Australian Samantha Lee spent last week here in South Africa working in a home for orphaned and homeless kids, saying the week of service was her treat to herself – a trip to celebrate her 21st birthday.
“I wanted to go somewhere to help someone, not just have a holiday for myself,” she said.
Lee, who spent the week with friends working at the Christian Crisis Centre in Kameeldrift, is one of more than 1,000 Adventist young people who came here from around the world for the opening week of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s world youth conference.
The “Impact South Africa: 3rd World Conference on Youth and Community Service” runs from July 8 to 13 and features a week of service projects, followed by this week of general sessions and evening devotionals.
Last week, volunteers served in 60 different projects throughout Capetown, Soweto and here in the capital, Pretoria.
“People had a wonderful time serving and making a real impact throughout the country,” said Adventist Youth Ministries Director Gilbert Cangy.
Simone Thiel, 18, from Germany, described the experience as the “best week of my life.” She said she and a group from Germany painted a church in Dobsonville, Soweto, and worked in an orphanage. The best part, she said, was staying in the home of church members. “In Germany it’s impossible that 50 people would eat in one room. It’s too small there and we usually like our space.”
Lindsay Foolchand, a 30-year-old tour guide from Mauritius, worked in Soweto to cook and wash clothes at a home for the disabled. He especially enjoyed the local Adventist style of worship songs. “It was so intense, from the heart. Very different from what we are used to,” he said.
Stefania Sandoval, a 25-year-old engineer from Venezuela gathered clothes and food for needy families and repaired floors in a school dorm in Heidelberg. “It was our first time,” she said of laying tile flooring. “We had to learn. But everyone was happy.”
Tapuwa Taps Mathiba, 16, from South Africa, worked with a group to produce a Vacation Bible School for 30 kids in the city of Tembisa. He also helped to remodel a decaying home in Mamelodi. “I don’t think anyone could live inside such a home,” he said of a two-room home that housed a family of eight.
Armando Miranda, an Adventist world church vice president, supervised 11 projects in Capetown. He said a group of Australians, Canadians and Russians worked together to clean up a poor area of town and teach kids how to keep the area clean. “It was really important because they involved the community,” Miranda said. “It was a wonderful experience for everyone and they made a lot of friends.”
Tonight’s opening ceremony brought together some 3,100 youth from 97 countries to the Saint George Hotel & Convention Centre. The evening opened with a parade of nations, with each country represented by a flag bearer wearing national dress. Attendees in the packed auditorium strained to see, many holding up cameras and tablets to capture the action on the stage.
In the back of the hall, as an African choir performed “Amen” with rhythmic movements, 32-year-old Janina Betlinski, from Oregon, United States, watched from a ledge. “I’m very amazed,” she said, “because I didn’t think it would be quite like this – all the colors and music. It’s wonderful.”
Attendees were greeted by Irvin Khoza, chair of the Premier Soccer League in South Africa, who expressed his gratitude to the Adventist Church for his upbringing. Former Youth Ministries Director Baraka Muganda, originally from Tanzania, was honored for his service. And Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa of the city of Tshwane invited attendees to keep in their prayers former president Nelson Mandela, whom he said is in a hospital 10 kilometers away.
Cangy, the Youth Ministries director, addressed attendees, citing the meeting’s theme: “Jesus is in the city because you are in the city,” he said, before declaring the conference officially open.