NYE inspires our hopes
In 1806, students at Williams College, inspired by the Holy Spirit, pledged to share the good news of Jesus overseas. By 1810 they had convinced the association of Congregational Churches, meeting in Bradford, Mass., to create the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions which, in 1812, sent out the first six young adults from this country. What an amazing youth movement they started! The ABCFM still exists, now called Wider Church Ministries (WCM), with more than 200 partners in 80 countries, working together with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) through Global Ministries to offer critical presence at the point of deepest need.
Two hundred years later, UCC youth and young adults are still inspired to spread the love of God to our broken world. At the opening worship of our National Youth Event (NYE), the decibel level was extreme as we sang, clapped, yelled and stamped our feet to the beat of some amazing young musicians. Moments later, participants listened in rapt silence as young adult Krista Johnson, a Global Mission Intern for Global Ministries recently back from Jerusalem, described the daily life of her Israeli and Palestinian neighbors and co-workers in that deeply troubled part of God's "so loved world." This fall Krista begins a graduate program in conflict resolution to further equip her to be part of Christ's ministry of reconciliation.
One thousand youth signed up for the most popular forum at NYE. Manyang Mangar, one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan," told his compelling childhood story of wandering through the harsh wilderness of southern Sudan to escape the violence of civil war 20 years ago before ending up in a refugee camp with thousands of other children and youth. Eventually he was resettled in the U.S. by First Congregational UCC in Madison, Conn. At NYE, Manyang joined other young people painting "tents of hope," calling attention to the plight of victims in Darfur in western Sudan.
Music and dance permeated NYE, with dozens of youth leading liturgical dance and drumming for justice. One was Silimanothan Halsana, a trained classical Laotian dancer and talented musician whom WCM sponsored to come to the U.S. this summer. As a child, Sili was in the first center for at-risk children sponsored by Global Ministries in Laos and now directs music, theater, and dance in several of these children's centers while enrolled in the first university program for social workers in that country which Global Ministries' staff in Laos was instrumental in founding.
Yes, young people can change the world. Keynote speaker Julia Butterfly Hill lived 180 feet up in a giant redwood tree for two years, claiming the power of one person to positively impact the environment. In his 20s Eboo Patell started an interfaith organization which brings young Christians, Jews, and Muslims together for service projects and mutual understanding.
NYE reignited my own hopes for the future. I have no doubt that our world and our beloved church will be changed for the better by the wonderful young people of NYE 2008.
The Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte is executive minister for Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries. She is also a member of the UCC's five person Collegium of Officers.