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Global gathering draws 6,200 United Methodist youth

Youth from Faith United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas, dance to the music of the Katinas during opening worship at Youth 2007. About 6,200 youth and youth leaders from four continents attended the quadrennial youth gathering for The United Methodist Church. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Linda Green*
July 19, 2007 | GREENSBORO, N.C. (UMNS)

Bishop Linda Lee blesses the elements of Holy Communion during worship.

Tori Champlin attended the largest youth event of The United Methodist Church because it was important for her to learn "how to see the world in a different way."

A youth group member from Longs Peek United Methodist Church in Longmont, Colo., Champlin said she wanted to participate in Youth 2007 "since I just graduated from high school and this will be my last activity with the youth group.

"I wanted to see other people like me who were (transitioning) to college and seeing how teens are with their religion," she said.

Champlin was among 6,200 youth and youth leaders from four continents who attended the July 11-15 event designed to build disciples by encouraging young people to live out their faith in ways they never thought possible. The worldwide youth gathering, sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, happens once every four years for United Methodist teens ages 12-18. This year's theme was "SPLAT," which stands for "Seek, Pray, Learn, Act, Teach."

Greensboro Coliseum served as the hub for activities that included speakers, worship services, workshops, concerts, contests and recreation. Youth also participated in local mission projects, including a Society of St. Andrew "potato drop" in which they bagged 40,000 pounds of potatoes for distribution to hungry people.

"Youth 2007 is a place where young people can come and not only get outside the four walls of their church and see the connection in person, but also experience God in a way that will change them and stay with them," said Jay Clark, director of Youth 2007.

"From everything we're hearing, it really feels like those who participated were challenged to make a difference in their community and local churches, and that's what we set out to do."

Nothing But Nets

The Nothing But Nets campaign had a strong presence at Youth 2007, including presentations and an exhibit. Its mission — to end mosquito-borne malaria in Africa by providing families there with insecticide-treated sleeping nets that cost $10 each — resonated with those attending.

Fusebox's Billy Buchanan sings a song of praise.

Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Western Pennsylvania area and Diego Gutierrez, midfielder for the Chicago Fire Soccer team, challenged teens to come down from the bleachers and throw $10 onto the stage and also leave contributions at the Nothing But Nets exhibit.

At the end of the day, the youth had contributed $16,156 to the cause. The people of The United Methodist Church are among the campaign's founding partners, along with the United Nations Foundation, National Basketball Association's NBA Cares and Sports Illustrated. Major League Soccer is the newest partner in the effort.

Drawn for different reasons

Natalia Alvarez of New York City attended Youth 2007 because her pastor told her "that it was going to be really fun and was going to be a great experience to learn about God."

The most important thing she learned is "that whatever I do I have to do it for God, and in the midst of everything God is there somewhere."

Jeff Peck of Westville, Ohio, came to "to get closer to God," have fun and deepen friendships. "Getting closer to God is important because it makes you feel good because you know that you are loved all the time, no matter what," he said.

Peck said he will carry home with him the understanding "that God is always with us" and that it is important to "always love and forgive people."

A searching heart brought Stephany Lewis of Detroit. "I came to gain a better view of religion because not all people have the same beliefs in the same religion," she said.

Teens from Fennimore (Wis.) United Methodist Church create a banner to support the Nothing But Nets campaign against malaria.

Rashid Warner of Bronx, N.Y., said the five days of activities and sermons helped him "find a deeper spiritual feeling with God." He expects to keep contact with other youth he met and to carry the principles of SPLAT back to his youth group at Butler Memorial United Methodist Church.

Messages of the journey

Numerous presenters, including three United Methodist bishops, gave the teens direction toward abundant life.

"Seeking God is a long journey," said Kansas Bishop Scott Jones. "It involves using the means of grace that God has provided. Youth should not expect to make progress quickly but should participate in prayer, worship, Christian conferencing, Holy Communion, Bible study and service as part of their spiritual lives."

Jones encouraged youth to make the fruits of the spirit part of their lives as found in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control – which are "categories by which you can measure progress."

"If you are more generous a year from now than you are today, then that is God working in you," he said.

During an emphasis on prayer, the youth were reminded that prayer is an expression of faith in God that can change both people and things.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 14:15 that asks "what should I do?" and directs the reader "to pray with the spirit," Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin area invited the youth to pray continuously for 21 days for the people and situations in their lives that are troublesome.

"I invite you to pray for them, pray for God to bless them and pray for God to give them all of the good things you want for yourself," she said, challenging them to see what happens at the end of that period.

Youth from Messiah United Methodist Church in Springfield, Va., bag sweet potatoes during a Youth 2007 service project for the Society of St. Andrew.

"I believe that you will find that something has changed. It might not be the person or the situation, but you might find that at the end of 21 days that you've been changed."

Lee said people often forget the importance of prayer. "Sometimes we give up on God too soon," she said.

Welcoming the stranger

A message from Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference dealt with welcoming the stranger, the alien and the immigrant and urging youths to break stereotypes, do things outside the box and advocate for justice.

"I serve an area where immigration is a major concern," she said, noting that "every day last week one immigrant died in the desert" as impoverished Mexicans tried to cross into the United States in search of a better life.

Carcaño asked what Christians should do when they meet an illegal immigrant.

She told the story of visiting the desert with a delegation to learn about immigration and seeing two boys lying beneath a bush. The children had been left behind by a smuggler who had no room for them in his vehicle. The group decided to respect U.S. law. They gave food to the boys, urged them to turn themselves in to the border patrol and left them in the desert.

"We left them because the law of this country says that you cannot transport an undocumented immigrant," she said. "It does not matter if that immigrant is a young person or even a child; you cannot take them anywhere.

Young United Methodists rock to the music of Kutless.

"It broke my heart to do this," she said, and "it haunts my spirit to this day to not know what happened to them." The experience left her "desperately wanting to know what I should do" and asking "as a Christian, what should I have done?"

She cited the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and urged the youths to love their neighbor even if that person is an immigrant or someone not known to them.

Fun, games and new ministries

Contests and giveaways were all part of the five-day event, including attempts to break the world record for playing the board game Operation in less than one minute and two seconds.

While the record listed in the Guinness Book of World Records still stands, players participating in Operation Vote did manage to help launch a new United Methodist Web site for teens. As they played Operation, they voted on the name for the new Igniting Youth interactive site that invites teen seekers into the life of the church.

The name www.orangefloat.org beat out other nominated names as more than 2,000 teens voted in the contest.

Liz Wilson from Wickline United Methodist Church in Midwest City, Okla., prays quietly at the center of a prayer labyrinth in the Worship Feast area.

"Orange Float won over some of the more conventional names," said Susan Crawford, director of Igniting Youth for United Methodist Communications. The name is derived from the site's orange design and the movement of the flash. "The home page has constant floating movement," she said.

The newly named site went live on July 13. "It's a tool for local churches to reach out in their community and put this URL on their invitations for teen seekers looking for more information," Crawford said.

In the way of Reality TV, 11-year-old Bailey Trout's moment of fame came after three days of "Star Search" competition held in the United Methodist Board of Discipleship's Club Devo Zone. A member of Chickasaw United Methodist Church, Mobile, Ala., Trout performed "Can't Live Another Day," which netted her a standing ovation from her peers.

Devozine, the youth magazine from the Board of Discipleship's Upper Room Ministries, also recently held a youth songwriting contest, and Elizabeth Cumbest, 16, performed the winning song "Seashore" at Youth 2007. Elizabeth was a resident of the Gulf Coast prior to Hurricane Katrina and wrote the song in memory of the Seashore Mission in Biloxi, Miss., which was wiped out by the 2005 storm. The song has been recorded onto a CD to raise money for the rebuilding of the mission.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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