A young woman, a senior in high school, rose to speak during worship at her church one Sunday morning in early Lent. Phyllis Richards of the UCC national staff, who works with the One Great Hour of Sharing Special Mission Offering, was on hand to thank the congregation for its strong support of UCC ministries with disaster, refugees, and sustainable development supported by OGHS. They had not conferred about what the teen would say, but what Phyllis heard affirmed all that we had hoped would happen through the new network of One Great Hour of Sharing Youth Ambassadors.
The teen testified to the congregation that when her youth leader and pastor asked her to take part in the national network of OGHS Youth Ambassadors, she thought, “Oh no, just one more thing.” She was already stressed out about homework and a host of extra-curricular activities. She even signed up for the training webinar and canceled twice before joining in on the third chance. Twenty minutes into the training, though, she felt her world shift. She realized anew that she is part of a world bigger than herself and even bigger than her local community. She felt a personal connection to the work that her church is doing in the world. She knew that she is part of making a difference in the world. And she wanted to share this good news with her congregation (which she was doing at that moment). She felt that this personal connection to walking with people in need around the world is something she would carry as a life-long commitment.
Many of those affected by disaster or forced displacement are youth. In the current Syrian refugee crisis, over half of those displaced are children and youth. Children and youth are the largest percentage of those living in chronic poverty around the world and the most vulnerable to catastrophes caused by climate change. These are not abstract figures. These are real people to whom our youth can relate.
Our youth want to change the world for good with God. They have new ideas and ways of engaging each other and the world. With information overload, however, it's often difficult to find an entry point into work with actual people beyond words and abstract commitments. For this teen to realize that her church already was changing lives in these situations –– in ways that helped individuals and changed systems that affect root causes of the world's difficulties –– deepened her already strong relationship with her church. This personal connection she proclaimed that day deepened the already strong commitment of her church to join God in changing the world for the common good.
Sparking Ministry Conversations
How does your church take up the innovative ideas of the youth among you and follow them in putting those ideas into action? How do you help members of your congregation feel personally connected to people around the world recovering from disaster, living as refugees, or experiencing chronic poverty?
The Rev. Dr. Mary Schaller Blaufuss nurtures organizational relationships and encourages collaboration that enables the UCC to walk with people around the world as they rebuild their lives after natural disaster or forcible displacement, and as they build strong communities through sustainable development (One Great Hour of Sharing ministries). Mary can't stop thinking about mission theologies. She also loves accompanying her young adult children as they move into new stages in their life's journeys.