THE JOURNEY: COMPLETED OR JUST BEGUN?

9 August 2017 | Valencia, Spain [Victor Hulbert] Climaxing five days of learning and worship at the European Adventist Youth Congress in Valencia, Spain, 103 young adults expressed their desire to be baptised following an appeal at the conclusion of the Friday evening baptismal service. That service itself saw seven youth from the Franko-Belgian Union, Italy, Estonia, Serbia and the UK signify their commitment to Christ.

Additionally, many hundreds more indicated via appeal cards a recommitment to Christ, both in the service, but also through showing interest in joining ‘one year in mission’, short term mission projects with ADRA, or a host of other initiatives that were highlighted in workshops or at exhibition booths.

“Their level of engagement at this congress was astonishing,” Zlatko Musija, Trans-European Division (TED) Youth director reflected at the end of the week. It would be easy to imagine that sleeping in a dormitory city of small tents, being involved in worship, sports and activities from early morning until late at night, they might have grown weary towards the weekend. That was not the case.

Friday workshops were just as full as the day before – the only frustration for the youth being that there was so much choice that they had hard decisions to make. Should we join in dialogue with the two Division Presidents, or learn how to make wise choices in finding a life partner? Would it be better to increase skills in Bible study or to deal with social issues both in and without the church? How about defining belief in 21st century Europe, or asking, ‘Is God a moral monster’?

All that gave plenty of scope for discussion at lunch, where mass catering with a Spanish flavour managed to adequately satisfy the appetites of around 4,000 attendees. Those that needed more found ‘the best ice-cream sold in Spain’ available in the entrance hall, along with other small essentials. The hall also displayed exhibitions ranging from national country exhibits to book sales, mission booths, and even an interactive learning experience encouraging an awareness of disability ministries.

Being Spain there was also a siesta area where you were encouraged to ‘rest in the Lord’.

However, it was the morning and evening worship periods that really engaged with the youth. The musically gifted Dr Tihomir Lazic, TED Campus ministries coordinator, and theology professor at Newbold College of Higher Education, carefully constructed a spiritual musical feast which grew in intensity through the week until the Saturday night climax with a 500-member choir, orchestra and praise band.

“When I sung in that massive choir, I felt like heaven is open. I felt like we were joining the angels in worship,” one participant commented.

“You and your wonderful musical team, musicians and singers truly lead us into worship our Lord Jesus – deeply spiritual, seriously committed, joyfully authentic, culturally sensitive, and theologically sound,” another stated. “This was a great display of unity of sounds and instruments.”

It would appear that a European musical identity had been found that reaches across cultural and linguistic borders, “uniting various factions of Adventism in common worship,” reflected someone from a more traditional part of Europe.

Earlier congress reports highlighted the impact made by the main evening speaker, Sam Leonor, Chaplain at La Sierra University, California. That impact continued through to the end with his skilful intertwining of narrative with biblical truth. All his presentations, along with the other plenary sessions, can be found online.

Leonor was not alone in stimulating young minds. Wednesday afternoon saw Marjukka Ostrovljanovic give an outstanding presentation on the story of Rahab. A young Finnish pastor working in Germany, her deep love of delving into scripture highlighted not just new insights for the youth, but very practical lessons of hope for their own lives, and those of their unchurched friends. She also ran a ‘treasure hunt’ workshop helping ‘dig in’ to the meat of scripture.

Friday morning started with the third of the Journey talks, a short format presentation mode were three speakers talked on the theme of ‘Living responsibly to God’. Anthony Fuller, South England Conference Youth director shared that “you cannot love ‘the other’ as written in the last six commandments, if you do not have love for God, as expressed in the first four.”

A psychologist, Belinda E. S., noted that Peter was cleaning fishing nets when he met Jesus. You could describe his life as basic and unsuccessful, but when Jesus asks to go out in the boat with you your life can be transformed. In an outstanding presentation she challenged, take the risk, go out and jump in the boat with Jesus. Find a new experience of life.

Ty Gibson focused on a paradigm contrast. How do you balance ‘the God in control and the God of freedom and love’. He showed how God gave the answer through Hosea and his difficult life married to a prostitute, but how God never gives up seeking the best for us even when we make terrible mistakes. The three presentations again led to debate.

The enthusiastic, outgoing warmth of Pako Mokgwane, GC Associate Youth director, and Jeffery Rosario, a popular young Adventist speaker, who is currently pursuing graduate studies at Yale University, equally led youth to question and reaffirm their faith. Beyond the quality and depth of his sermon, Pastor Pako rejoiced with Taida Riveiro, deaf ministries coordinator for the Spanish Union as they signed together their special Sabbath greeting, ‘God bless you’ in an act that looked like a combination of ‘Happy Sabbath’ and a ‘high five’. Perhaps this can go viral as another unique, positive symbol of Adventist identity!

How best to draw all this variety of preaching, music, art and worship together? Ask the talented duo, Ana Thompson and Luke Whyte. They hosted each plenary session, using their bright voices, smiles and banter to welcome, entertain, inform, and ultimately, by Saturday night, to say goodbye. Even off-stage they endeared themselves to the youth, sometimes appearing in the daily video review skilfully produced by the German and Spanish Voice of Hope teams.

Equally entertaining, and mixing fun with a spiritual message was the daily v-blog that would appear each morning onstage and online, where the inimitable British Union Youth director, Dejan Stojkovic, shared perspective on the day’s events in a series of videos that are currently in danger of going viral around the world (See YouTube or Facebook). Roaming the hallways of the conference centre, the TED Communication team surprised youth groups, inviting them to record introductions to each speaker. This increased their level of excitement.

How do you sum up a week like this? For Stephen Sigg, Inter-European Division (EUD) Youth director, his satisfaction was seeing that the youth had “gained a lot,” and especially that you could “see God at work here.”

“We had many good people who made some good decisions,” Musija adds, and his aim, together with youth leaders around Europe is to now see those decisions develop into more acts of discipleship and leadership.

That is what most impresses the presidents of the two European Divisions, Mario Brito, EUD says, “I have witnessed a tremendous spirit of engagement and service among the volunteers and the staff. Much joy, sympathy and loveliness, literally, beaming from the faces of the young people. And it is contagious!” Raafat Kamal, TED, adds, “It is absolutely brilliant to meet our young people who are passionate about our church and our mission.” That emotion was expressed most fully in the baptism service. Kamal summed up the emotions of many when he stated, "it is humbling and inspiring to witness this important step in the discipleship journey of these seven people, welcomed into God's family by thousands. We praise God for His miracle of grace." [tedNEWS]