Written by Connie Larkman
Imagine extravagant welcome. Imagine a healthy world. Imagine a world where differences are embraced. Imagine one church. Sound like a place where you would like to live?
Those are the subjects that will be addressed by four young people from all corners of the country ––Colorado, Maui, Milwaukee, Massachusetts –– coming together to speak at the United Church of Christ's National Youth Event July 10-13 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
Carissa Yinmed, a sophomore at Baldwin High School in Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii, will be the first youth keynote speaker to address the gathering on Tuesday, July 10. Carissa, a member of Iao United Church of Christ of the Hawaii Conference, first left the island to travel to what she calls "the mainland" to attend the Western Regional Youth Event. She lifted up that event as one of the most interesting experiences in her life.
"On the first day we were there, we felt like everyone was looking at us because we looked different from them," she says. But the bonds of friendship were established the very next day. "We learned new things about God and the way to live our life together with God to spread the word," said Carissa. Addressing "Imagine Extravagant Welcome," she hopes her peers will experience that in overwhelming ways and take the idea home and pass it on.
Zach Komes, a student and community activist from Milwaukee, Wis., has been involved in outreach most of his life. At the age of 10 he and his sister organized the "E-Z Coffee Stand" as a neighborhood fundraiser for charities. Over the past seven summers his project has raised $6,500 –– used to drill for water in Africa and to support a local homeless shelter. He's also big on action: Zach has organized a student walkout to protest education funding cuts, led a fund raiser to assist people displaced by the earthquake in Haiti, and created a Facebook campaign to highlight the good works of youth in Milwaukee Public Schools working to combat racism and prejudice.
It's apparent that Zach does not feel he's too young to "Imagine a Healthy World," the subject of his NYE address. "Despite the great struggles and pain that each of us endures in life, the eagerness to create a better future always exists," Zach says, and he'll be sharing his ideas for a better tomorrow on Wednesday, July 11.
Diego Torres, of Lowell, Mass., is known for using the quote: "God will never leave you hangin'!"
As a member of Iglesia Hispana de la Communidad de Lowell, Diego went from being less than enthusiastic about church to an active participant.
"At an early age going to church was the last thing I wanted to do," Diego says. "The majority of the churches excluded my family from participating in church events." But now he, his brother and his peers lead the service through music and the arts at his church, where young people outnumber the adults.
Diego, who says "Imagining a greater life is great! However, we need to act on what we imagine," will be asking his peers to "Imagine a World Where Differences are Embraced" in his keynote speech Thursday, July 12.
Miah Noel Yager, of Boulder Colo., says she uses the gifts God has given her to make a difference.
"I have gone to church work camps in South Dakota, San Antonio, Arkansas and Belize,"Miah pointed out, and has been involved in writing songs, dancing on stage and set design. Miah says the NYE theme "Imagine" inspires her to imagine a world embracing all as they are.
"As a disability student in high school, I've experienced moments where 'being perfect' is all that matters, but being perfect is boring. You just need to be normal," Miah says. " Being different is a good thing." Her discussion, "Imagine One Church," on Friday, June 13, will most likely touch on her greatest wish –– for persons who are different to be accepted as they are.
All of the four youth keynote speakers were inspired to get involved by previous involvement or attendance at a National Youth Event, and recommended as a 2012 participant by a pastor or ministry partner.
"Each of our youth keynoters has a special story and they are not only going to inspire their peers, but also challenge us adults to get out of our boxes and look again and see youth in a way like never before," says Waltrina Middleton, NYE co-coordinator. "We are extremely proud of our youth keynote speakers for their courage to stand before their peers, mentors, friends and strangers alike to share their imaginative vision and witness of faith, leadership and justice."