This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

700 teenagers add youthful vibe to assembly

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Megan Breidigan may be only 16, but she’s already figured out there’s nothing quite like a Mennonite World Conference assembly.

Youth play an interactive cooperation game during special programming at the Mennonite World Conference assembly. — Dale D. Gehman for Meetinghouse
Youth play an interactive cooperation game during special programming at the Mennonite World Conference assembly. — Dale D. Gehman for Meetinghouse

The Douglasville high school student said it is different from national youth conventions because of the diversity of the people you meet.

“All different cultures are coming together, and it’s really an experience that makes you realize it’s not just your own little bubble,” she said.

She didn’t know what other opportunity she would have to learn about so many churches and ministries outside the U.S.

She was one of nearly 700 teenagers who added a special vibe to assembly, thanks in part to cooperation between MWC and Mennonite Church Canada, which decided to hold its biennial youth event in conjunction with assembly and then opened its evening programming to U.S. and international participants.

More than 300 of the participants were from Canada, with the rest mainly from the U.S. and about 70 from other countries.

A committee led by Egon Sawatsky of Paraguay offered morning sessions connecting with the theme of each day, following the first part of MWC’s morning worship.

Planning began in September with other participants, including Sheri Wenger and Lynn Carlson of Lancaster, Pa., Aharon Gonzalez of Costa Rica and Liesa Unger of Germany. It was important to have special programming for youth, Sawatsky said.

“We didn’t want them just to experience different cultures from the stage, but actually get to know other people,” Sawatsky said. “We wanted them to have experiences — not just listening all the time.”

One day, youth paired up in a game involving Skittles and arm-wrestling — which in the end offered a vivid lesson in the value of cooperation and sharing. Then they formed rotating concentric circles for a speedy series of conversations on topics important to teens, from their relationships with their parents to their future goals to “What does it mean to walk in conflict and reconciliation [the theme of the day] in your community?” And — the one that drew the most gasps — What are the non-negotiable qualities of your future spouse?

Frank Albrecht, a peacemaking facilitator in a Lancaster high school, led some of the activities of the morning. The goal of the youth program, he said, is to help teens realize the importance of loving God, to gain a perspective on how youth around the world experience their walk with God “and then take these ideas back to their communities.”

Ashaneé Cooper, 14, from Capital Christian Fellowship in Maryland, said she loved the music and getting to know people from other countries. “This helps me meet new people who are as close to God as I am,” she said.

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