Junior youth have space to connect

Jul 20, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time in many years, the Junior High Youth Convention was held within the convention center instead of at a nearby hotel.

Eva Parsons, left, of Kansas City, Mo., joined seven other junior youth convention attendees on stage July 3 to take part in a worship drama with John Bromels, an actor from Cincinnati. — Kelli Yoder/MWR

Eva Parsons, left, of Kansas City, Mo., joined seven other junior youth convention attendees on stage July 3 to take part in a worship drama with John Bromels, an actor from Cincinnati. — Kelli Yoder/MWR

It was a big highlight for the 114 sixth- through eighth-graders and adult sponsors, said Sarah Bixler, director of junior youth programming.

“There has been more opportunity for encountering people from the larger convention, and for the junior youth to see that they are part of a larger church,” she said.

The youth ate in the dining hall, helped out with the children’s programming, took part in learning experiences with adults and youth and attended youth worship one evening.

Eva Parsons, 11, lives in Kansas City and came with some other youth from her congregation, Rainbow Mennonite Church.

“Being with so many people who are like you is really cool,” she said.

At school or in most other activities, when she mentions being Mennonite “people have no idea what it means,” she said.

Bixler said one of her goals of junior youth convention was to “create a sense of community and allow the youth a space to develop friendships this week.”

The size of the group made that possible, she said.

“It’s not just a sea of strange faces,” she said. “That’s been really exciting, and I love the size of that junior youth program for that reason.”

Parsons made a new friend, Miranda Beidler, also 11, who attends Rossmere Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said about her convention experience. She had been to one before, Pittsburgh in 2011, but didn’t remember much from it.

She was most looking forward to a learning experience about the life of an Amishman.

She enjoyed the servant project experience, where she cleaned up brush at a park.

“Doing the service project was a little bit hard and it involved a lot of teamwork,” she said. “It was really hot, and we had to wear long sleeves and long pants.”

Looking for Jesus

A favorite from 2013’s convention, John Bromels of Cincinnati, returned to be the “drama guy.”

“We’re so grateful for him,” Bixler said. He offered an entertaining and theatrical take on moral lessons based on the week’s scripture, Luke 24.

In a skit on July 3, he played a student eager to fight the school bully “I’ve been reading the scriptures, so I know Jesus has my back.”

He ended up getting hurt.

Eight junior youth joined him on stage as kids from his school. They said they appreciated him for standing up to a bully, implying he might be looking for Jesus in the wrong place.

Then Lesley McClendon spoke about how after Jesus rose from the dead, for a while the disciples didn’t believe he was alive.

In the same way, “We have questions, and we have doubts and fears,” she said.

She talked about how Peter must have felt when Jesus showed himself after Peter had denied him.

“What I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t leave us in our hurt feelings,” she said.

After she spoke she invited youth to make or renew their commitment to Christ.

Other speakers for junior youth worship services were: Rachel Springer Gerber, the Mennonite Church USA minister for youth and young adults; Caleb McClendon, inspirational speaker and youth pastor at Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va.; John Murray, the director of student ministries at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz.; and Seth Thomas Crissman, a member of the Walking Roots Band from Harrisonburg, Va.

Crissman also led the worship band for junior youth, with another band member, Greg Yoder.

Bixler said the band was a highlight for youth.

“The youth have been very impressed with [Crissman’s] enthusiasm and energy,” she said. “They have been really engaged with worship in an active way.”

Bixler hopes through the worship and in small group conversations junior youth had a chance to think about: “Where do you notice Jesus? And that Jesus is walking with them, even when they don’t recognize him.”

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