Youth convention challenged to love enemies

Jul 5, 2017 by , and

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ORLANDO, Fla. — A powerful testimony of loving enemies made Mennonite Church USA Youth Convention attendees shed tears and give a standing ovation Wednesday evening.

Via live video, John and Michele Sharp of Hesston, Kan., whose son Michael J. Sharp was killed in March in the Democratic Republic of Congo while doing investigative work with the United Nations, challenged the youth to follow his example, and the example of Jesus.

John and Michele Sharp of Hesston, Kan., challenge youth convention attendees via live video to pursue peacemaking. — Vada Snider for MWR

John and Michele Sharp of Hesston, Kan., challenge youth convention attendees via live video to pursue peacemaking. — Vada Snider for MWR

“God used MJ’s abilities … to make a difference in the lives of so many people,” Michele Sharp said.“Who will step up to continue MJ’s work of loving enemies and making peace?”

“We hope you will,” John Sharp said.

Instead of a traditional message, speaker Lisa Cameron presented a spoken-word drama alongside a dining table, asking the youth to think of the first five people they would most rather not invite to dinner, and then asking if there were a place at the table for those people.

“What one risk will you take this week in loving your first five?” worship co-leader Jon Heinly asked.

Unconditional love

Melody Pannell’s message for the youth on Wednesday morning was a simple one: God loves you with no strings attached.

“But the concern I have is that sometimes we do not accept that unconditional love,” said Pannell, an assistant professor of social work at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., who has worked in leadership development ministries for youth.

As a child she experienced this lack of acceptance of God’s love. The daughter of a Mennonite pastor in New York City, she dealt with feelings of abandonment and disconnection from God after her parents separated when she was 7.

“I did not feel worthy of God’s love,” she said. “I felt that God’s love was something I had to earn and prove that I was worthy.

“I had to get out of my head that God is not looking for perfection. God is looking for us to be open to receive his love.”

She cited Psalm 139, which says we are fearfully and wonderfully made — created as beloved by God, already worthy, not based on our merit or the world’s expectations.

When you know God loves you, Pannell said, you can be optimistic, victorious, empowered, brave, enthusiastic and dynamic.

At the end of the service, youth could receive a temporary tattoo with one simple word: “beloved.”

Subscribe to see more coverage of the Mennonite Church USA 2017 convention in the July 17, 2017, edition of Mennonite World Review.

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