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Youth Assembly Contagious


Enthusiasm for Youth Assembly was contagious

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August 21, 2009
-Jean Lehn Epp

CARONPORT, SaskatchewanDespite the use of hand sanitizer to ward off the H1N1 virus, the Mennonite Church Canada Youth Assembly is highly contagious!  First and foremost, it is contagious to the youth and the Sponsors/Pastors who attend. It’s all about being immersed in a place set apart for worship, reflection, learning, building relationships, serving and having fun.

Why spend all that time and energy heading out to a place that is so far away? (I travelled with four youth from Waterloo-Kitchener, Ont. to Caronport, Sask. by air and asphalt– that’s over 2600 km!) My answer is that it’s always about the transformation!

Going to an assembly is like being on retreat. We are more receptive to the moving of the Spirit when we are away from our everyday routines and roles. Instead of being alone on a retreat, we are in community where we experience what it is to live together as the Body of Christ. This idea is put to the test when we are sleep deprived or lined up hoping for a warm shower!

Instead of silence, the spiritual discipline is to be real and get to know the stranger sitting next to us in worship or at the dinner table. When we put ourselves “out there” and meet people, the stranger who lives half way across Canada becomes a sister or brother in Christ. Our own little corner of the Mennonite world doesn’t seem so small or isolated.

When we return and share with our families, youth groups and congregations about our experiences and how we have grown, our enthusiasm makes us highly contagious!  The Body of Christ to which we belong is energized as well. Sometimes I need to nudge the youth to articulate what they have experienced, but I have seen the life-changing transformation that happens over the years as youth who attend these assemblies integrate their learning into their lives. Sharing with the whole congregation simply begins the integration process.

I, too, am transformed when I am on this retreat experience with the youth. Transformation happens when I walk with them through worship, small group time and late night talks, or when I encourage them to get involved and help them experience new ways of growing their faith. I am transformed when I get to experience those “aha” moments – like when I hear a youth say, “Shane Claiborne is my hero.”

We need more moments like these in the lives of our youth.

As a result of our assembly experience, we are planning to study one of Shane’s books together and see where the Spirit leads us in our community, so we can spread the contagion around!

Jean Lehn Epp is the Associate Pastor of Youth & Family Ministry at Waterloo-Kitchener United Mennonite Church.