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South Pacific youth congress promotes practical side of faith

Participants raise money, collect canned food to fight hunger

South Pacific youth congress promotes practical side of faith

Youth congress participants march in Brisbane on January 3 as part of a call to aid hunger worldwide. During the congress, youth also collected cans of food from nearby residents. [photo: Vanessa Pereira]

Young people from across the South Pacific were commissioned to share their faith and change their world during a youth congress last week. More than 1,100 young people responded to an appeal to commit, recommit and re-focus their lives on Jesus and His mission on Friday evening, followed by a day of worship, commissioning and celebration.

“The commissioning was a highlight, engaging all our leaders and young people in the world-changing mission of the church,” said Nick Kross, Youth Ministries director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s South Pacific Division. “So many young people have expressed their gratitude and delight with what they have experienced and connected with here – and that has been gratifying for us as leaders.”

The youth congress, which is held every eight years, attracted young people and leaders from 14 nations to Watson Park Convention Centre from January 1 to 6. Delegates worshiped, attended workshops and participated in service activities.

The event’s main speaker, Sam Leonor, chaplain of church-run La Sierra University in the United States, challenged congress participants to not only be disciples of Jesus but also apostles. “I hope these young people will see their local context as a place God has put them to do something big,” he said. “But I also hope they will see that when we worship together and act together, we can change the world.

“This event has been a great ‘slice’ of the church,” Leonor added. “We’ve had so many different kinds of people and cultures represented and I think there’s something holy about that. It is good for these young people to look around and see what the church really is. Living together for a week as the church has got to be empowering.”

The 1,500 congress participants worked together again on the last afternoon of congress – writing out the entire Bible by hand in about two hours, with the pages to be bound as a memorial to the congress. “People really got into it and it was a great achievement of this congress,” Kross said. “We have had a focus on the Word of God and this was a way to highlight this and get our people engaged.”

Together with the commissioning, he said the march against hunger was another highlight. Following a sermon based on Amos 5:24 from Joanna Darby, this event saw a flood of blue-shirted congress participants in Brisbane’s inner city, marching from King George Square to the City Botanic Gardens on January 3 to call for more action to combat hunger worldwide.

“It’s significant that we can get this number of young people to speak up on something more than themselves,” Kross said. “This is about thinking like a contributor and a servant of others, rather than a mere consumer.”

Delegates also had a “poverty lunch,” foregoing their usual meal to identify with the hungry. They raised $10,000 for the work of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to fight hunger. They presented a check to Jonathan Duffy, president of ADRA International, together with a photo petition affirming the work of ADRA.

Groups of young people from the congress also worked in the northern suburbs of Brisbane to collect more than 3,500 cans of food for use in ADRA services across the city. “This is a critical time of year for these agencies who are working to help individuals and families doing it tough,” said Matthew Siliga, coordinator of the community outreach for the congress.

With a police escort, the march by congress participants stopped city traffic and sparked many conversations with passers-by about who this group was and what they were doing.

“At one stage, I stopped and looked back at our marchers, and seeing the line that stretched almost a kilometer back with banners and all those young people, I felt a sense of pride in our young people and what they were doing,” Kross said.