On a cool rainy Saturday in September, ninety middle school youth and seventeen youth leaders, representing thirteen churches, gathered at Eastern Mennonite High School for a Middle School one-day youth event.
Welcomed by Clyde Kratz, Executive Conference Minister, and led in lively worship by Seth Crissman and Greg Troyer, the event featured speaker Rebekka Stutzman. Rebekka and her husband Dave are missionaries in partnership with Virginia Mennonite Mission and Mennonite Mission Network. They are on furlough from their work in the South German Mennonite Conference.
Using Matthew 14:22-23, drama, and personal stories, Rebekka encouraged the youth to “trust in a God who trusts in you.” Some of the youth acted out the biblical story, while the rest of those in the gathering were the wind and the waves.
Rebekka emphasized trust in the story of Peter, who, responding to Jesus’ call to come to him, stepped out of the boat onto the water. But as he began to sink, Jesus was right there reaching out his hand to catch him.
Rebekka stated that doubt can cause us to question ourselves and may cause us to give up before we’ve even begun. But Jesus is there even when we doubt; he calls us by name. Faith is about trusting Jesus and also believing that he trusts us and wants us to follow him.
In the second session Rebekka invited a panel of youth to share their stories of times when they had doubt or fear in their lives and how Jesus reached out his hand to help them, and gave them courage and confidence. Rebekka closed with these words, “God sees you. Don’t be afraid. Take courage. Trust that Jesus trusts you and is holding out his hand to you.”
I want to acknowledge the contributions of Ben Tyson, Highland Retreat staff member, who led in group games and activities which kept everyone moving and interacting. Marsha Thompson and Mary Golden Hughes from Eastern Mennonite School, and Gabriel Brunk from Everence, shared with youth about their organizations. Emily Nyce, from Shalom Mennonite Church, coordinated the retreat with me. Others played a valuable part as well.
I offer a huge “thank you” to the conference for making the spiritual nurture of youth a priority by endorsing these events!