“Surrounders”

By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

On the first weekend of this year, organizers of the annual Peninsula-Delaware Conference Youth Rally in Ocean City, Maryland, were challenged by a blizzard that blew in the day before the rally began. The leaders had a difficult decision to make about cancelling or going ahead with the effort.

All cancellation decisions are difficult. But after much prayer, it was decided that the event should continue to go forward. The theme was “Marathon” and the key scripture verses were Hebrews 12:1-2.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings too closely; and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Throughout the rally, featured speakers and Christian rock bands emphasized the importance of endurance in the face of the challenges that are a key part of a life of faith in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is indeed the model, and our “way, truth and life” for this journey.

I pondered the word “surrounded” as I witnessed the rally in action.  Chapter 11 of Hebrews gives an extensive history lesson about the saints of God who lived before us and who now are in heaven cheering on the contemporary church.  Indeed the “crowd in the cloud” is there, but so are the “surrounding” support systems for the throng of teens who attended this three-day marathon of speakers, music, break-out groups, and fun.

I give God thanks for the many pastors, youth leaders and parents who sacrificially gave of their time, their sleep, their means and their hearts to spur on a new and present generation of young Christian leaders. They are in a race for the emergence of a new church that they will lead into the future.

I heard one pastor say, “There are two new souls for the kingdom, who accepted the Lord last night.”  I heard another leader speak about a young woman who has felt a call to ministry.  I saw groups of young people gathered in a corner, surrounded by their leaders, joining in prayer together.  I heard Taylor Bullis, a 9th-grader from Bethel UMC in Dagsboro, Del., give a spirit-filled sermon of encouragement to her peers.

We need to be “surrounders” of the next generation.  A popular African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child” still rings true.  According to an NPR researcher cited in Wikipedia, there are a number of proverbs that point to this same sentiment:

Lunyoro (Bunyoro): “A child does not grow up in a single home.”

Kihaja (Bahaya):  “A child belongs not to one parent or home.”

Kijita (Wajita): “Regardless of a child’s biological parents, its upbringing belongs to the community.”

Whatever version you want to follow, the truth is still the same.  In the household of faith all of us are responsible for the spiritual nurture of our young people.

For the youth who have attended this youth rally and others, how will you and your church endeavor to surround them and offer them ways to grow in their faith, grow in leadership and grow in love and concern for their neighbors and for the world?  How will you help them to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings too closely” so that they can run with endurance the race that is set before them, their confident gaze fixed ever on Jesus.

Youth rallies are not a “once and done” kind of thing.  They are a “spark plug” that requires the follow-through engine of the church to ignite and put youth ministry into motion and to build momentum.

Youth rallies, including Pen-Del’s and Eastern PA’s conference youth rallies, are an ongoing, potentially fruit-bearing process that we, as the church, need to embrace and take seriously as key to our Christian calling.

Be a “surrounder” of the young people in your midst. If you don’t have young people in your church, reach out to surround and support youth in your community. And you can always support the efforts of other churches with young peoples’ ministries.

This work is ours to take up and do, each of us, so that we can be the contemporary “cloud of witnesses” so needed for this generation.

Republished from The Bishop’s Blog.

See the full Flickr Album of photos: “Marathon” Pen-Del Youth Rally 2018