Global Youth Day began in 2013 with the hope that setting aside a single Sabbath every year for Seventh-day Adventist young people to engage in community outreach would encourage them to become more active in sharing the gospel.
That goal was fulfilled beyond expectations as hundreds of thousands of young people surprised veteran organizers on March 19 by finding new ways to “Be the Sermon” — the motto of Global Youth Day — and, perhaps more significantly, by taking ownership of their faith.
An unprecedented number of young people helped organize local activities during the fourth annual event, and many young participants who appeared on a special 24-hour live broadcast on the Adventist Church’s Hope Channel television said they were striving to meet community needs not only on Global Youth Day but on every day of the year.
“It is actually the young people who are driving the program,” said Gilbert Cangy, the architect of Global Youth Day and youth ministries director for the Seventh-day Adventist world church. “Our vision of seeing young people actively motivated to spread the gospel is becoming a reality.”
Cangy, speaking by telephone from Hope Channel’s studio in Germany, where he hosted the 24-hour broadcast, expressed delight at the number of young leaders aged 16 to 25 who were sharing their activities on-air from Australia, Kenya, and elsewhere.
“What I have found impressive this year is that we are seeing younger participation from the leadership perspective,” he said.
“There also is a tendency to not just focus on the ministry of the day,” he said. “We have been talking about how Global Youth Day is not just an opportunity to get involved in compassionate activities for one day but to become a springboard for a lifestyle of service. That is happening now.”
It was not immediately clear how many young people participated in Global Youth Day on Sabbath, but preliminary data suggested that the figure surpassed the record turnout set in 2015. The number of participating countries was also expected to be higher than than the total of 132 reached last year, with newcomers including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, South Pacific nations with a strong Adventist presence.
Posts on social media were also on the rise.
“Twitter and Facebook are way up from last year,” Cangy said.
— Global Youth Day_ECD (@GYD2016kenya) March 19, 2016
— SIDMEDIA (@sid_media) March 19, 2016
At a hospital in Lima, Peru:
— Daniel Andara (@DannyAndara) March 19, 2016
Praying with passersby in Mexico:
— Enrique Gómez Anaya (@kikewawa) March 19, 2016
— Kent Kingston (@Kent_InFocusTV) March 18, 2016
Distributing water in Flint, Michigan:
The three main hashtags associated with Global Youth Day — #GlobalYouthDay, #GYD16, #GYD2016 and #GYD — were tweeted about 20,900 times and had more than 27 million impressions, organizers said. The hashtags even trended in some countries, with #gyd16 and #compasion trending in Peru by late morning. Some 60 percent to 70 percent of all tweets were in Spanish.
The expanded social media presence came despite a glitch with the Global Youth Day app, which prevented people from posting in non-English-language versions of the app. Users had to post video clips in English and then change back to their native language.
“That has slowed us down a little bit,” Cangy said.
Despite the glitch, participation rose 130 percent on the app compared to last year, with thousands of posts and videos.
But nothing seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of young people involved in Global Youth Day. Cangy, wearing a pilot’s uniform, followed their activities from the German studio, which was transformed into a Boeing 787 plane. Starting at 5 a.m. local time, Cangy “flew” westward from Fiji in the South Pacific to destinations across Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and then North and South America. At each stop, Cangy and his co-hosts spoke with local young people about their activities.
Miroslav Milkov, a young adult leader in Bulgaria, said via Skype that Adventists in the capital, Sofia, had shared the gospel message and sang songs with elderly residents at two nursing homes.
“It was really nice to see their smiles,” he said, beaming.
Young Bulgarians also distributed literature in the streets and spent the day with elderly Adventist members in their homes.
In Denmark, members of the Aalborg church baked waffles and played with children at a refugee center. In Estonia, young people spent the day with children at an orphanage, while young people offered free blood pressure tests in Moldova.
Some 300 young people participated in 60 different events in Belgium, including offering free hugs to passersby in the street and exchanging flowers and fruit for cigarettes. One group of young Belgians sent a group photo to the Hope Channel studio with the declaration, “We want to be a sermon every day.”
In Finland, a group of young people dressed like panhandlers and sat on a blanket on the street. But instead of asking for money, they offered money — 1 euro (US$1.13) — to each passerby who would share their personal story.
In Montpellier, France, young people dressed trees in pants, shorts, and shoes. When passersby asked what they were doing, they spoke about the need to care for God creations and shared information about Global Youth Day. One passerby, a journalist with a local radio station, invited the young people onto her show to discuss their convictions.
“It’s amazing how our people are so creative,” Cangy said.