Adventist Youth Plant Seeds of Service
BY CARLOS MEDLEY, online editor, Adventist Review
What does it take to inspire Adventist youth to seek a closer walk with Jesus Christ? How can pastors, youth directors, and lay leaders ignite a passion for discipleship in teens and young adults? How do you give urban young people a bigger vision of the Adventist church and its mission?
Members of the Black Adventist Youth Directors Association (BAYDA) believe that they’ve found the key. And in a word the key is “service.”
That was the clarion call of the United Youth Congress that met April 6 to 10 in Orlando, Florida. An estimated 12,000 Black Adventist youth, pastors, lay leaders, chaperones, and friends attended Sabbath celebration at the Orange County Convention Center.
The theme of the program was “Iserve.” And that theme resonated throughout the congress in workshops and seminars, devotional messages, dramatic skits, and outreach activities. More than 2,200 volunteers participated in more than a dozen service projects, helping the disadvantaged around Florida’s tourist capital.
One platoon of youth walked door to door handing out copies of Message magazine, the Adventist Church’s outreach journal for African Americans. The youth worked under the oversight of literature evangelists from the Southeastern Conference. As opportunities arose, some youth offered prayer and encouragement to those they encountered. In all, more than 50,000 copies of Message were distributed.
Another group of youth volunteered with Clean the World (CTW), a non-profit organization that recycles soap and educational materials to impoverished countries around the world. Every day thousands of used soap bars are discarded in hotels and motels throughout North America. Several hundred hotels donate the soap to CTW. The youth cleaned and repackaged the soap for shipment.
While most of the student delegates were excused from classes to attend the congress, several found themselves serving in Orlando schools, helping teachers and assisting students. Other delegates invested time at an area food bank, distributing food to disadvantaged families. Still others or participated in cleanup projects and local parks or helped senior citizens.
In addition to the service projects, delegates had their choice of more than 25 workshops that focused on contemporary life issues and various aspects of ministry and service. The workshop subjects ranged from igniting the passion for ministry; coping with issues of gangs, sex, drugs, and music; to fundraising for ministry.
Responses to the program were extremely positive among the youth and their chaperones. Flory Dubreuze, who brought 26 delegates from Dallas, Texas, said. “The youth were very impressed with the program. They never thought that they would be doing things like picking up trash [and helping others].”
Michael Brinkley accompanied 10 delegates from Calvary Adventist Church in Newport News, Virginia. He commented, “The kids were very positive. They participated in everything we asked them to do. I participated in the past four congresses, and this is the one of the better ones in youth participation.”
“The impact that our youth have had on the community has been incredible,” said James Black, North American Division youth director. “This [the service component] hasn’t always been a part of our tradition for these events. This is a unique experience.” He added, “The fellowship of seeing people from all over North America, the Inter-American Division, and Africa [was tremendous]. Some of them are from inner cities where they’ve only seen their own neighborhood. For them to come here and see all this has been a real experience for them.”
In addition to the work projects and workshops, the delegates enjoyed several recreational activities. The Universal Studios theme park rolled out the red carpet for the youth, giving them private access to several attractions in a controlled environment.
BAYDA president Vandeon Griffin, who led a group of more than 250 staff and volunteers who organized the event, said his team wanted to present a balanced approach to the meetings. Griffin, who is also South Central Conference youth director, added, “We want to nurture a culture of service for our young people. We want to ignite a passion for service so that as our young people leave they will be inspired to do something in their communities.”
To that end, the youth leaders were urged start a 40-day period of prayer and fasting starting April 19. At the end of the 40 days, it is hoped that church youth groups will start “Iserve” projects in their home communities.
“Our hope is that our young people will connect with Jesus Christ through the ministry of service,” Griffin says. “We believe that the vices of life that they face--alcohol, drugs, pre-marital sex--that those shackles can be loosed by participating in ministry to others. It keeps them active in the church and thereby gives them a closer walk with Jesus Christ.”