Moments of praise, spiritual reflection, and laughs marked the opening night of Europe’s 2022 Adventist Youth Congress (AYC22) in Lahti, Finland, on August 2, 2022.
The trans-European event has gathered more than 2,500 young people to — as the congress motto states — “Plug In” to God and other people through prayer, service, and commitment.
Church leaders, including newly elected Trans-European Division (TED) president Daniel Duda, welcomed the young participants from all across the continent.
Duda shared how, as a teen from Communist Czechoslovakia, he felt it was a miracle from God that he had the possibility of attending the European Youth Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1978. “It was there that I felt God’s call to become a pastor,” Duda said. “The fact that now I am a division president can be traced back to that European youth congress.”
Based on the biblical message recorded in Revelation 3:8, Duda called Adventist young people to also make the most of the opportunities God is giving them to connect and commit to Him. “God has put an open door before you, a door full of possibilities and opportunities,” Duda told them. “So, go through the door that God is opening before you. It won’t be another 44 years before many of you — both men and women — will become leaders of His church,” Duda said.
An Inspiring Time Together
Inter-European Division (EUD) youth director Jonatan Tejel and TED youth director Dejan Stojkovic celebrated the chance for attendees to meet in person after the event had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are happy that you made it here to be part of this very special congress,” leaders told the exultant crowd. “Our prayer is that we have a very inspiring time together.”
Organizers also thanked the army of leaders and volunteers who have helped make AYC22 a reality. Stojkovic highlighted the role of Atte Helminen, youth director of the Finland Union of Churches Conference.
“Every time I needed someone for a specific task, I would call him, and he would point me to the right person,” Stojkovic said. “When I asked him, ‘How do you know this person can give us what we need?’ he would answer, ‘I know him; I baptized him;’ or ‘I know her; I dedicated her baby.’” It is something that shows the tight-knit connection among Adventist members across Finland, Stojkovic said.
Rejoicing and Laughs
An opening segment featured each of the European countries represented in a sequence on a screen. Participants were invited to light their cell phones as their country was mentioned. Young people came from most European countries, from Spain to Ireland to Norway to Romania. It also includes some participants from Ukraine, and even small delegations from Cyprus and Israel.
As part of the program, a comic pair delved into some of the intricacies of Finnish culture and customs, from a nation that consistently appears in several rankings as “the happiest country on earth.” What makes Finns so unique? In a sketch that was filled with light moments, they shared some of those characteristics.
“When [COVID-19] came and we were forced to stay two meters apart from each other, us Finns were very sad,” one of them shared. “But when conditions improved, we felt so happy to go back to something we feel more comfortable with — five meters apart from each other!”
In the next few minutes, they shared a self-deprecating view of other features of Finnish culture, including their inability to welcome compliments, their love for saunas and open spaces in nature, and their reluctance to talk to strangers. They also zeroed in on the Finnish common phrase “No niin!,” a conversational tagline roughly translated as “Oh, well,” or “All right.” The phrase is used to express everything from frustration to exasperation to a just dialogue filler. “It’s the way to go when you don’t know what to say, which is often,” they quipped.
The presentation on Finnish culture closed with a video of national open spaces set to the “Finlandia” symphonic poem by Jean Sibelius, Finland’s most famous classical music composer.
What It Means to Be Human
International speaker David Asscherick led the spiritual reflection of the opening night. With what he said were “life-changing, life-altering ideas,” Asscherick called young people to go to the Scriptures to find out what being a human being really means.
“Lately, human beings have been framed as villains in the story,” he said. “We are responsible for climate change, economic disparity, and pollution. There is often a negativity attached to describing human beings.”
Asscherick doubled down, reminding European young people that they live on a continent where some people think it’s not a good time to be alive, or for others to be alive. It is the reason in several European countries that birth rates are well below the replacement rate, he said.
“But we go to Genesis, we find out that humanity is not the villain. In Genesis, we see there is purpose and direction. Man and woman are made in the image of God, and clothed in light,” Asscherick said. “In creation, human beings are not an afterthought; they are the crown of creation.”
Asscherick explained that after moving from void to light to plants and animals, God created Adam and Eve. Then, on the seventh day, God not only made a space but also filled that space. “He filled the Sabbath with Himself, and then invited Adam and Eve, on the very first full day of their existence, to find rest in Him.”
Unplugging to Find Rest
According to the Scriptures, Asscherick emphasized, being truly and authentically human is bound to the idea of rest. “We are collectively losing the ability to rest,” he said. “But studies show that unplugging, being disconnected, being bored, is positively connected to things such as creativity, charity, and generosity. Boredom also positively correlates with intentionality, direction, and purpose. When you resist the temptation to pick up your phone, you start to see your life in perspective.” And he added, “Resting, unplugging, is embedded in the very nature of what it means to be authentically and truly human.”
Finally, Asscherick reflected on Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28 to find rest in Him. “God is not Someone that we take rest from, or we take a break from; God is Someone we take rest in. God has built us to rest, not to disconnect from Him but to rest in Him,” he said.