For youth, a guide to life’s road

Jul 20, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For 2,300 youth, the prevailing takeaway from Mennonite Church USA’s convention was: Jesus will meet you where you are.

Youth convention participants sing during worship in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Youth convention participants sing during worship in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Hannah Yoder, 17, of Freeman, S.D., described how she saw it: “You don’t have to achieve something or somehow meet some qualifications. Jesus will come to you, and he’ll walk with you on the way. I think of that as on the road of life.”

The theme, “On the Way,” based on Luke 24 and the story of the road to Emmaus, came through for youth in seminars, worship speakers, dramas and small group conversations meant to help guide teens as they embark on their own road of life.

Erik Peachey, 19, of Lititz, Pa., who attends Neffsville Mennonite Church, said he saw a lot of mini-themes emerge, too.

“I guess the overarching theme is seeing Jesus on your walk with him. Finding ways to do that,” he said.

Worship speakers described many ways to recognize Jesus on the way.

One way, according to Cyneatha Millsaps, pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Ill., is to look for Jesus in supportive people during times of struggle.

Lesley Francisco McClendon, youth pastor of Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va., told youth it’s hard to see what God has in store while in the middle of a hard time, but to remember Jesus is there the whole time.

“There is purpose in your process, and you, too, can have peace in the midst of your pain,” she said.

After describing where Jesus was seen or missed on the road to Emmaus, Glen Guyton, chief operating officer of MC USA, turned the question around and asked: “Have people seen Jesus in you this week?”

Arloa Bontrager, the coordinator for servant projects, hoped organizations that allowed busloads of youth to come volunteer for an afternoon saw Jesus in conventiongoers.

About 1,800 youth took part in projects at the 35 sites arranged throughout Kansas City.

Projects varied from sorting items for thrift stores and weeding community gardens to home repair for an organization that reaches the elderly and building a gazebo for outdoor fellowship at a ministry committed to sharing the gospel.

More orderly entry

One place Jesus seemed to be for youth was at twice-daily worship services.

Hundreds of youth gathered up to an hour before those services at the bottom of the escalators that led to the worship hall.

This year, convention planners sought to reduce chaos seen in the past from a rush to be in front for youth worship, by printing each youth name tag with one of the five Mennonite college logos. These logos designated them with an escalator and seating section.

The roped off “mosh pit” area in front of the stage always filled quickly when Jeremy Kempf of Glendale, Ariz., and his worship band took the stage. Teens there jumped and cheered along to the music.

The worship style, a variety of hymns and praise songs accompanied by a group of musicians, was the biggest highlight for Yoder.

She said her church, Salem Mennonite, sings hymns almost exclusively.

“I really appreciate the hymns, but I like the variety we get here,” she said.

At least three songwriters graced the stage to lead their own songs: Nathan Greiser led his “Together”; Jonathan Reuel led his “Water Fall on Me”; and Kempf himself led a few of his own, including “True Evangelical Faith,” which he wrote for the Anabaptist songwriting challenge after reading a Menno Simons article, “On the New Life.”

Yoder said that while she came to convention partly to be with friends, she also came “to deepen my relationship with Christ and to experience different ways of worshiping him from what we’re used to at home.”

Hanging out

Youth could generally be found scattered about the convention center in small clusters laughing, chatting or playing Dutch Blitz.

The music trio Theory Expats — Ethan Setiewan, Andrew Pauls and Sophie Gustafson-Zook — perform at the Goshen College display in the exhibit area at the Kansas City Convention Center. — Lowell Brown for MWR

The music trio Theory Expats — Ethan Setiewan, Andrew Pauls and Sophie Gustafson-Zook — perform at the Goshen College display in the exhibit area at the Kansas City Convention Center. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Josh Martin, of Lititz, Pa., who attends Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster, said his favorite part of convention was hanging out in the evening at his hotel with other youth.

“There’s a lot of funny people in my youth group who make me laugh,” he said. He said their friendships have deepened.

Cousins Alexa Smith, 16, and Madeline Kauffman, 16, had many positive things to say about their experience.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Kauffman, who is from Walnut Creek, Ohio, and part of Berlin Mennonite Church.

“It’s been great,” said Smith, of West Liberty, Ohio. She came with her youth group at Oak Grove Mennonite Church.

Taking a break from searching for the other youth assigned the same Bible verse as part of a Hess­ton (Kan.) College contest to win a T-shirt, Smith and Kauffman listed every major part of youth convention as highlights: meals, the recreation area, small groups, the exhibit hall (especially the nose flute competition at the Mennonite Camping Association booth) and more.

“Seminars are inspiring. Speakers have just been awesome,” Smith said. “It’s been such a good experience.”

Martin said he’d most remember a session from the Pink Menno Symposium on post-Ferguson racism led by Drew Hart.

He said he was struck by how racism isn’t promoted simply by violent hate groups but is embedded in society.

“It’s more just like how our culture is set up instead of violent acts,” he said.

A highlight for many youth was being around other Mennonites.

“It’s just kind of cool being around a bunch of people with my same beliefs,” Martin said.

Peachey was surprised to meet some people also set to attend Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

“It’s cool to meet people I’ll be seeing in the fall,” he said.

Smith said she was making new friends even though she’s not a very outgoing person.

“This has made me break out and meet new people,” she said.

Click here for all convention-related articles.

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