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Radical living, inside out


Michele Hershberger shares God’s message of love.

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Shane Claiborne
Shane Claiborne challenges youth to live out God’s love

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Shane Claiborne
Youth pour energy into tractor pull

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July 20, 2009
-Deborah Froese

CARONPORT, Saskatchewan — Mennonite Church Canada’s Youth Assembly 2009 began with a dramatized communiqué at the opening worship service by author, playwright and teacher, Michele Hershberger. Addressing those gathered as a bag-lady-come-angel-from-God, Hershberger delivered a message that “you always forget, but [it’s] something that you need to get by in this world.”

Unfolding an imaginary envelope, she read four simple words; “I, God, love you.”

From July 6-10, over 200 youth and their sponsors gathered at Briercrest College in Caronport Sask. to explore “Living Inside Out” – the same theme used at the MC Canada adult assembly a month earlier. Based on Colossians 3:12-17, youth focussed on the call for God’s chosen and beloved to live as Christ did, expressing internal values of faith and love through intentional living.

For some, that means stepping outside of comfort zones.

Guest speaker Shane Claiborne, a writer and self-proclaimed “ordinary radical” said that too many Christians have been taken in by the gospel of prosperity, which causes them to “lose the secret in the heart of Jesus.” Faith demands action that may clash with societal “norms.”

“If you want to keep your life you have to give it away,” Claiborne said, sharing stories about people whose lives were changed by doing just that.

Other guest speakers included Jeanette Hanson, MC Canada Witness worker to China, and Rachelle Friesen, Interim Coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba Youth Service/Peace Program, who recently spent a year in Bethlehem volunteering at the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Centre.

Joelle Zacharias (Trinity MC, Crystal City, Man.) expressed her appreciation for what Hershberger and Claiborne had to say. “I liked their… stories about people they’ve actually met [who have] totally changed.”

Worship services, held morning and night, were led primarily by two Grade 10 students from Saskatoon, Hillary Fast (Nutana Park MC) and Luke Warkentin (Wildwood MC). A worship band comprised of youth and young adults who had come together musically for the first time shared a range of contemporary and traditional hymns.

Service projects included the School Kit Challenge – youth put together over 5,000 kits destined for Cuba – as well as a children’s fair in Moose Jaw, the Regina Food Bank, the Re-Store, also in Regina, and Shepherd’s Gate Ministry, a group home near Caronport that helps children in crisis. A special Youth Assembly offering raised over $1,500 for Shepherd’s Gate.

Assembly workshops dealt with topics ranging from mental health issues to forgiveness, date abuse and cautionary tales about social networking on sites such as Facebook. Other activities included late night sports and the Amazing Race which offered challenges like a tractor pull and lassoing. Youth were entertained by the antics of the Christian improv group, Cross-eyed Rascals, and the Christian band, Tripmeter, whose debut album, Wide World Crashing, was nominated for a 2008 Western Canadian Music Award.

Assembly 2009 was a first for Justin Neufeld (North Leamington United MC). “I feel it’s a really good experience to express your faith more and learn more about God…how he’s always there for you.”

Marijke Reesor (Community MC, Stouffville, Ont.) was particularly moved by a workshop on forgiveness led by Candace Green. “Her father was murdered by these two guys and then in the end she forgave them… she started going to church and she realized she needed to get closer to God and he helped her.”

Shane Claiborne emphasized that everyone has a role to play in building God’s Kingdom, whether living among the poor and wounded as he has been called to do, or serving through giftedness in any profession.

“The question isn’t what are you going to be when you grow up,” Claiborne said, “but how you’re going to live.”

“Our clothing and external behaviour can’t tell people who we are,” Hershberger said, noting that even good activities like church involvement can be wrong if one’s identity is based upon them. “You should be doing service because you’re so overwhelmed by how much God loves you, not because you’re trying to look good.”

Reflecting upon the event, Meredith Reesor (Community MC, Stouffville, Ont.) referred to a video Claiborne presented of a young boy trembling violently in response to a bombing. In a matter of moments, the boy was visibly soothed by the loving touch of a nun. Reesor recalled the question Claiborne posed after the viewing: “Don’t you want to love like that?”

Reesor said the video summarized the message she would take away from the Assembly “…because it’s definitely how I want to live my life.”

Youth respond to Assembly 2009

I love it!

– Brendan Murray, Peace MC, Richmond BC, age 15

This conference is awesome!

The first speaker is Michelle Hershberger, whose presentation is energetic and fresh. She talks about how God loves each of us individually. I love it!

We spend the next day, Tuesday, assembling school kits for needy children living in Cuba. It goes on for at least an hour, and it is hard work. I open boxes and packages for easy access to erasers and pencils. I finish gladly, happy for relief from the work and happy that I’m helping children.

When Shane Claiborne speaks, I’m blown away by what he says about loving others unconditionally, without any hesitation or reluctance, and with your whole heart. And it’s all in the name of Christ and His love.

Shane shows a video. I see a small child, his bones showing through his skin, and he’s shaking from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after a bombing. Then, a nun reaches into his crib, and does something that brings tears to my eyes. She soothes him, caresses him, props up his pillow, and shows her sincere love for him. The boy stops shaking and looks up at the woman in awe.

I come away from the conference changed. Not at first, but over the next few days. I start to read Claiborne’s book, “The Irresistible Revolution,” which encourages me to love others in Christ’s name. Somehow, reading about something that has nothing to do with me, tells me something about God’s love. I don’t know what, but just by reading a few pages, a new, fresh relationship with Yahweh starts forming.

And I love it.

Praise Jesus that I went to this conference! I hope and pray that whoever went to this gathering will be changed dramatically by it.

Spiritual fire

–Krista Dueck, Trinity MC, Calgary, Alta., age 18

The Caronport Youth Assembly was the perfect kick off to a long and busy summer, providing just the right combination of spiritual fire and fun with friends to make it truly memorable.

I always find myself much more into worship when the music speaks to me. The worship band was amazing and the songs that were chosen were both fun to sing and meaningful with words that applied to the theme and to me personally.

The speakers also did a good job of driving home the theme, “Living Inside Out.” In a very powerful way, Shane Claiborne encouraged us to branch out through stories of his time with Mother Theresa and the many sacrifices he has made in order to live out his faith. Shane told us that it was Jesus’ love, not His power that was the most amazing when He healed people. Shane said; “it’s not that He healed a leper, it’s that He touched a leper.”

This is so true and I find myself so motivated to go out and see what I can do with the amazing power of love.

Faith into action

–Aleta Martens, Hoffnugsfelder MC, Rabbit Lake, Sask., age 18

At this year’s Youth Assembly I grew in my faith as I learned how to put it into action. Both Shane Claiborne and Michele Hershberger, two of our speakers, focused on ways for us to live our faith through both our actions and words. Throughout our lives our goal, whatever our occupation, should be to let others see the love of Jesus Christ shining through every aspect of our lives. As we share the joy Jesus has given us it makes our lives more meaningful and creates a better world to live in.

The church today is going through an image crisis and many people outside of it do not see the power of God’s love. Through our lifestyle and deeds it should be evident we are Christians. In the words of one of the hymns we sang; “And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love/They will know we are Christians by our love” (Peter Scholtes).


–Rachel Pauls, Waterloo-Kitchener United MC, Waterloo, Ont., age 16

This week was amazing! I met so many new people, new friends, learned about how to let your creativity shine through and that Bible Study can actually be fun! The worship was upbeat and fun, and all the speakers opened my eyes to that which is around me, and have challenged me to seek out people who need much more than I do and how to love those people! We also sang many songs from contemporary to the classic hymns we are all familiar with. Finally, the activities that were used to fill in between were creative and interesting – especially the Amazing Race! It really bonded people within their groups. The whole week was so much fun!