–By Elizabeth Ahlman
From July 16-20, 2016, LCMS Youth from all over the United States will gather in New Orleans, LA for the National Youth Gathering (NYG). There they will study the theme “In Christ Alone” in worship, Bible studies, breakaways and more, as well as participate in service opportunities.
The National Youth Gathering will go International when students and their missionary and other leaders from the Eurasia Region head to the United States to take part in all of these exciting opportunities. Three missionaries from the Eurasia Region are organizing groups of students from their respective places of service to head over for an experience of Christian fellowship on a scale these students have never experienced.
Sarah Berta-Somogyi, a Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) Missionary in Győr, Hungary, is helping to prepare a group of 6-10 students from the Péterfy Sándor Lutheran Schoolwhere she has taught for many years, and where she now offers many extra-curricular activities, to head out on their first overseas trip.
Sarah’s students were invited by Redeemer Lutheran in Fredricksburg, Virginia to participate with their congregation’s youth group in the NYG. The congregation has taken students in the past after meeting them while serving as a short-term mission team in Kispest, Hungary. The Hungarian students will spend some time being hosted by the congregation in Virginia both prior to and following their time at the NYG.
While Sarah will not be able to travel with the Hungarian youth this year due to a previous commitment, two of her colleagues who are also English teachers at the high school will be chaperoning the children. One colleague is Hungarian, while the other is Irish. Sarah is helping as she can to prepare the students for the trip. Sarah has attended two National Youth Gatherings as a student herself, and so will be able to offer the students and other chaperones insight and advice.
Sarah says that her students are likely most nervous about facing the challenge of travelling to a new place, as well as some fears about flying and terrorism. Similarly, the parents are naturally nervous about sending their children away overseas for the trip, but also grateful for the opportunity for their children “to grow mentally and spiritually.” Students will also be staying with unfamiliar people. She noted that the trip will offer the students “a lot of new information that they will need space (and help from us) to process as far as faith and living out that faith.”
However, Sarah says that she is looking forward to what they will learn, especially that they will realize that “they aren’t alone in their faith. There are lots of people throughout the world (and lots of people their age) who believe the same things they do and whose faith influences their life choices.”
The NYG will offer the students many needed opportunities for growth. Sarah explains:
Some of the students going need more solid Biblical teaching in their lives (we do this in Bible study, etc, but more teaching from different people will be helpful). They struggle with not being taught correctly, or at all. They also struggle with how what they believe should transfer into the way they live (what does faith played out look like), and many struggle with being the only (or almost only) Christian in their group of friends. I think the NYG will provide solid teaching and hopefully a support network as they meet Christians from other places.
In the Czech Republic, GEO Missionary Benjamin Helge is also preparing a group of six students and two adult leaders in addition to himself. Ben works with the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (SECAC) in Havířov-Šumbark. Again, the Czech Republic faces deep atheism/agnosticism.
The idea for Ben has been in the works for over two years. Many of his students and friends have expressed an interest in seeing the United States. Ben saw the NYG “as a perfect way to connect visiting the US while growing students spiritually as well.” Ben attended “Beyond Imagination” and “Chosen” as a youth participant. Three years ago, he attended the NYG in San Antonio as a volunteer singing as part of the band on the River Walk during evening activities. The pastor of the local SECAC church where Ben attends in Albrechtice participated in the 1990’s and his daughter is attending this year with the group.
Two Czech adult leaders, Terka and Honza, who have been very active in the English Talk Groups as leaders, will accompany Ben and the six students as chaperones. Ben says of their students: “Each student was specifically invited as an individual who shows exemplary character, seeks out involvement in the surrounding community, participates actively in local congregational life, and possesses a high level of English ability.”
Ben also notes the challenge, despite their current English abilities, of being immersed in English during the NYG, especially as it won’t be only conversational. “We are preparing by learning some new vocabulary every month that will be used at the NYG and is specific to the Lutheran Confessions,” however, Ben notes, “I have full confidence that they will be surprised by their capabilities.”
Like Sarah, Ben and his group will be meeting up with a local LCMS congregation and its youth. They will be heading to Albuquerque, NM to Ben’s home church, Christ Lutheran Church. There they will also meet people from other area congregations and talk to them about life in the Czech Republic, including “what it’s like to be a Christian there, music, testimonies, and more.” They’ll explore Albuquerque with other LCMS youth groups and share about their time at the NYG with one another.
Ben is most looking forward to
my students experiencing what it’s like to be gathered with 25,000 youth and people that believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I am also praying that the NYG will be a way in which God continues to encourage each participant to serve in our community in Czech Silesia upon returning…Finally, I am excited for them to be submerged in the Gospel each and every day, growing in their faith, and encouraging others in the process.
DCE Intern Kendra McNatt, soon to be commissioned in March, will be bringing a group of seven students, along with two other adult leaders, from the LCMS sponsored English-speaking congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. At Trinity first, second, and third language English speakers are nourished with the Gospel and fellowship as expatriates with unique experiences.
Kendra’s group will be made up of kids who speak English as their first, second or third languages. Their group will consist of “Americans, Germans, German-Americans, Chinese-Germans, and Swiss-Americans. It’s a mix of mono-, bi-, and tri-lingual nationals, 3rd culture students, and dual culture students. It sounds like a crazy blend but that’s the beauty of Trinity!” While students from Trinity have attended independently in the past, this is the first time that the church will be officially sending a group, and the whole congregation is excited.
The leaders reflect the blend as Kendra, a native of Florida, will be joined by Trinity’s Director of Music, Johanna, who is a native German and Kristen, who is one of Trinity’s youth Bible study leaders. They foresee challenges surrounding finances for the trip, language (for the non-native speakers) and parental worries.
Kendra, who attended the 2004 gathering in Orlando, threw the idea out as a possibility at a student and parent meeting a year ago. The response was extremely positive, so they decided to pursue it. Like Ben and Sarah, Kendra is hoping to connect with a couple of youth groups while at the Gathering: St. Mark’s, Wasau, WI and St. Paul of Granite Falls, MN . Additionally, the students are very much looking forward to hopefully seeing old friends from Trinity who have returned to the US and will be attending the Gathering.
The trip for these young people is extremely important for many of the same reasons spiritually as for Sarah and Ben’s students. Kendra explains:
I try to do a regular “check-in” with my students and one of the questions I often ask is if they have anyone (besides their parents) who is encouraging them in their faith lives. Some will list an adult and most will name someone from the church, but when I ask about their friends, the response I get is, “Oh, none of my friends are Christians.” If I push a little, it turns out that most can name only one or two people in their whole class who might go to church. I think the current statistic is 3% of the people in Germany go to church on Sunday. Christian youth here just don’t have the support and encouragement in their everyday lives that is vital to a vibrant and confident faith, especially at their stage in life. We have some pretty great leaders in this group of students. My prayer for the students going to the Gathering is that they will return home filled with encouragement and confidence in their faith, perhaps even with a spark of not only desiring for their friends and community to know Jesus but being willing to introduce them to Him.
Lots to Learn, Lots to Teach
Even as the youth of Europe will hopefully gain encouragement in the faith and see that there are many who believe, despite the stark reality of their home countries having long ago lost their Christian heritage, they have much to teach the youth of America, as well. As the world changes and shifts, with society becoming post-Christian, Americans can learn from their European brothers and sisters about standing firm in the faith despite decades of governmental oppression and persecution and then absolute apathy and dismissiveness. American youth can take hope and comfort in the fact that no matter what the Church has faced or will face, a remnant of faithful still stands, and people are called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel into the saving faith of the Church even in Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and beyond, where Christianity has long since faded into the background. These brothers and sisters from across America and across the world will build up and encourage one another in the faith as they learn and grow in the Word and remember that it is “In Christ Alone” that we stand.
- Pray for the students and missionaries as they prepare.
- Pray for the organizers of the NYG.
- Special thanks to the LCMS International Center’s Communications team for sending us official pictures from the NYG for use in this post.
Tags: Benjamin Helge, bilingual, Czech Republic, fellowship, Germany, Hungary, Kendra McNatt, LCMS, multi-cultural, National Youth Gathering, NYG, Sarah Berta-Somogyi, service, TCKs, Third culture kids, trilingual, Trinity Frankfurt, youth