January 10, 2007

One Year for Christ

1501 page26 cap 7NE YEAR FOR CHRIST” IS AN INITIATIVE created by the Euro Africa Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that invites young people between the ages of 19 and 30 to give one year of their lives to work for the church. These young people are then sent to work in areas where the church has little or no presence.
The roles the young people fill are impossible to fully describe. Some work at pre-church plants, others do community service so people in local communities will have a better understanding of Seventh-day Adventists. In every place where they volunteer their time, a positive influence is being felt.
“In every city in Europe [the general population] is now less interested in religion,” observes Roland Meyer, dean of Salève Adventist Seminary in Collonges, France. “[The young adults on our campus] tried to work out a project to contact university students in Geneva. That was the first step of Le Lab.”
An Experiment in Real Time
Salève Adventist University, better known by its location name—Collonges—is tucked into the hills above Geneva, Switzerland. This beautiful mountain environment is one of the last places you would expect to find a cutting-edge project to reach young secular minds. Here three Adventist young people are donating one year of their lives to reach out to a city where some 70 percent of young people say they don’t believe in God. The project is called Le Lab.
1501 page26“The term Le Lab represents ‘laboratory,’ which is a way of experimenting with something,” says Meyer. “But it also represents a labyrinth, which is a path or way to find a goal.”
Using the resources of the Theology Department at Collonges, Le Lab has developed a program of trying to help young secular students understand who Jesus is and how He can play a role in their lives.
“My greatest reward is to see people change,” says Fabian, team leader for Le Lab, “to see someone who was a little sad, a little shy in the beginning, start opening up, smiling, and wanting to start a relationship with God.”
Each Wednesday night the group meets in a rented café near the student quarter of Geneva. Between 30 and 40 young people come together for a meal, a short presentation, and a small group discussion about the evening’s topic. Before the meeting begins, Fabian and other team members meet to pray for God’s guidance in their project. “What touches people is the atmosphere,” he offers.
Eloi is a team member from Spain. He’s in charge of creating audio and visual tools to help convey the message of each week’s topic. “Video and music are powerful media,” he maintains. “The pictures, along with the music, go a lot further than just a photo alone, or words spoken in a sermon.” His creations often evoke an emotional response from the people.
Sylvia is one of those touched by Le Lab. Her mother raised her as an Adventist, but she had little interest in the church until she realized that her life was missing something. Le Lab helped her find it. Through Le Lab, she says, she learned to listen to God. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, just believe Me and you can have a good life. Just trust Me, Sylvia, and I can change your life.’”
Emi is the third member of the Le Lab team. She is the social coordinator and plays an important role in making everyone feel welcome. She also helps lead out in small group discussions. Emi has just one goal: “What I would like most is to see people who come to Le Lab find themselves, find their identity, find the hope and the love of God. People need a bit of love and attention, to feel accepted and appreciated, to feel that someone cares about them.”
As Le Lab grows, its leaders hope it will lead to a church being planted in the next two years. Their dream is that people learning about Jesus today will help to teach others about His love tomorrow.
“I hope I can give [young people] a message about Jesus,” says Sylvia. “Too many people in the world have too much sadness and some people have difficult lives. I hope Jesus gives me the power to give that message one day. That’s the concept of Le Lab.”
A Mighty Wind
There’s a new wind blowing in Romania as well. In a small town called Vinju Mare, Romanian for “strong wind,” Seventh-day Adventist young people are changing perceptions—their own and those of the people they reach out to.
1501 page26“People here mostly live off a couple of factories in town and agriculture,” says Madalin, one of the program participants. “In this particular part of Romania, religion relates more to the culture than to God.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Romania has selected 11 young people to work in this small town. Here they perform simple tasks that touch the people who live here. By living and working among the people, they make an impression in a town that hasn’t been very open to the Adventist Church.
Gheorghe Schiopu, youth director for the Oletina Conference, observes, “One of the purposes of this project was for our young people to develop a relationship with the mission of the church.”
The young people started doing simple things, such as forming a Kid’s Club, tutoring students after school, putting on puppet shows, and finding ways to connect with the community to show that Adventists are real people too.
One way they reached the young people of the town was through sports. Several Adventist volunteers asked if they could practice with the local soccer team. After spending time with the team members, they started to have a positive influence on the other players.
“I realized that the good things in life don’t just happen,” says Raul, one of the soccer players who responded to his contact with the Adventist young people. “Spiritual things are important and can change your life.”
The young Adventists in Vinju Mare have learned how to live, work, and fellowship together. This gives the group a combined strength they use to reach out to a community that at first was skeptical about their presence. “When we first arrived in town,” reflects one volunteer, “people looked at us with suspicion, essentially saying, OK, who are you? What do you want from us? Why did you come here?”
They also find that group activities such as community outreach not only help them to grow as a team, but play a vital role in helping those in need.
“We make regular visits to the hospital a couple of times a week,” Madalin reports. “Sometimes a few of us come; sometimes we all come on a Sabbath afternoon, just to sing for patients and open up the Bible. Here we can talk to [people] freely and openly. By simply showing people what Adventism really means, it changes their perception about Christianity.”
The young people who have committed themselves to these projects find that they grow spiritually as much as those they were trying to reach. The One Year for Christ program inspires others with the story of Jesus, and it enriches the lives of the church members who are involved.
Community outreach is one of the many ways that the Adventist Church is telling the world about Jesus. These initiatives, and many others, are funded by the mission offerings taken each Sabbath in Adventist congregations around the world. Please pray for and support those who serve as volunteers.
For more information about mission and the Tell the World program, visit www.AdventistMission.org .
Daniel Weber is a video producer for the Office of Adventist Mission.