On July 18 – 23, thirteen youth and four adults attended General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio as part of the new regional Youth Immersion Ministry program. With funding from the PSWR Anti-racism/Pro-reconciliation Committee and the Oreon E. Scott Foundation, the group experienced multi-cultural workshops, dinners, worship services, and much more all presented by ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The following is a report giving to the Anti-racism/Pro-reconciliation committee on Sunday, August 9th by a youth participant of YIM.
Hi, my name is Rebecca Foster and I am a proud member of the Youth Immersion Ministry. How General Assembly started for me was a half asleep car ride at 4 in the morning driving to the airport, a great way to start your 16th birthday. It was a long travel day, which left you with lots of time to think. And I won’t lie, there was a time when I was sitting on one of the plane seats trying to find a position even remotely close to comfortable for sleeping, thinking to myself… was this worth it? Was this long travel day that I was spending on my birthday going to be worth it. And the purpose of my speech to you today is to tell you that it was. I know that my words probably won't do its justice to explain the way that week made me feel, but I am going to do my best to try.
I know our whole team isn’t represented here, but I want to tell you just how amazing they are. Every single person brings something amazing to the team. To give you an example we started the trip that early morning in the airport practically strangers, only having one meeting prior. That night we were out at dinner (my makeshift “birthday dinner”) and I can tell you that as we sat their laughing and eating, and just talking I would not have wanted to spend that night with anyone else. It was a fast friendship, and by the end, I like to think of us as a family.
There was a moment when I realized just how big and how many different types of people we had in our denomination. We walked in at the very end of the first night service and it was unbelievable how many people stood in that room. Huge amounts of people proudly standing and worshiping God. It reminds me of the feeling I get when flying in a plane. You look down at the ground as houses and cars and people are getting smaller and smaller and you really see just how big the world is. All my life I have been very close to the ground, or close to the church, so to speak, never realizing how big and diverse our denomination really is. That first night when we “took off” I felt high in the air, like it was my first time flying, seeing the magnitude of the Disciples of Christ. That’s when we began to soar.
Even though we were such a large amount of people, the community felt close and welcoming. One morning we went to the Hispanic service. The fear I had going into it was that I would feel like I didn’t belong. I would sit through an entire service feeling disconnected because I didn’t know the language or understand the tradition. I was so wrong. I felt more welcomed and cared for then I do in some English speaking churches. They went out of their way to have an English translator so that those of us who didn’t speak Spanish could understand the message. The biggest sense of community in that service was when the translator would get stuck on a word and the people attending the service would shout out words to help her. These people went out of their way to make others feel comfortable and wanted. That’s how everyone should be made to feel. More importantly, that is how we should make people feel.
The last night service I can honestly say, it changed my life. It pushed me forward in my faith journey. The preacher talked about many things that hit home for me, but one part that I want to share is how he talked about the youth. The speaker made the point that we need young people to know what cannot be done. The innocence youth sometimes carry is seen as a handicap by lots of adults, and because of that youth are made to feel like they can’t change the world, and up until that week, and up until I joined the Youth Immersion Ministry, I believed that. I believed it. Now I see, that can’t be more wrong. The youth’s mindset of not knowing what the limits are and not knowing when dreams should be shut down because of practicality. That is a gift. That is possibly one of the best gifts we have been given. I don’t know what we will accomplish yet, or if we will change the world, but I think we will definitely work hard to change as much of it as we can. At General assembly I learned that we have a responsibility as youth to fight against racism and make every kind of person that may be considered different than you or me, feel safe and comfortable, because we aren’t different. We never have been, and we never will be. We are God’s children and that should be enough to make us feel as one. The youth can’t sit around and wait for the adults to change how things are, because there is a chance they never will. We can’t wait, and we won't, that's what we are about. The Youth Immersion ministry is about us youth making a change. Not making the change later, not making a change when we are older, not making a change when we're stronger. We want to make a change now.
I realize that I am not the only one who attended and I want you to not only hear my experience but to also hear others. So I asked some of the youth immersion ministry to describe their week in a sentence and this is what they said:
“My week at GA was filled with new experiences, great conversations, many awesome workshops, laughter, and memories that will last a life time.”
“I was amazed by all the people there committed to sharing the word of God and making a difference.”
And If I had to describe my week in a sentence I would say: I know I have always loved God, and Jesus, and the church and its community, but this week I had fallen in love with it in the best possible way.
I can’t thank you enough for everything you have done. The experiences you gave to us youth. I mostly want to thank you for those people who have supported us. The people who have seen something great inside us youth. Thank you for recognizing that we care about the problems surrounding racism and judgment and that we aren’t afraid to stand up against it. I have never been more proud after seeing the community, love and support, to be a member of the Disciples of Christ, and more than that, to be a Christian, and most of all I am proud to be one of your children. So thank you. Amen.
Amen and amen!!!
B. J. Barlow
PSWR Youth & Young Adults
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)