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Central European Youth Gathering Focuses on the Theme “Stories”

Benjamin Helge is a Globally Engaged in Outreach (GEO) missionary serving in the Czech Republic. Ben works with the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (SECAC) in Havířov-Šumbark. There, he teaches English in local schools and helps to run a youth club with an English Talk Group, all in service to sharing the Gospel with the people of his area. Ben also organizes English Bible Camps for the summer.

A view of Lake Balaton, the lake on which the retreat center sits, from the hike participants took. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

A view of Lake Balaton, the lake on which the retreat center sits, from the hike participants took. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

–By Benjamin Helge

At the end of March, we celebrated and told all over the world the same story. The story of God’s love for us and Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. The story of Easter. It of course is not simply a story for one day a year, but for every day of our lives. We rejoice that God sent His Son. He became like us and through Him we have salvation. His story is our story. At the beginning of March 2016, we gathering to learn about and celebrate this same thing with 50 students and missionaries from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia at our second Central European Christian Youth Gathering (CECYG) in Révfülöp, Hungary. From March 3-6, our theme “Stories” guided us through topics of love, acceptance, forgiveness and perfection, all pointing us to our Savior, Jesus Christ and His grace.

The entire group gathered in the main hall for one of the sessions before splitting into smaller breakout groups. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

The entire group gathered in the main hall for one of the sessions before splitting into smaller breakout groups. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

We focused on 2 Corinthians 3:2–4 where Paul writes, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ before God” (NIV). In this, we discussed that through Christ, our stories are part of His story. God has given us His Spirit and as the Body of Christ, we each carry out a specific role in the greater story.

Rev. Rex. Rinne, the Pastoral Care Facilitator for the region, giving a message on Sunday morning during the retreat. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge).

Rev. Rex. Rinne, the Pastoral Care Facilitator for the region, giving a message on Sunday morning during the retreat. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge).

While this was the second international youth gathering in Révfülöp, students from different cities in Hungary previously gathered to lay the foundation for this growth. As more GEO missionaries came to Central Europe, we discussed the benefits of bringing our students together to discuss, share, and encourage one another in the Gospel. LCMS GEO missionary Sarah Berta-Somogyi shared the following about the impact of the Gathering on her students:

When Melissa, former LCMS GEO missionary in Sopron, Hungary, and I started this retreat four years ago, I’m not sure that either of us would have imagined how much it would grow and how many students it would affect. This year, after the retreat, one of my students messaged me telling me how much he felt he had grown over the retreat, and how much he learned about himself and his relationship with Jesus. However, he was struggling getting back to “normal life.” I recommended some Psalms for him to read and reminded him that he can always talk to God in prayer. Later he told me that reading and praying helped him a lot.

Students taking notes during a morning session of the retreat. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

Students taking notes during a morning session of the retreat. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

Beginning each day with breakfast, a short devotion, and singing we continued with sessions as a large group and then broke off into smaller groups to further discuss the topics of love, acceptance, forgiveness and perfection. Our time was not only spent in Bible studies and discussions, but also included playing games, hiking, eating S’mores and staying up way too late. In asking students for feedback, they commented on the fun, but more importantly on the relationships that were formed and their relationship with Jesus Christ. Katica, a high school student from Hungary, said:

The weekend retreat opened my heart to a greater understanding of Christian love and fellowship. With many nationalities represented I was able to learn more about Christ from different points of view. The teaching was relevant, fun and interesting. Small group times gave us opportunity for great discussions. I look forward to camp again next year.

Besides listening to lectures, Scripture readings, hiking, and small group time, the students also spent time together working on a craft. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

Besides listening to lectures, Scripture readings, hiking, and small group time, the students also spent time together working on a craft. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

Similarly, Mirek, a graduating high school senior from the Czech Republic, shared:

The Gathering in Hungary was a great time for me. It was cool to meet new people, see old friends, and experience their culture and ways of celebrating Jesus. The whole time was filled with God´s presence and it drew me closer to Him.

The whole group poses outside the retreat center. The weekend builds many relationships, and like any time of intense study of God's Word and time together with fellow Christians, saying goodbye is hard. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

The whole group poses outside the retreat center. The weekend builds many relationships, and like any time of intense study of God’s Word and time together with fellow Christians, saying goodbye is hard. (Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Helge)

Departing from any type of gathering is always difficult. Saying goodbye to new and old friends and returning to “normal life” often seems daunting. Yet as we reminded students at the Gathering, our story does not finish with the end of an event. Our story does not even have the final punctuation when death comes. Our story continues to eternity as the promise of salvation is for all who believe in Jesus Christ. With such confidence, we go out into the world with our own stories, all of which God uses for His glory.

Praise be to the One who takes our brokenness and weakness and gives us new life and a story of forgiveness and grace!

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