|ake no little plans.”
Adventist youth leaders across North America seem to have heeded that counsel, for they’ve laid plans for one of the largest gatherings of the church’s youth and young adults in recent memory. The World Youth Prayer Congress, slated to convene April 7-11 in Columbus, Ohio, seeks to attract up to 15,000 Adventists aged 14-35 for training, motivation, prayer, and spiritual growth.
Inspirational worship services and musical events will be matched with community mission projects, evangelism training, street preaching opportunities, and numerous workshops and seminars during the five-day event. Four unique tracks will allow participants to tailor their Columbus experience to their interests: a youth ministries leadership summit; the “Just Claim It 2” Prayer Congress; an Ignition-Godencounters option for young adults; and a children’s worship festival sponsored by the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. For the first time, a special “PKs Only” track will also offer special programming options for “pastors’ kids.”
On Sabbath, February 27, a “40 Days in the Upper Room” prayer movement was launched to spiritually prepare leaders and participants for the gathering in Columbus.
Adventist Review youth/young adult editor Kimberly Luste Maran sat down with Manny Cruz, North American Division (NAD) Youth Ministries associate director, to talk about the months of planning NAD Youth Ministries put into organizing the Columbus event. For more information about the event, visit www.JCI2.org.
Maran: You’ve planned a major national event at a time when many other ministries are scaling back. Give us an overview of what’s going to happen in Columbus April 7-11.
Cruz: At the “Just Claim It 2” Prayer Congress we’ll provide training, workshops, seminars, and we will also offer different prayer elements. We’ll have a worship service at night, a general session in the morning, and then in the afternoon the young people actually get to experience firsthand what they’ve learned in the workshops—the practical side of the training. They will go out into the Columbus community with different street ministries. Some of the youth will be involved in remodeling a home, working light construction—things they can do in a week. Others will be street preaching, cleaning up walls that have graffiti, painting murals on walls, participating in random acts of kindness, doing puppet ministry.
Why incorporate street ministry and the other outreach activities you mentioned at a prayer congress?
We’ve found that the majority of Adventist young people attend public school, and we want to let them know that to have a complete, wholistic approach to ministry and spirituality there has to be a component of service. We can pray and we can read the Bible all day, but that doesn’t do a lot of good unto itself—it can actually become unhealthy. We have to share what God is doing in our lives. “Pray” has to be an action verb. Prayer is a movement. It’s something that connects us to God, and it also enables us to connect to each other, to our community.
Organizing an event this large requires a vast amount of planning and effort. What’s the main purpose you’re trying to accomplish?
As a church in North America we have a wonderful educational system—we’re blessed to have our schools. However, the reality is that the majority of Adventist young people attend public schools. There needs to be something for them, someplace where they can come together and realize, “Wow, I’m part of a bigger picture here. I’m not the only one out there in Babylon trying to survive.” And in the general sessions, we’ll have different activities—drama, special effects, poetry, different types of music . . . We won’t cater to just one group.
That’s a lot of variety.
Youth ministry is broad. We can’t just say we’re going to reach only Adventist youth who attend Adventist academies, or the young person who lives in suburbia. We want to have something for every young person who comes—urban, country, small church, big church, Spanish church, English-speaking church, Brazilian church . . . We want to offer something for all who attend.
Which of your new initiatives do you think will make the biggest impact?
Mission Lifeguard is an initiative to save our young people. Compare the church to a swimming pool. In some Adventist churches, it’s as if there’s a big sign as you walk in that says, “No lifeguard on duty—swim at your own risk.” We have young people who are in the church, and others are outside the church, in the world. Mission Lifeguard is a movement, an initiative to train people—kids, youth, young adults, adults, pastors, elders—whoever is interested in saving young people.
What do you see as the value of doing an event like this, and why are you urging church members to support it?
I’m convinced that special events are very important and significant in the lives of individuals. The Bible is full of such events. I believe that today’s young people—Christians, and even nonbelievers—they’re not looking for someone to tell them what God is or who God is. They want to experience Him. This is important for all of us to understand as church members. Unless we create an experience for them, all the truth that we have—which is beautiful truth—becomes irrelevant.
We also want our young people to know that our church cares about them. These events, these experiences, give them a boost of Adventist self-esteem. A young person may have very low Adventist self-esteem because they may be the only Adventist in their class, or the only Seventh-day Adventist in their neighborhood. I’ve discovered that our young people aren’t really crazy about sharing the fact that they’re Seventh-day Adventists. Now, some are: some are out there, and gung ho about their faith.
But probably not the majority.
Correct. There’s a good number of churched young people who have low self-esteem when it comes to being a Seventh-day Adventist. So when they come to an event like this, we introduce them to positive, Adventist role models, people they can look up to.
We also will have young people themselves sharing their experiences. There’ll be a lot of sharing of testimonies. We’ll have our mission highlights every night, where we’re going to share stories of young people who are doing great things for God. And we challenge our Adventist young people to go back and get on fire for God. One of our targeted age groups is young adults.
How will you do that?
We have a full track for young adults. They have their own presenters, their own sessions. In the evenings, after the main general session, they’ll have a worship service for young adults exclusively. They’ll have a place they can call their own, a place where they can gather, network. We also have tracks for youth leaders, youth pastors, and pastors’ kids (PKs) who will come to the congress.
We want to show young Adventists that there’s something for them! They can come to “Just Claim It 2,” get trained on how to do a special kind of ministry, and then go back to their church. We give tools for nontraditional things, but also offer training in traditional evangelism—the practical ways of doing ministry.
Another part of this event that I’ve heard about is the 40 days of prayer. What importance does this focus on prayer have to this congress?
We believe God is going to do some miraculous things; there’s no doubt, no question in our minds. So as leaders, we need to be prepared. We want to be sure that we don’t get caught up with the program, with the outreach, and the convention center, and the journalism, and the seminars, and the projectors, and the extension cords. We want to make sure we don’t get so caught up in all of these things that are important to run an event that we lose sight of why we’re there—and miss that one young person who is going to say, “Wow! This is changing my life.”
We’ve invited young people across this division to join us for what’s called “40 Days in the Upper Room.” We’re praying every morning at 6:00 a.m. Every evening at 10:00 p.m. we have a teleconference prayer. Then we have a daily scripture, a daily prayer focus, and a daily prayer activity. We’re putting this stuff on our social network; it’s on Facebook. We’re getting the word out and inviting people to join this prayer event that will conclude on April 7, the opening night of the congress.
What lasting effect do you hope this congress will have on its participants, and perhaps the church in general?
It comes down to helping Adventist youth and young adults understand that God loves them, that the church loves them, and that God is calling them to get busy, to be different, to “get the word out” so we can go home. We hope and pray that a young person who comes to “Just Claim It 2” will walk away and will be a light in their church and community; that churches across North America will be affected—even if they didn’t come to “Just Claim It 2.”
I’ve been told that you didn’t have closing prayer at the 2007 “Just Claim It” event in Dallas. Is this something you’ll likely repeat?
The name “Just Claim It” came out of a youth leader session where James Black (NAD Youth Ministries director) was sharing a vision. And the idea of not having a closing prayer is that this attitude of claiming, this idea of just claiming your family, your city, your community for Christ—that idea is to go with everyone. This isn’t only an event; it’s a movement that’s been unleashed. “Just Claim It 2” is about praying and claiming something or someone in the name of Jesus Christ. So there’s no closing. It doesn’t conclude. It continues.
This article was published April 8, 2010.