More than 1,700 Seventh-day Adventist young people from across Panama met for the church’s first country-wide youth congress to pause, examine their spiritual life, and jumpstart their relationship with Jesus. Dozens of young people from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia also attended the three-day event in Panama City, Panama, August 18-20.
“You are here to make the most of the experience that this congress provides, to learn more about Jesus and connect with other youth from all over the country and beyond,” José De Gracia, president of the Panama Union Mission of the Adventist Church, said. The congress, themed “Reiniciar,” or “Jumpstart,” had been planned since the union was organized in 2015, but the event was delayed when the pandemic hit, he said.
Jumpstarting a Connection with Jesus
Jumpstarting a life with Jesus is just what church leaders had in mind when assembling so many young people at the congress, Misael González, youth ministries director of the Panama Union Mission and main organizer of the congress, said.
“Young people were looking forward to this event — which was meant to train, encourage, and motivate them to embrace the mission of the church with their skills, talents, and spiritual gifts in service to God and their community,” González said. The congress also provided biblical principles they can apply to their lives to deepen their commitment to Jesus and His church, he said.
Young people took part in general sessions and seminars on mental health, leadership development, digital discipleship, youth society leadership, Bible journaling, mission service, lettering, and more. They also engaged in prayer sessions, special concerts, and community impact activities.
“Our young people were 100 percent engaged in every part of the event,” González said. They were eager to donate blood to save lives for dozens of people, distribute food, and share literature, prayers, and hugs with people across plazas and streets, among other activities, he added. The congress also saw hundreds of young people take part in a 5K walk through the city early on Sunday morning before the morning sessions took place on Aug. 20.
The Past Is Past
Keynote speaker Arnaldo Cruz of the Southeastern Conference in the U.S state of Florida urged young people to wake up from spiritual death to a life with Jesus. “Whatever happened in your life, it’s in the past,” Cruz said. “Jesus wants to ‘slow down your funeral’ and jumpstart your life in Him. No one can minimize what God is doing and can do for you.”
Andrés Peralta, associate youth ministries director of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, encouraged young people to cling to Jesus as they navigate through the challenges they face. “Jesus can give you peace during the storms that you are facing,” Peralta said. He also encouraged young people to fill their lives with the Word of God so they can better fulfill the mission of sharing the gospel as they lead youth society meetings, community impact events, and youth gathering.
Blessing Other Young People
For Tanysha Grenald, getting to the congress was not easy. She traveled by boat from Bocas del Toro at the southern tip of Colón Island in northern Panama, then rode in a car for nine hours to get to the youth event. “Getting here was a challenge because we had to raise funds to get here, but thanks to God it has been an unforgettable experience and a true jumpstart for my spiritual life,” Grenald said. “I came here not wanting to miss anything, with a heart willing to be moved by the Holy Spirit, and had an exceptional experience with greater conviction to help and care for young people who are the most vulnerable, who feel judged and sometimes rejected.”
Commitment, friendship, and restoration were some of the key things Eira Rivas took from the youth congress. She traveled from the western part of Panama and basked in the packed activities that helped her meet other young people from across her home country and beyond. “This to me has meant a new beginning and has helped me understand that when we work for God, we are working for the greatest Boss, and it doesn’t matter how much we have stumbled on our journey, God is always ready to help us to overcome any challenge,” Rivas said. “God lifts you up every day, and it’s not just here that we can jumpstart our lives, but every day we can jumpstart with Him.”
Young people spread messages of hope at traffic lights in the city, held musical concerts in malls and plazas, spread cheer, and shared acts of kindness.
The youth congress and its activities were covered by national television, radio, and print media in Panama.
Deepening the Connection with God
Eight young people representing each of the conferences and missions across Panama were baptized, adding to the dozens more young people who were baptized after hundreds of youth evangelism campaigns were held in local churches and congregations two weeks prior to the congress, González said.
“It was incredible,” González said. “We were able to see the hand of God moving in the lives of young people. Their commitment to God and their responsibilities in the church and the mission were very visible.”
Church leaders in Panama are already setting their sights on the next youth congress to take place in 2025, González reported. “Our church has more than 10,000 active young people, and we want to be able to welcome more than double the youth congress delegation we had,” he said.