.” He learned that “intentionality and a clear understanding of the way my apathy and inactivity affect the world and my own circle of relationships became vital to setting and maintaining goals, developing arts-based programs, and serving and loving young people.”
Frustrated as he graduated without a determined plan or course of action, Levi channeled his dissatisfaction into a concentrated examination of what vocation really meant to him. He explains, “I began to meet with 5 other twenty-somethings who also had a growing suspicion that the church and faith-based individuals were missing huge opportunities for uniting young people in community, service, and transformation.” Fortunately, Levi was surrounded by friends and family willing to contribute physically, spiritually, and financially to his vision for an intentional community. Emmaus 1.0, as Levi labels the first conception of the non-profit community, was officially established in a Gettysburg farmhouse in 2005, and the community moved to a more communal facility in downtown Gettysburg in 2006. Currently Levi and the other members of the community are preparing for Emmaus 3.0, which entails a move to a larger facility and an expansion of programs.
• " When you look back on the path your life has been taking, it will all make sense. Don't stress"
• " Your way of life matters - the means are as important as the ends."
Passionate about service and proactive renovation of Christian fellowship, Levi at times felt conflicted about his pursuit of an academic degree: “Often throughout my years at Messiah, I wondered whether I shouldn’t just start a grassroots nonprofit or community in spite of or without an academic degree. I questioned whether a ‘ministry’ route or ‘academic’ route would be the best .” Observing a lack of understanding between many intellectuals and Christians, Levi sensed a schism between the realm of academia and the issues that tend to confront church communities. He observes, “I sometimes had to fight for a marriage of academia and ministry in my own life, and I would like to think it has been a beneficial and transforming experience.”
Before he began college, Levi served for a short period as an elder and a janitor at a church, and the duel perspective provided him with a valuable insight: While his elder position seemed to incorporate more business management than tangible Christian service, “as a janitor, I felt nothing but challenged, stretched, and humbled. I spent time learning what it means to serve, and why the top is really the bottom.” This experience fueled Levi’s quest for “new ways to lead, meet, facilitate, and grow alongside others.”
As the director of Emmaus, Levi is “responsible for uniting the group and ensuring that it can serve both inwardly and outwardly.” He helps to “facilitate a staff of young adults to formulate and run programs that help enrich and challenge the community,” in efforts currently manifested in a music school, recording studio, performing arts venue, cafe, and thrift store.
On any day at Emmaus, Levi might be “helping teach in the school of music, working with a technician to track new young artists in the recording studio, booking national artists, musicians, and speakers for upcoming concerts or events, or serving in the thrift store.” He adds, however, that he tries to commit as much time as possible to fellowship opportunities, conversing with and learning from those he encounters through the Emmaus ministry. His daily objective is to “try to serve the basic needs of an organization that also houses 6-10 young people and opens its doors to hundreds more.”
Levi shares two significant experiences from his time at Emmaus that reaffirm his vocational path: “I had the opportunity to baptize a young person in New York City last year on a service trip . . . His spiritual experience had been a really transforming one, and the entire trip led up to that point. In terms of personal spiritual goals as a Christian, that moment really felt like I was sharing in the Divine with that young person.”
He adds, “This fall we sponsored the “Music Speaks Out” conference and festival. It was a comprehensive effort to bring big name musicians and artists to Emmaus and have them speak and dialogue with local youth about really tough issues that often get neglected. It was a reassuring experience to see how beauty and truth (arts and conversation in the most basic form) could be married, and to observe increased awareness among youth on issues such as global de-mining, military abduction and large-scale genocide in Sudan, local migrant issues, and Arts and the Church.”
Citing Jesus’ call in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples,” Levi explains that this concept is intrinsic to the mission of the church, whose name stems from the Greek ecclesia – “sent ones.” He aspires to “make Emmaus a place where people don’t come ‘in’ except to become part of a small community looking ‘out.’ I also believe I am helping vocationally to fulfill often-misplaced Christian commitments to community, service, and compassion.”
In light of his current situation, Levi’s vocational goals are at this point fairly short term. “Emmaus is moving into an 18,000 square foot building on the same block as the current location in downtown Gettysburg,” he explains. “The facility will be able to house more people, offer meals to needy folks, host larger and more events, and work toward sustainability.” The commitment of Levi and the rest of the Emmaus organization to promote service and foster community is sure to leave a lasting impression in Gettysburg and beyond.
Profile by TIffany DeRewal, March 2007