National Youth Convention to feature a “head, heart, hands” flow
By Myra Holmes
Get ready for the flood.
An anticipated 1,000 Mennonite Brethren youth in grades 9-12 from across the nation will inundate San Antonio, Texas, April 16-19 for San Antonio 2011 (SA2011), the next National Youth Convention (NYC).
NYC, held every four years, is hands down the largest gathering of Mennonite Brethen in the U.S. “If God can begin to work among that number of students, the potential influence for the future is enormous,” says NYC co-director Wendell Loewen.
Youth will explore justice and righteousness through the theme, “Flood,” taken from Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.”
Like Anaheim ’07, which pioneered a service-oriented model in an urban setting, SA2011 will incorporate three main components—sessions with guest speakers and musicians, seminars and service opportunities.
San Antonio was chosen among several urban settings not only for the availability of food and attractions along the famous River Walk but also for the availability of abundant ministry opportunities. The conference cost, $285 per person, includes lodging at the Grand Hyatt on the River Walk and all conference programming. Registration for SA2011 opens Oct. 1.
The three-man team that pioneered the Anaheim model has returned to plan SA2011: Wendell Loewen, professor and campus pastor at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kan.; Rick Bartlett, senior pastor at Bethany MB Church, Fresno, Calif.; and Tim Neufeld professor at Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, Calif.
CL assistant editor Myra Holmes recently asked the co-directors via e-mail about their hopes for this event and its impact on MB youth. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.
CL: Why “Flood”?
WL: First, of course, the river walk is a San Antonio landmark. Second, our larger vision is to help students make a difference in their world for Christ in tangible, real ways. And third, we wanted our theme to make a biblical connection with our location.
RB: When the planning team met in December in San Antonio, a number of possible theme verses were considered. When Amos 5:24 was read, there was a clear sense around the room that this was a holy moment and this was the direction we should go.
CL: You’ve said that SA2011 will follow a “head, heart, hands” flow. What do you mean by that?
WL: The intent is to encourage our students toward seeing their world as a mission field and all of life as a ministry opportunity. To do this, a kind of educational “flow” needs to happen.We want students to first understand the biblical mandate for compassion, love and justice (head knowledge).Second we want our students to hear stories of how God is at work in the world through missions and service and be inspired (heart knowledge).Finally we want to give our students hands-on, practical opportunities to put love and compassion into practice (hand knowledge).
CL: The speakers chosen to help with the “head knowledge” are Shane Claiborne, Christian author and activist, and Paula Simpson-Parry, who brings experience with Youth for Christ in the U.K., each of whom will speak for two sessions. What do these speakers have to offer a gathering of MB youth?
RB: The speakers were chosen to reflect the theme. The Program Team subgroup took the theme and the associated call of justice and righteousness and brainstormed a list of people who could speak to our theme from a national or international perspective and who lived their convictions as well.
Shane Claiborne's name came to the top of the list. He will bring a message targeted right at our theme, a message that challenges us all to deeper commitment to Jesus and to a lost and hurting world. Paula also has a heart and passion for justice, and her expertise will fit well with where the Planning team envisioned the theme taking us.
As the chair of the program team, I see our role as having a significant part to play in giving the speakers our desired outcomes for the event and, more specifically, for each session. I plan on speaking with Shane and Paula both to let them know the audience they are speaking to, as well as our diversity as a denomination, and the need to be sensitive to a variety of theological perspectives.
Tim, Wendell and I each have over 25 years of youth ministry experience, and we will be engaged in dialogue with our speakers to ensure that no student goes home having heard something that was unbiblical from the front. Having said that, I firmly believe that both Shane and Paula are people who would not do that anyway.
CL: Shane Claiborne is a speaker in high demand. Why would he agree to speak to a group of Mennonite Brethren?
RB: Shane's acceptance of our invitation is an amazing story. By saying yes to our invitation, he also selected us because, as he said in his response, he believes in the mission and values of the Mennonite Brethren.
CL: What about the featured musical group, Stories in Braille—what do they bring to the event?
RB: Stories in Braille have led worship in a variety of large venues and were chosen, again, because of theological considerations. Another thing we loved about the group is their commitment to put together worship sets based on music that our youth groups know and love. We value that level of connectedness between the worship band and our churches.
CL: What do you have planned for the seminars?
WL: The Sunday afternoon workshops will provide the heart knowledge.Students will be able to hear stories of people who are actually engaged in service, mission, compassion and justice around the world. MBMS International is working with us on this piece.
TN: A unique twist on the otherwise traditional seminar format is that we are going to give a “call” for seminars and ask not only youth leaders, but youth themselves to offer proposals for seminars.
CL: Do these seminars, then, replace the ministry track workshops at Anaheim ‘07?
WL: While the Anaheim ministry tracks were successful, the format was quite ambitious and administratively cumbersome. We’re trying to streamline things in San Antonio.
CL: One of the most memorable pieces of Anaheim ’07 was the opportunity to serve. Will that be part of San Antonio 2011?
WL: We’ll be partnering with DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) in San Antonio.They’ll be able to provide us with some insight into the city and offer some really neat ministry opportunities.
Again, we have blocked out Monday for ministry. We’re discussing a number of questions: Should we send everybody out at once, as we did in Anaheim? Should we send a morning group, then an afternoon group? If so, what happens for the group not out on ministry assignment? We have also discussed different levels of ministry assignments: entry level, encounter level and engagement level.
TN: The service component cannot be underestimated. The service and ministry opportunity is equally important, if not more important, to the keynote addresses of Shane and Paula. Main sessions and seminars could happen easily enough at a mountain retreat center. The service and ministry opportunities—and the learning that takes place through them—can only happen in an urban center.
WL: Another idea for all students or youth groups to do, even on their own time, is a “city search.” Groups would get a set of questions that require them to go out into San Antonio to find the answers. This will allow the students to encounter the city at their own pace. We’d offer incentives to do it.
TN: At Anaheim ‘07 we required students to engage in service projects; at SA2011 this will be an option, though we hope that most students will opt for this feature of the conference. We didn’t feel it was fair to coerce volunteerism.
CL: NYC is again sponsored by the three U.S. MB educational institutions: Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University and MB Biblical Seminary. Why is it significant for NYC to be connected to these institutions?
RB: It makes sense to include our MB institutions that also have an interest in seeing MB young people grow up and follow Christ. The amount of money these schools either absorb or donate is very significant. Yet I think it's more than financial. It's the people who come and serve from the schools that make the contribution significant.
TN: One of the outcomes, of course, is that we hope high school students will consider going to one of these three MB institutions for their future educational needs. Two of the most critical resources of any denomination are its national publication and its educational institutions. Once those lose prominence or value the denomination is in danger.
CL: How can a congregation help their students prepare for this event?
RB: The Program Team is producing study guides to prepare youth groups to get the most out of the event. We'll also be producing some post-event materials. We strongly encourage churches to set up a post-event session with the youth group and church leadership for leadership to listen to what the youth have learned and experienced. We want our youth to know that they are valued, that we trust them to discern and that we want to walk with them through what they experienced.
CL: Why should a congregation make it a priority to send their youth group to San Antonio 2011?
TN: Again, this is the largest gathering of Mennonite Brethren in North America, and it’s just for teens! This is a wonderful and exciting opportunity to experience the body of Christ as a denomination. And the denomination is looking less homogeneous all the time—we are comprised of all different geographic locations, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, political ideologies, etc.
SA2011 is a great place for teens to cross all kinds of normal boundaries and experience the great breadth and diversity of the MB denomination. Furthermore, if youth don’t have a habit of getting together it will be harder and harder to get the adults together.
RB: One of our strongest Anabaptist values is community. This event is an opportunity for us as a U.S. MB denomination to gather together at an event, to learn, laugh and grow together. Sure it costs, but the opportunities and benefits for MB students are worth it.
CL: What are those benefits for MB students? What do you hope they’ll take away from SA2011?
RB: I'm convinced that what we as Mennonite Brethren hold theologically is of utmost significance to the church in America today. I hope teens take away from this event a greater appreciation of the uniqueness and significance of our evangelical and Anabaptist theology and how we have a part to contribute to the church today.
TN: As Mennonite Brethren we are committed radical discipleship and proclamation of the good news. We want each student to be challenged by these two important values.
RB: I hope our youth gain a renewed passion for Jesus Christ, a larger perspective of the church in the world, and a deeper desire to care for and share with those on the margins of society. I am praying that we will see young people dedicate themselves to a life of service to Jesus expressed in a wide variety of ways: missions, church ministry, parachurch ministries.
TN: We want teens to experience the transforming work of the Spirit through the risen Savior and then have this weekend experience transfer into a lifestyle of discipleship in pursuit of God.
WL: We want biblical compassion, justice, love and righteousness to “flood” from Christ, through our students to their world.
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