The task of re-imagining the extravagant welcome of the United Church of Christ for the 2,500 young people at the opening worship of the National Youth Event at Purdue University Tuesday evening fell to a high school sophomore who was born and reared on the far Micronesian Island of Yap.
Carissa Yinmed, who now lives in Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii, and attends Iao UCC, shared her experiences as an outsider who felt only alienation and hostility when she found herself in the middle of a strange culture in modern Hawaii at the age of 10.
"I learned that differences matter," she said, noting that she was different in both language and culture.
"It was the Roman Catholics who brought the gospel to Yap," she added. "So I was very surprised to meet a pastor [at Iao] who was married and had children. My aunt was studying to be a licensed [UCC] minister. I had to ask myself, does God want women to serve as a minister? Does God want young people to serve him as well?"
Tutors from her church smoothed the way for Carissa’s immersion into her new culture and her new school experience. The tutors include a series of Hawaiian "aunties" and a few uncles as well. "Christ’s extravagant welcome brought us all together as one family even when no one looks like anyone else," she said. "That welcome breaks down the barriers of race, color, sexual orientation, everything."
Among those cheering Carissa’s message was Holly Fritz of the Rochester UCC, Rochester, N.Y. "She was really spot on for our faith and what we should be promoting with our church."
Madison Ginter and Jennifer Briggs of St. Paul’s UCC, St. Marys, Ohio, focused on Carissa's feelings of alienation. "We should welcome everybody by getting past our differences."
Carissa finished with a challenge. "God extends that welcome through us. I will do it, will you?"