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onday July 8, 2013, 8:19 pm, in an atmosphere of high excitement and expectation, Elder Gilbert Cangy, General Conference Youth Ministries director declared open the Seventh-day Adventist church’s fourth World Youth Congress, IMPACT SOUTH AFRICA 2013, in the Marble Arch hall of St. George Hotel, Pretoria, South Africa. Thirty-two hundred Adventist youth gathered together from 97 countries roared their approval.
Already, Elder Paul Ratsara, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean division [SID] president, had welcomed Cangy and his thousands on behalf of the 3,009,605 members of his field, and world church president Elder Ted Wilson had challenged delegates to seize this moment for God. Opening ceremony attendees included mayor of Tshwane [Pretoria] Councillor Kgosientso David Ramokgopa, and Dr. Irvin Khoza, president of the South African Football Federation, who both addressed the assembly. Councillor Ramokgopa affirmed Adventists’ positive influence on society by quoting Scripture: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2). And Khoza thrilled the delegates when he spoke of being faithful through life to his Adventist faith and upbringing: “Inherent in our practice are the virtues of discipline, sacrifice, and selflessness,” he said. And he drew explosive applause from the youth with his testimony that “For all my life I have never smoked nor drank any alcohol.” Cangy also presented a plaque to Elder Baraka Muganda, Youth Ministries leader of Seventh-day Adventists for 15 years from 1995-2010.
In his welcome SID president Ratsara expressed “greatest appreciation” to the nation’s political leadership for taking time out from their very busy schedules to attend the opening ceremonies. He thanked them for the freedom of worship we could enjoy. The assembly, he said, marked “the ongoing fulfillment of the dream of the liberation fathers of the nation,” and noted how this gathering and event honored the vision of Dr. Nelson Mandela, internationally acclaimed icon, who foresaw and foretold South Africa, the rainbow nation, before he became its first president in 1994. Later, Janet Page, associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, and leader of the congress’ intense program of prayer, led the assembly in a prayer for Mandela’s health.
Hundreds of workshops during the event’s six day duration, were presented by almost 50 different contributors with backgrounds in civil service, church leadership, editorial expertise, theology, and stock market investment. Delegates were also blessed by powerful morning devotionals by Margaret Chikwabi, social scientist, James Black, Youth Ministries director for the church’s North American division, and Anthony Hall, Youth Ministries director for the Caribbean Union Conference. Along with them, plenary speakers, including engineer Darryl Gungadoo, celebrated neurosurgeon Ben Carson, as well as General Conference administration and departmental leadership, reflected the diverse skills available to Cangy and his organizing team for rightly training God’s army of youth. When asked why he would carve out time to attend an Adventist Youth congress Ben Carson responded, “No amount of money is worth what we can get when we gather together and let the Spirit of the Lord in our lives.”
Oksana Kozun, from the Ukraine, was thrilled to be attending her first World Youth Congress, something she could not have imagined even a year ago. Oksana learned of Adventism through the faithfulness of roommates and left a prestigious job to join the church. Her dear friend, Luda, whom Euro Asia division Youth Ministries Director Gennady Kasap calls his right hand, persuaded him to squeeze Oksana into his very restricted list of delegates. On Friday night, July 12, Oksana, an esteemed national talent in her native Ukraine, glorified God and inspired the delegates with her testimony and music. “God did not take away my dream,” she said. “He gave me a higher dream.” Now, instead of singing for fame, her dream is to “make my faith shine like a fire!”
Through his nightly presentations David Asscherick, co-director of Light Bearers and co-founder of Arise, pressed home the truth that “God is love” must be definitive of every understanding we derive from our study of Scripture. His is a love that reconciles lost humanity to Himself, and mends all the brokenness of our relationships with each other.
Nick Cross, South Pacific division Youth Ministries director believes that the congress has been a life changing experience for all of the delegates. Occasional hitches—like uneven sack lunch distribution on excursion day—have not prevented us from coming together toward a common goal and mission. “What is that goal and mission?” I asked. “I think,” he said, that it is the notion that we need to get out there and impact the cities for Christ.” Former Youth Ministries director Muganda, who is ecstatic about the congress, shared Kross’ sense that the exercise was much more than a fun get together:
“IMPACT SOUTH AFRICA is in the spirit of the 21st
century trend of youth ministry,” including community service, “because the young people of this century have the spirit, the passion to participate in whatever activity the church provides for them.” He sees creating service opportunities as consistent with Ellen White’s counsel, and prays that delegates return home to implement the same practices in their local churches, conferences, and unions. “Jesus is coming very soon,” says Muganda. “We need to empower our young people. We need to affirm their faith. We need to help them own the faith.”
Sean Neblett works with Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC), an organization that provides global ministry opportunities for Adventist youth. He spoke of his excitement at the picture of unity, “at seeing how cultural [and] national barriers come down; of course we still wear our flags, we love our flags, but more than being an American, a Canadian, a Zambian, we’re Adventists.” Natasha Neblett, GYC’s president elect, was most fascinated by another kind of unity—the coming together between leaders from the General Conference, the divisions and the local churches: “Oftentimes the young are working in their churches while church administration is working in administration, and they don’t get as much opportunity to interact as everyone would like, because of time limitations, or distance or other. But here we were all together; young people could interact with leadership, and leadership could interact with young people.”
This unity and interaction bears out a compelling spiritual truth for Anthony Hall, Caribbean Union Youth Ministries director: “Iron sharpeneth iron,” he notes (Prov. 27:17). Hall goes home astounded by the variety of his church’s gifts, the diversity of approaches, and the way it made him richer from having been able to share and learn from this diversity. After such an event the church’s youth “are no longer limited to their own little corner of the world. They see a bigger picture, a global image that it is important for every member of the church to have.”
Israel Leito, president of the Inter-American division, himself a former youth director, remarks that the new model of youth congress “helps leaders and youth to look outward [and ask] what can we do to help others.” It follows Ellen White’s advice that “we should never have a gathering and the people of the city not know that we are there.” The congress looks backward even as it signals a new day for the church, because this contact with local communities, replicated in delegates’ local situations will let us “go back to that old fashioned Adventism of going from door to door reaching people with the gospel.” Accomplishing this will realize the dream, and fulfill the purpose for which Elder Cangy and his GC Youth Ministries team labored so earnestly—to bring Jesus into the city through the lives of Adventist youth. As world church president Ted Wilson put it in an address to the delegates, “Jesus is in the city through you.”