Young adults from 26 countries shared the challenges young people face in their churches during the Global Youth Summit that preceded the Mennonite World Conference assembly.
More than 30 delegates and 70 other participants, aged 18 to 30, from MWC member churches gathered July 1-4 in Salatiga, Indonesia.
The theme was “Life in the Spirit: Learn, Serve, Worship.”
Speakers delivered sermons to inspire and encourage participants to follow Jesus more closely.
Makadunyiswe Doublejoy Ngulube of Zimbabwe challenged peers to serve others with love, grace, humility, gentleness and patience, with an eye to unity. “God has placed you in your spheres of influence . . . for a specific reason,” Ngulube said. “It’s for a divine purpose.”
Timo Doetsch of Germany challenged others to walk with Christ, stand against evil and worship God.
“At the end, Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, and it comes by grace and faith in Christ,” he said.
Delegates had prepared for the summit by surveying young adults in their churches. They reported what they learned.
Themes included not feeling recognized by congregational leaders; a desire to learn and grow in faith but not having the space in which that can happen; feeling like they don’t belong in the church and finding that belonging elsewhere; and a desire for multigenerational unity and reconciliation.
“There are some questions about the place of youth in the church,” said Lukas Sägesser of Switzerland. “It’s difficult because, for a lot of churches, their events and activities have to compete with a lot of different events and activities in society. . . . Everyone does their own thing, and it’s not popular to commit to one community.”
Juan Manuel Guevara of Colombia said there was a dearth of good Christian models for youth in Latin America — people willing to live the faith they profess. “We have a great challenge in our continent because [there is] a lack of hope,” he said. “It’s a great challenge for our church to bring hope to our youth.”
The biggest challenge identified by North Americans is that young people don’t feel they belong in the church.
“They are feeling isolated and alone,” said Christen Kong of Canada. “The second [challenge] is that churches are not reflecting what is written in Scripture about the church. They are surrendering to the ways of the world.”
Reflecting on what delegates from Europe learned, Sophia Mons of the Netherlands shared that she and her peers became aware during the summit of their privilege and wealth.
“We have learned from many people that we should be grateful for what we have,” she said. “Life in the Spirit is not material; it’s not based in the material world. We live in a society that is based on the individual.
“We hope for our communities, for our youth and for our young people to be able to combine our secular context with finding community and finding new ways of redefining church.”
Deepson Masih of India said the summit helped Asian delegates understand how they can grow in their spiritual lives. They have fellow Christians on which they can rely.
“Even though we are from different countries [and speak] different languages . . . we can serve Christ together,” Masih said.
After the presentations, participants prayed on a world map covering more than half the conference room floor. Other activities included swimming, archery, card games and singing around a bonfire.
Kong sensed a longing for spiritual renewal.
“We are going to places that others don’t,” she said. “We are saying things that aren’t being said, and we are doing daring things for Jesus. Young adults are really mobilizing with the transforming landscape of church. We are . . . . [returning] to a radical faith.”
Born of a desire for young people to be heard, the first Global Youth Summit was held in Zimbabwe in 2003.