Youth at Pittsburgh 2011 urged to experience variety of cultures
Throughout Pittsburgh 2011, youth worship leaders Shé Hall and Derek Yoder challenged the youth to build bridges with others. They encouraged the youth to talk with people who didn’t look or act like them and experience the variety of cultures within Mennonite Church USA.
When introducing the We Are the Church Day, Hall said, “We are a diverse people. This is something to be celebrated today and throughout the week.”
We Are the Church Day, envisioned by the racial/ethnic constituency groups, recognized the multicultural diversity of Mennonite Church USA.
Every worship service opened with a dance performance, ranging from line dancing by Talashia Keim Yoder and a dance troupe from Goshen, Ind.; stomp from Lee Heights Community Church; a traditional batak dance by Indonesian Christian Community Fellowship in Colton, Calif.; and modern dance performances by Rwang Pam of Los Angeles Faith Chapel and Hope Goertzen of North Newton, Kan.
The worship band, led by Jeremy Kempf, integrated songs in Spanish and other languages with contemporary worship songs, as well as traditional hymns. During the final services, youth gathered at the front of the stage to dance with the music and started conga lines that weaved among the thousands of chairs in the worship space.
Tuesday morning: Shane Hipps, who spoke at the joint worship on July 4, also addressed the youth on July 5. Hipps opened with comedic relief as he taught the youth his very own hip-shaking dance, the “Booty X.” Youth were seen performing the dance on escalators, in bathrooms and around the convention center throughout the week.
After his dance, he went on to challenge the youth to see themselves the way God sees them, saying this would “radically change every part of our life and world.”
He went on to tell a story about when he visited the lake house of a wealthy man. Hipps saw the man’s speedboat and assumed it cost around $100,000. Much to his surprise, he learned that the speedboat is worth over $1 million because it is a “Riva.” Only 100 Rivas are made each year, he said.
“When something is rare, the value goes up,” he said. “You are uniquely made, and that makes your value infinite.”
Hipps told the youth that each of them is one of 6.5 billion people on the earth at this moment.
“There is no one like you,” he said. “That means you’re one in 6 billion.”
Tuesday evening: Actor Ted Swartz shared with youth on July 5 the three elements of “good acting.” He also spoke about the suicide of his longtime acting and business partner, Lee Eshleman. Swartz, Harrisonburg, Va., is a comedian, actor and founder of Ted & Co.
The first element of good acting, he said, is to be present in the moment. Second, listen to each other. “As actors, we can tell when our partner’s not listening to us,” he said. Third, practice empathy.
When these three elements occur, actors call it “swapping molecules,” or chemistry.
He added that the three elements of good acting are the same prerequisites for reconciliation, or building bridges.
This worship service combined a message with live drama and a video clip of a skit performed by Swartz and Eshleman. On May 17, 2007, Eshleman died by suicide. He was Swartz’s acting partner for 20 years.
Swartz told of the time after Eshleman’s death when he was working on a scene of the biblical story of Jacob returning home to Esau to ask forgiveness. The director told Swartz that the scene was not working and asked him to consider what it would be like if Eshleman was Esau and how Swartz would respond.
Swartz said he thought he was being present and listening—the first two elements—but missing the third element in the scene. “I don’t think I was honest with my pain, guilt or anger,” he told the youth.
Swartz closed his message by performing the scene of Esau forgiving Jacob. He played both parts.
Wednesday morning: Calenthia Dowdy led the youth in proclaiming at the beginning and end of her message, “Let’s have a party.”
Dowdy grew up Baptist but said she didn’t like the “rules” of the church. At age 18 she wanted to study to become a pastor, but her pastor told her, “You can’t be a pastor. You’re a woman.”
So she took off and moved to Hollywood but had to return home after she spent all her money. Later she heard God tell her, “My daughter, you can do and be anything you want to do and be in me. … God said to me, ‘Let’s have a party.’ ”
So Dowdy went to seminary and now is a professor at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., and attends Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.
Dowdy said that too often we focus on the younger son’s irresponsible actions, so her message focused on the position of God.
“He accepts his son—no questions asked,” Dowdy said. However, when God looks at the church today, God says, “My church is a prodigal church. My church is lost,” she said.
God finds hope in the young people. “To the folks under 40,” Dowdy said, “God is calling the church back. … There is hope in this new generation.”
Wednesday evening: David Maldonado told the youth that at one time in his life he “loved” marijuana, cocaine and alcohol. “That was my gig,” he said.
“The day I met the cross of the living Christ, all that had to die,” he said. “On Feb. 20, 1990, David Maldonado died and came back to life in Christ.”
His previous addictions enable him to understand the appeal of drugs.
“There was good money in it,” he said. “I understand why people sell it. I also understand why they use it.”
Maldonado now serves as senior pastor of Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Fort Myers, Fla. He has served this congregation for 17 years with Madeline, his wife. She spoke during the adult worship that day.
He challenged the youth that as they enter college and graduate from college, as they look for jobs and hope to make money, they should remember their calling.
“There is no better place than the church of Jesus Christ,” he said. “There is no greater call than when Jesus Christ calls you to his service.”
Maldonado rephrased the U.S. Army’s tagline for youth, “Be all you can be in the Army.”
Maldonado said the cross is necessary for transformation. “Every bridge you build, you must build it so people go on that bridge and confront themselves with the cross,” he said. Maldonado’s message was part of the We Are the Church Day.
Thursday morning: For the worship on Thursday morning, youth listened to a moving story of reconciliation and addiction recovery from a mother and daughter. Names and details will not be published due to the request for anonymity from the mother and daughter.
At the end of the service, youth were invited to anonymously write down brokenness in their lives and place the papers in baskets at the end of the service. The next morning the notes were posted on the stage and several were read aloud.
Friday morning: Jeniffer Dake told the youth on Friday morning that to be ambassadors of Jesus they must get rid of the “dead dogs” in their lives that they are hiding.
After a few days of feeding and caring for the dog, she found the dog dead in the neighbor’s apartment. After panicking, she called the owner, who told her to take the dog to the vet.
The woman, who didn’t own a car, realized she had to somehow reach the vet by way of the metro. She found a large suitcase and put the 80-pound dog in it and wheeled it down the steps and down the street to the metro station.
“No one knew she had a dead dog, but she knew it,” said Dake to the audience, who was laughing heartily at this point.
At the station, the woman wasn’t strong enough to lift the suitcase over the rotating door. A man approached and offered to help her, but when she turned around, he was gone. He thought, This is 80 pounds of iThings. The woman was scared, then relieved.
“Get that dead dog out of the suitcase,” she said. “Let someone like Jesus steal it from you. … It is time for you to get rid of it.”
Dake went on to describe the importance of forgiving yourself and forgiving others. She said the convention offers a “launching point that sends you out to grow.”
Friday evening: Before Brenda Matthews spoke, the youth ran into the worship space.
“Some of you came in like greased lightning,” she said to the audience, many of whom gathered on the floor in front of the stage and cheered for an extended period of time when she took the stage.
Matthews’ energy, humor and directness make her one of the most popular youth speakers. She spoke at previous youth conventions but mentioned that this may be her last year.
Matthews, also known as “Mama Brenda,” told the youth that to be bridges they need to begin telling their testimonies and victories and showing unconditional love to those around them.
“You can’t let your light shine only with your youth group,” she said, but also at school and on the street.
She encouraged the youth to strongly consider baptism when they return home. She said that while the Mennonite tradition encourages youth to wait for baptism until they feel ready to make a mature decision, “it’s time for you to make a mature decision.”
“Don’t wait for a perfect moment,” she said, sporting a Chicago DOOR T-shirt. “Life is not perfect.”
Matthews was introduced to Mennonites through Jonathan and Kristin Friesen through the DOOR program in Chicago. Jonathan now serves as pastor at Ellis Avenue Church in Hyde Park, and he ordained Matthews as the youth pastor.
Matthews also challenged the youth, as ambassadors of Christ, to leave their own communities and “experience the face of God in the city.”
“You’ve got to come out of that safety zone,” she said. “It’s time for a move … beyond the confines of your church.”