Seeking peace and pursuing it with Conference youth

by Don McDonough, Arise

Arise & Methacton youthWhat happens when a youth group from a 274-year-old congregation (Methacton) meets with the youth from a community outreach that is just about a year old (Arise)?  What happens when you then pile those youth in a couple of vans and drive two hours to a cabin where they will be cooped up for a couple of days?  What happens when you add to this mix three 50-something-year-old leaders who want to connect with these kids and have a serious discussion about being peacemakers? You get a weekend when all of us learned a lot about each other and probably a little more about ourselves, a weekend when we all learned that we can have a lot of fun together.

The teenagers could not have been more different.  The ethnic differences were the first to fade away and as we got to know each other better, a variety of other differences began to surface.  The students were raised and shaped in different contexts and by different influences.  Some attend church regularly, others don’t.  They came from five different high schools, each of which had its own culture and its own idea of what is cool.  One youth described the car that they wanted their grandfather to buy for their 16th birthday.  How must that have sounded to the person next to them who never knew their grandparents and for whom the hope of owning a car seemed so far out of reach?

Arise & Methacton youthDespite our differences, we were able to bond and soon shared freely about ourselves and our lives.  Our discussions centered around peace issues; more than just war or mass shootings, we talked about an attitude of peace.  The youth shared about bullying, social media abuse, and sports violence.  For the older leaders, it was sad to see how the very activities we used participate in for relaxation and community building have turned into a competitive, anxiety-causing force.  Even the cheerleaders shared how their focus was less on encouraging their team and more on degrading the other team.  How do we become peacemakers in this environment?

We were so blessed to have Ron Wycoff-Kolb along.  Ron shared passionately about how God convicted him to become a conscientious objector even though he had voluntarily joined the military during the Vietnam War.  We listened intently as he told the story of his family’s rejection and the price he had to pay for following this call to peacemaking.  We were challenged; in the end, a diverse group of teens and a few post-mid-lifers found some common ground. May all of us be brave enough to take a costly stand for peace, whatever our context and whatever our age.