This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Multicultural youth group aids convention experience

Poised to make the leap from high school to university life, Tiera Taylor, like many young adults, sometimes feels lost and struggles with questions about God.

However, her faith got a boost when Walnut Hill Mennonite Church’s youth group invited her to join them in traveling from Goshen, Ind., to the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Kansas City, Mo., June 30-July 5.

“It felt like one step closer with God,” Taylor says. “I often feel like I’m losing my grip on life. I misstep, fumble and stumble. But I got the opportunity and blessing to visit this year’s Mennonite convention and meet new people.”

While listening to convention speakers, Taylor learned she isn’t alone in trying to make sense of the hard realities of life. She especially appreciated when Alyssa Rodriguez shared her struggle to reconnect with God after she was raped, and when Ted Swartz talked about the suicide of his co-performer, Lee Eshleman.

Taylor is the first member of her congregation, New Foundation in Christ Fellowship in Elkhart, Ind., to attend a Mennonite Church USA Convention.

Her parents, Tantra and Tyrone Taylor, help pastor New Foundation and are part of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Journey program, an alternative approach to training church leaders that is also supported by the Central District and Indiana-Michigan conferences of Mennonite Church USA.

Taylor treasures a relationship she developed with Erica, the 6-year-old she mentored during a convention service project. The Walnut Hill youth worked with a summer program to keep students’ academic skills honed during the months when school is not in session.

“Erica was a sweet kid who picked me to read to,” Taylor says. Erica basked in Taylor’s attention and kept bringing books to read in order to sit beside her new-found friend.

Taylor names as friends all eight members of the Walnut Hill convention group. She says that with them she felt connected and encouraged. “I found a place to belong, a sense of comfort with no judgement,” she says.

The Walnut Hill group also invited Jairo Flores to be part of their group in Kansas City. Flores worships with the Alterna Community in Lagrange, Ga., where his father, Anton Flores-Maisonet, is on the board of directors of a Mennonite Mission Network partnership program, DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection).

Some Walnut Hill youth say they were initially apprehensive about changing the dynamics of their group by adding two new people of different cultural backgrounds just before the intense togetherness of convention week.

“We were unsure if we could help Jairo and Tiera feel welcome,” Katja Norton says. A previous connection with Flores was made last year when the Walnut Hill youth took a trip to Georgia and some of them stayed in his home. They also worshiped in Taylor’s congregation a few weeks before departing for Kansas City.

After a few days, everyone agreed that Flores and Taylor added extra spark to their experience and moved their late-night group reflection to a deeper level.

“Tiera’s leadership was evident during our first encounter because she took the initiative to immediately learn names and begin making connections with us,” says Rhiannon Harrison, who shares youth ministry commitments with her husband, Jason.

Walnut Hill youth thank Flores and Taylor for the boost they gave their trivia team at convention.

“Tiera was super good at trivia and wowed us with her high score. Her excitement for using her knowledge was contagious,” Nathanael Eby says.

Jason Harrison says he was glad to have their convention delegation expanded by Flores and Taylor with their different perspectives.

“Being with the youth group was a real gift. To be with youth who have integrity, who are searching for ways that grow their faith and who support each other is a joy,” Harrison says.

Bringing Taylor and the Walnut Hill youth group together was a result of the bridge-building work of Ann Jacobs, a Mennonite Mission Network church relations associate.

Tiera’s parents, Tantra and Tyrone Taylor, attended an April 24-25 gathering of African American Mennonite pastors that Jacobs organized in cooperation with Mission Network, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and the African American Mennonite Association.

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