By Frank Ramirez
“When the darkness makes our path unclear and vision starts to fail us
Help us to push aside our fears.
Reawakening your call for us of power, love, and mercy
Your voice still moves us through the years.”
With the theme song “Strong and Courageous” by Kyle Remnant and Jon Wilson still ringing in their ears, 281 Brethren who had come together for National Junior High Conference prepared to leave Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.
The event took place June 14-16. The theme “Strong and Courageous” was taken from God’s charge to Joshua as he prepared to take up the mantle of leadership and guide his people. Worship, music, drama, small group workshops, table fellowship, and recreation worked together to inspire strength and courage among this new generation of Brethren-leaders-to-be.
Speakers urged the youth to courageousness. Leah Hileman told the youth that they, like Joshua, could rely on their past experiences and mentors when facing the future courageously.
Kayla Alphonse called to mind the courage the 14-year-old Mary, mother of Jesus, needed to accept God’s call courageously. She challenged youth to ask themselves what they were willing to be uncomfortable for–and what they might be willing to die for.
Using the story of Paul’s beating at the hands of the authorities in Philippi, Eric Landrum told about the bloody nose he endured standing up for a kid who was bullied. Praising the new crop of Brethren leaders he saw there, he used toy building blocks to create a cross noting that they “come in every size, shape, and color. If you are creative every piece can be part of the Master Builder’s plan.”
Siblings Chelsea and Tyler Goss spoke for the closing worship. Tyler Goss told youth what a difference it made to him as a lonely sixth-grader sitting by himself at lunch when the school’s entire soccer team moved over to his table and sat with him. He compared the church to an ice cream sandwich, with the different layers representing the different generations in the church. You might be the ice cream layer in the middle, with the cookie layer above you representing the person you look up to, and the cookie layer below you representing the person who looks up to you, he told the youth.
Chelsea Goss emphasized, “If there’s one thing you should remember it is this: You are not alone…. This is what the love of Christ looks like,” she said. “Look around the room one last time. This is what community looks like. And we are strong and courageous.”
The conference was held under the leadership of Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Church of the Brethren, assisted by Brethren Volunteer Service worker Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred and many volunteers from across the denomination.
Despite all the sports camps, music lessons, family trips, and other distractions that could have kept them away, the junior high youth and their adult advisors made a church conference a priority. Whatever they might have given up in order to attend, they were glad to be there.
“I will take root and I will stand strong.
With the God of the Ages I’ll stand strong and courageous
And Love will carry me through.
With the God of the Ages we stand strong and courageous
And Love will carry us through.”
— Frank Ramirez is senior pastor of Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, Ind.