Tag Archives: Youth Ministry

100 Inches of Rain

by Brent Camilleri, Associate Pastor – Deep Run East Mennonite Church

Youth workers take part in a special resourcing seminar at Conference Assembly, Saturday, November 1. (Photo by Cindy Angela)

I am filled with hope any time I find myself in a room full of those who care deeply about the lives of young people and their voice in the church today. And so, I was feeling especially hopeful on Saturday November 2 as I attended Michele Hershberger’s seminar on youth ministry in a post-Christian era entitled “100 Inches of Rain.” Michele began by telling the story of the Choluteca Bridge in Honduras. Rebuilt in 1996, the bridge was an engineering feat. However, in 1998 Hurricane Mitch brought 100 inches of rain to Honduras in a period of just a few days. When the storm passed the Choluteca Bridge was still standing strong but the river had shifted course and no longer ran beneath the bridge, rendering it useless. In many ways this is how church ministry and, in particular, youth ministry feels today. Something has shifted, and the programs and approaches that felt successful two decades ago are no longer effective.   

Michele Hershberger (Photo by Cindy Angela)

And yet, Michele reminded us that this cultural shift isn’t cause for fear, but a challenge that can and should force us to adapt to the new flow of the river. Youth ministry is still vitally important. In fact the church needs its young people to lead today, not ten years down the road. God is in our youth right now, and the church is more resilient and effective when we minister WITH our youth, and not to them. To facilitate this type of ministry that works alongside our youth today, Michele Hershberger pointed out Four Conversions that the church needs to experience.

The first conversion is that we see youth differently. This means viewing them not as “Christians in training” but as fully integrated and vital parts of our communities. A 13-year-old 8th grader might be able to express truths about faith in a more effective way than I ever could. The second conversion that Hershberger highlighted is the need for us to see church differently. This means coming to terms with the fact that the church is not a building, it is US! As such, any time we gather, whether in a coffee shop or on a street corner, the church is there, making disciples who make more disciples…no building necessary. The third conversion that we need to undergo as we minister to youth in our post-Christian context is to see ourselves differently. Each of us is called to a mission field, no matter our age and no matter our profession. Plugged into Jesus, who is our source, we become the “wires” that carry the current of Christ with us everywhere we go. This is to be our primary calling as we follow Jesus and everything else should take a back seat! Perhaps it is a challenging call, but that is more than OK. Our young people are itching for a challenge, something that shows them just how real and important following Jesus is. And truthfully, we could all use a little more challenge in our faith. Michele brought our time to a close by highlighting the final conversion that we need, which is to see our success differently. She reminded us that this is God’s mission, not something that we own. And God invites ALL of us to make disciples, whether we are 12 or 42 or 92. Adults and young people are on this journey of faith together, and we need each other now more than ever as we work out how to faithfully follow Jesus.

Jr. High Bash – Practicing His Presence

by Jen Hunsberger, Children/Jr. High Director, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

The annual Jr. High Late Night Bash took place at Dock Mennonite Academy on Friday, March 15, and the house was packed with 190 youth/adults from 15 churches, near and far. The evening was full of games, recreation, music, food, and spiritual encouragement. The night started out with each of us checking out what activities we wanted to try and which friends we wanted to pal around with. We were soon gathered on the main gym bleachers to get an introduction to the night and our first big group game. The game leaders from Spruce Lake showed us what we should do and all of us got onto the gym floor whether we were ready or not! Soon balls were flying and kids were scattered in all directions.

After a few big group games, we filled Dock’s theater for the worship time. It started out with brave volunteers, youth and sponsors, that played minute-to-win-it type games directed by Kyle Rodgers from Franconia Mennonite Church, with the crowd cheering for their favorite competitor. Believe it or not, there may or may not have been some cheating from a certain competitive male youth leader named Mike from Bally (but of course cheaters never prosper and Jess McQuade, Souderton Mennonite Church Jr. High Director, came away with the win!) We then warmly welcomed Brent Camilleri from Deep Run East Mennonite Church to the stage with his band and some lively worship music. The music resonated well with the youth and they were lifting their voices and clapping their hands in time, or not so much, to the music. It was life-giving to say the least.

Next to take the stage was speaker Todd Pearage. He offered a humorous, real-life, you can’t make this stuff up, story that captivated the audience and had us gasping and laughing out loud. He then shared some of his life story and how God works through him to be a “good youth leader” to those he leads. He encouraged us to “Practice His Presence” according to Psalms 139. God knows us, He knows our thoughts, He knows our hearts, He know our ways! Do we act and speak like God is standing next to us all the time? We concluded our worship time with more singing and encouragement to get to know someone new during the night, and to keep our eye out for those that look like they may need a friend and invite them to play!

All participants had the next chunk of time to pick a game of our choice. The inflatable Gaga Pit, 9 square-in-the-air, soccer, basketball, walleyball, dodgeball, Spike ball, giant Dutch Blitz, Nerf games and the inflatable bubble soccer balls were all buzzing with excitement and competition. Midway through the night the smell of pizza filled the building and the snack area was the place to be! There were also table games taking place as snacks were being inhaled by these growing middle schoolers. After we were fueled, we were ready for round two of games and more sweat. All in all, it was a night of action, relationship-building, worshiping our Creator and being encouraged to take part in being a free-spirited youth, if only for a few hours!

Conference Begins Building Youth Formation Team

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

Franconia Conference has begun building an intercultural youth formation team to resource youth leaders and to connect youth across congregations, geographies, and cultures.

In February, the conference called Danilo Sanchez and Brooke Martin as the initial members of this team, implementing the recommendations of a two-year youth ministry study.  This study emphasized the need for providing more depth of resources to urban congregations (which make up a third of the conference) as well as to continue the good work of resourcing suburban and rural congregations, expanding these possibilities through the creation of a diverse team.

Danilo Sanchez, of Allentown, PA, will serve as a youth formation pastor for both congregations in the greater Lehigh Valley (PA) region (including New Jersey and New York) and congregations that have significant youth from Spanish-speaking households.

“Danilo is uniquely positioned in his experiences, gifts, and language abilities to serve our conference at this time,” reflects Steve Kriss, Franconia’s executive minister.  “Danilo has ministered in urban settings but also grew up in more suburban, rural parts of the conference, and his experience working with young adults as the director of Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Program helped him to build connections with the Anabaptist community across the country.”

Sanchez also serves on the pastoral teams of Ripple and Whitehall congregations and as the Community Life Director for RCI Village.  He has a degree in youth ministry from Eastern University and a Master of Divinity from Eastern Mennonite Seminary.  In addition to resourcing youth pastors, Sanchez will serve as a liaison for youth ministry within Mennonite Church USA.

 “Danilo cares deeply for the church, young leaders, and youth, which is a perfect fit for this new Conference role,” says Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple congregation, assistant moderator of the conference board.  “On our Ripple pastoral team, he is a thoughtful, passionate, and dedicated presence, which I have appreciated.”

Brooke Martin, of Telford, PA, will serve as Community Formation Coordinator, which includes providing administrative support for youth activities like the Jr High Blast, Mission Impossible, and other upcoming initiatives.  In addition to her work with the youth formation team, Martin will assist with planning and implementing conference events like equipping seminars, delegate trainings, and networking gatherings, with special attention given to Franconia’s annual Conference Assembly.

Martin is a member of Salford congregation and has extensive experience in administration and event planning as well as a degree in youth ministry from Hesston College.  Mary Nitzsche, Franconia’s associate executive minister, anticipates that Martin’s experience and love for planning, organizing, and coordinating events will be a good match for the conference during this time of expansion and community-building.  “Brooke is a person with contagious energy, confidence, and motivation to begin her new role as Community Formation Coordinator,” Nitzsche observes.

Before joining the conference staff, Martin served as the interim youth ministry leader at Franconia congregation, where Pastor Josh Meyer benefited greatly from her servant heart.  “Her commitment to the Church, her passion for Jesus, her effectiveness in ministry, her graciousness in difficult situations, her ability to meaningfully connect with both students and adults, and her humility of spirit coupled with quiet confidence were all incredible blessings to us,” Meyer reflects.  “I’m confident that our conference will benefit from the gifts Brooke brings and look forward to seeing how God continues using her calling for Kingdom good.”

Journeying In Faith

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister, and Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

Brent, Danilo and Mike

As Conference Youth Minister John Stoltzfus completed six years in that role with Franconia Conference in July, he stated, “As a conference we need to continue to ask the question of how we are passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation. How are we doing as a church in modeling a self-giving faith centered in Jesus Christ? We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ.”

The reality of congregational and conference youth ministry is changing. Conference has been aware of this. Two years ago the Board invited a taskforce to review how conference equips youth ministers, leaders and the youth. John was a part of this process. The task force results and recommendations should be available in the next months.

In August, John and his wife Paula relocated to Harrisonburg, VA where Paula began a pastoral role at Park View Mennonite Church.  Before leaving, John helped to develop an interim plan for continuing Conference youth ministry. Recognizing that youth ministry requires the work of many, three youth pastors have volunteered to serve in the following roles for the next school year: Brent Camilleri, associate pastor of Deep Run East, is assuming leadership for facilitating the ongoing monthly youth pastor gathering; Mike Ford, pastor of youth at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, is coordinating the Spring Junior High Late Night Blast; Danilo Sanchez, associate pastor of Whitehall and co-pastor of Ripple, will continue to serve on Mennonite Church USA Youth Ministry Council and be a liaison to the denomination.

Conference is grateful for the willingness and readiness of Danilo, Mike and Brent, who bring long histories of service and leadership in our Conference to carry extra responsibilities over the next months ensuring our youth and their leaders continue to be supported and equipped. This interim arrangement gives Conference time to continue the review process and discernment before making any long-term decisions regarding Conference youth ministry.  We value your prayers for continued discernment in next steps as we together imagine Conference-wide youth ministry into the future that is rooted in our shared Anabaptist values and carries out our shared priorities of (trans)formation that is both missional and intercultural in the way of Christ’s peace.

Faith Formation of the Next Generation

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

Psalm 133 states, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” My heart felt full and grateful after recently meeting for the last time with some of the youth pastors from both Eastern District and Franconia Conference congregations. This group of persons representing seasoned and new pastors and sponsors invested in youth ministry has met together on a regular basis for many years. To me, they embody the strengths and gifts of God to our broader church collaborating around a unified purpose of passing on a vibrant and living faith to the next generation. We have learned much in our journey together and deeply enjoyed one another’s company along the way.

We have discovered that we can do much more together than on our own. Particularly as the landscape of the church changes, we will need to find more ways to partner together rather than become isolated in ideological or theological siloes. The church has an opportunity to offer a compelling vision of God’s reconciliation to the next generation and beyond if we can find ways to come together in genuine humility and trust. Our youth need to see the church model a way to be authentic community together, when so much in our world is building walls of separation. 

One of the highlights of our monthly gatherings is hosting one another in different churches. We value the opportunity to be stretched and encouraged as we share the challenges and joys of our respective ministry contexts. As our conference continues to expand our borders, we can capitalize on the gifts of our diversity. We have mutual gifts and perspectives to offer in our churches in Philly, Allentown, Souderton, throughout Pennsylvania and beyond — in Vermont, New York, California, and around the globe. These gifts and perspectives can help our youth grow in their understanding of the expansive love and work of God in all people and places. Our youth need the skills of building relationships of understanding and mutual respect that cross boundaries of race, theology, culture and more. Initiatives such as the Walking the Walk program of Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia or Taproot Gap Year birthed from Philadelphia Praise Center can offer transformative faith experiences for our youth and young adults.

As we meet together we are encouraged in the reality that we are not alone in this work. Our task is to initiate young persons into mature Christian faith through relationships with numerous adults who join them in living the way of authentic discipleship. As elders we can offer youth friendship, guidance and listening ears as they make the passage through adolescence into spiritual maturity. This is the work of the whole church and not just a youth pastor or a few youth sponsors in the congregation.

Youth ministry cannot be done in a vacuum. As we consider forming faith in our young people, we cannot think that the process of discipleship begins in ninth grade, or can be relegated to a youth pastor. Youth ministry is only part of the whole life-cycle of faith formation embedded within a multi-faceted approach between home and church and the broader community.

Research shows that those youth who go off to college and beyond are more likely to hold onto their faith and become involved in church as adults based on the commitment and priority that church and spiritual matters played for their parents. Youth ministry has to include parents by supporting parents in their own faith and by helping parents model and communicate faith to their own teenagers. In addition, one of the most common factors for youth who stick with faith and church into adulthood is that they had at least five significant relationships with adults as a youth. Might the future of youth ministry be less programmatic and become more embedded into the fabric of the overall mission and life of the church?

One of the things my wife and I have appreciated about our time at Plains Mennonite Church is the investment by the whole congregation in the life and faith of our children. When we were looking for a church home, we were not looking for a church with a dynamic youth program as much as we were looking for a community of believers modeling an active faith that incorporated the nurture of children and youth into the whole life of the congregation.

What is the invitation of the church at this time? As a conference we need to continue to ask the question of how we are passing on the faith and work of the church to the next generation. How are we doing as a church in modeling a self-giving faith centered in Jesus Christ? We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations. We trust that the same Spirit that is at work in our lives will continue to live and move in our children and the next generation of the gathered body of Christ.

Are We Ready to Listen?

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

I wonder if the Biblical story of Samuel and Eli provides a glimpse of the need for the intergenerational witness of the church community. In Eli, we have the elder who knows that God has spoken in the past and holds the treasured words of response when God does speak. In Samuel, we have the young whose ears are open to the new words of God and can speak them courageously. Samuel needed Eli and Eli needed Samuel. In their relationship a door was opened to hear and understand the voice of God more clearly.

On Friday, March 16, close to 150 youth and adults representing Conference churches from Allentown to Philadelphia and in between, came together. They gathered together in worship and fun for the annual Junior High Late Night Blast. They played intense games of dodgeball, soccer, bubble soccer and the ever popular gaga pit.

During worship, Dan Occhiogrosso shared a message through story and basketball about how God is calling each of us to offer our gifts and whole selves in service to God. Everyone was in rapt attention as he shared his story of committing his life to God while demonstrating this through some crazy basketball dribbling skills.

Recognizing that they have something to offer the church, our youth were given the opportunity to write responses to three questions throughout the evening:

  1. What is awesome about your church?
  2. If you were a pastor, how would you encourage teenagers to grow in faith?
  3. What change do you hope to see in the church in the next 10 years?

Here are a sampling of their responses:

My church is awesome because … we have people from all over the world; everyone is supportive and loving; we welcome all people, care for them and make them feel at home; we are Christ’s hands and feet; we stay together even though we face obstacles.

If I was pastor … I would create more ministry gatherings besides Sunday mornings; I would encourage them to show love through their actions, meet new people and share God’s love; I would encourage teens to do big things in the community to show God’s love; I would make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.

In ten years I hope my church … becomes more multicultural; grows more followers that love Jesus; goes out into areas that need God’s love and healing; has more children and teens involved.

Are we listening to the Samuels in our midst? Are we open to listening? How are we listening to and investing in the next generation? What might they have to say about how God is moving the church into the future?

Together Despite Differences: Youth Worship Event Report

By Madison Smith, Deep Run East

In order to bring teens “together despite differences”, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conference held their annual Youth Worship Gathering on June 4, 2016. The theme of the event was “Built together in Christ”, and was led by Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee.

Youth gathering 3According to Christian Zeo, Doylestown Mennonite Church, the theme helped to “bring us all together under Jesus.”

The message that Todman Moore delivered also resulted in a positive responses.  “It put flesh and blood on the idea of Christ,” said Doylestown Youth Leader Brandon Landis.

As well as a message, the gathering also had many times of worship throughout the event, which were led by Nathan Good, Associate Pastor at Swamp Mennonite Church, and Danilo Sanchez, Leigh Valley Youth Pastor for Ripple, Whitehall and Vietnamese Gospel.

According to Zeo, the songs get people to express what they normally can’t. “Besides the messages, the songs had an upbeat feel,” said Zeo. “Most songs are too solemn.”

Youth gathering 4This event is held biannually, the first weekend of June following the Mennonite Historians Whack and Roll event. Usually the youth enjoy time outdoors under a big tent on the Mennonite Historians’ land in Harleysville. Due to the rain, the event was moved indoors to Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. Yet, the rain did not keep the people away; over 12 youth groups participated, including those from Doylestown, Ripple, Whitehall, Blooming Glen, Deep Run East and Deep Run West and many more.

Havin’ A Blast!

By John Stoltzfus

youthevent6What do you get when you bring together 130 junior high youth from 15 different churches in Franconia and Eastern District Mennonite Conferences? A picture of both the present and future reality of the church and kingdom of God.

Our junior high youth are image bearers of God. They have the ability to both feel and express the love and acceptance of God, giving expression to this through worship, energetic games and relationship building at the annual Junior High Late Night Blast on Friday, March 11.

Christopher Dock Mennonite High School provided the backdrop for five hours of fun and fellowship. Junior High youth and their brave sponsors from as far north as Whitehall Mennonite Church and as far south as Philadelphia Praise Center and Centro de Alabanza came together to give witness to the life of our larger church community. What a wonderful testimony of the fullness and diversity of God’s presence among us!

youthevent4Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth a positive and memorable experience of worshipping together, playing hard, and catching a glimpse of the larger body of Christ. This event also gives opportunity for youth sponsors to engage with their youth and to partner together with other churches in ministry. One of the keys to developing an enduring faith in our youth is intergenerational relationships. Our youth need to know that they are valued and loved by all in the church.
youthevent7The evening included large group games and a host of other activities led by a group of great staff and volunteers from Spruce Lake Retreat Center. Bobby Wibowo led a band from Philadelphia Praise Center in a time of energetic worship through song. And, of course, it would not be a youth event without some sponsors getting a face full of whipped cream.

Thank you to everyone that helped to plan and carry out all the activities and a special thank you to all the youth leaders that commit themselves to serving with their youth. The Middle School years can be a series of highs and lows. There will be times of frustration and angst as they seek to form identity and explore independence but also times of great joy as they begin to discover their calling to be a child of God and follower of Christ in this world.

John Stoltzfus is the Conference Minister for Franconia and Eastern District Conferences. 

Acting Smaller, Going Deeper, Thinking Wider: A Vision for Youth Ministry

by John Stoltzfus

John Stoltzfus picThere are many challenges that face our youth ministers and workers, yet we have a vision to overcome these challenges. A few stories I have heard from some Mennonite churches in our conference include:

  • A family with young children moves into the area. They are advised by many friends to choose a larger church with more programming for children and youth.
  • A youth pastor plans a weekend activity for the youth group. One youth shows up.
  • A youth pastor asks another youth pastor from a large church for recommended curriculum. He suggests a full package yearlong curriculum that costs $799. The pastor from the smaller church immediately knows this is out of the question because of limited church funds.
  • A family decides to leave a church citing the small number of youth and children as a contributing factor. The parents are concerned that their children will not choose to become baptized with so few peers.
  • A youth pastor confesses that it can be hard on the ego to look at the diminishing size of the youth group. He feels that the church is putting some blame on him.
  • With a smaller group, a youth pastor admits that he now has more time to spend with each youth.

From what I see, most Mennonite churches in the conference are not experiencing sustained or significant growth among the number of youth and young adults in their congregations. Of course there are always exceptions but the majority of conversations I have with youth workers include talking about the challenges of learning to work with smaller youth groups.

This is not just a youth problem. This is an adult, multi-generational challenge contributing to the decline of church attendance and affiliation. Articles and research studies abound in pointing to the reasons why this may be so.

Asking the why question can be a good and necessary exercise. However, I want to focus on the opportunities. Is there a compelling vision for the future of youth ministry in this changing context? The following reflections are a collection of ideas from area Mennonite youth pastors.

Acting Smaller

youth photo 1 12-3-15We need to act our size. We can’t pretend to act like the churches we used to be or like the mega church down the road. The smaller youth group can be a good place to grow disciples, deepen learning and widen our sense of mission. The sentiment of “we can’t do this because we are a small-sized group” turns to “we get to do things differently because we are a smaller size”. Think intimate, spontaneous, moveable, accessible, and other adjectives.

A youth group of 10 persons and fewer cannot act the same as a youth group of 50. It impacts budget, staffing, curriculum, programming and much more. While a small church may not offer all the bells and whistles of a larger church, it may offer more individualized care and discipleship. A church may be less tempted to hire a “rock star” youth pastor to relate to their youth and instead work to build up a congregation-wide culture of intergenerational relationship and discipleship making. I am not advocating for the devaluing of youth pastors and those who specialize in youth ministry; however, youth pastors at their best enable and empower other adults in the congregation to relate to and disciple youth.

Research indicates that the most common factor for youth who stick with faith and church into adulthood is that they had at least 5 significant relationships with adults as a youth. Might the future of youth ministry be less programmatic and become more embedded into the fabric of the overall mission and life of the church?

Going Deeper

youth photo 2 12-3-15When I taught the Sunday school class at a previous church, I used to despair when the majority of the group would not show up on any given Sunday. But then I started to see an opportunity. With a smaller group I was able to adapt the lesson to the specific interests and concerns of each youth. I began to make the kids count rather than count the kids. I was better able to connect individually with the youth and be more practical in application rather than creating studies and lessons that needed to connect with everyone in a larger group. Might the future of youth ministry more like the relationship between Jesus, the rabbi, and his small band of disciples?

Thinking Wider  

What if we were to consider our youth as not just those who show up on a Sunday morning with their parents, but also the youth who live in the communities surrounding our church? Consider what is happening with Project Haven in East Greenville operating out of the former Peace Mennonite Church building. A robotics club, bicycle recycling shop, weekend hangout spot are just some of the initiates that are engaging youth in the community and local schools. Might the future of youth ministry be more entrepreneurial, happening out in the community and making young people agents of ministry, not just objects of it?

Thinking wider might also include more collaboration with other community organizations and other churches. Mennonite youth groups in the area are already doing this — from doing winter retreats together to fundraising together to go to conventions. These relationships have the possibility of moving us across lines of culture, race, economic status and theology. Might the future of youth ministry be less about keeping youth in our church and more about helping them engage and build the kingdom of God in the wider world?

While we face many challenges in keeping youth engaged in the church and reaching out to draw in more youth, if we act smaller, go deeper and think wider, we might see that change.

John Stoltzfus is the Conference Youth Minister for Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference.

 

Cultivating His Call as He Nurtures Urban Youth

Danilo Sanchez photoDanilo Sanchez grew up in Franconia Conference. From his time in Boyertown where he was able to explore the gifts God has given him, to being the youth minister in the Lehigh Valley area for three Franconia churches, the conference has watched him grow into his calling. Danilo was licensed toward ordination last year, and continues to nurture urban youth in the conference. Find out how he came to know and accept God’s call on his life through his call story:

Boyertown Mennonite Church is where my journey began. I remember the first time an adult asked me to be the worship leader for a Sunday service. I felt so honored. Then later I was asked if I would like to preach. I don’t remember how I did, but the congregation was so supportive. I liked serving and being in leadership. I decided I would try teaching the Wednesday night youth bible study and Sunday School some times. Around that same time some youth wanted to start leading worship the first Sundays of the month so I began to help out with that as well. I really enjoyed leading worship; worship made me feel close to God and I enjoyed leading others in encountering God.

Having a church like Boyertown was exactly what I needed. A church that was willing to let a young guy try out some of his gifts.

I went to some youth leadership retreats during high school and really tried to discover what my gifts were. I knew I wanted to serve God in some way, but at the time never really considered being a pastor. I was learning to serve God and willing to take the risk of saying “yes”, but I felt too unworthy to be in such a position of leadership. I think that was the biggest thing that I had to overcome as I sorted out my call to ministry. Like Moses, I wanted to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t lead.

When I was preparing to go to college, I was at a bit of a cross roads. I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to head in life. I remember writing a covenant to God in my journal, “God I want to be your servant. I’m willing to follow you anywhere.” Little did I realize where that would lead me.

I liked the idea of being a psychologist, so I declared my psychology major as I entered Eastern University (St. Davids, PA). I figured I could have a good paying job and then maybe volunteer my time for the church on the side.

I stayed involved at Boyertown during my first semester at Eastern, leading Bible studies and helping with the youth, and after the Winter Youth Lock-in, someone’s comments changed the direction I was going. An adult volunteer commented that many of the youth looked up to me, that I seemed to enjoy being around the youth, and maybe I should be a youth pastor.

I look back now and know that I needed the affirmation of my gifts from the church to discover my call to ministry. The thought had never really occurred to me. Me? A youth pastor? I needed to think more about it.

As a way of testing the waters, I decided to take a youth ministry class. Something just clicked. I felt alive. I felt energized. This made sense. I remember praying, “God, give me passion if this is your will.”

I changed my major to youth ministry and things just took off from there. I started doing internships at different churches — Good Shepherd Community, Souderton, Hereford Mennonite (now Butter Valley Community Church), and Philadelphia Praise Center– to discover and develop my gifts. I learned many things about myself and God during those experiences. There were several times that my gifts and calling were affirmed, whether it was through words of others, relationships, or experiences where I felt God affirming me. It had become clear to me that God was calling me to be a youth pastor.

As I approached graduation from Eastern University, the logical next step for me was seminary. I headed to Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, VA) and during my three years there, I was the seminary intern youth pastor at Eastside Church. As a church plant, there was no established youth ministry, so for the first time I was able to take all my knowledge and create the youth ministry that I wanted. Needless to say, it was both exciting and terrifying. I had some good success stories, but probably more failures. All in all, the experience was very formative and Eastside was another place for me to cultivate my gifts and call.

Currently, I am living in Allentown, PA and serving as the Lehigh Valley Youth Pastor for Whitehall, Ripple, Vietnamese Gospel, and Christ Fellowship. I would have never imagined that this is where God is calling me to be – urban ministry. I always pictured myself in a suburban setting where I would be nice and comfortable. But after being in Allentown for almost a year, it is clear that this is where God is calling me to be. I have never felt more fully alive. Sure I’m still making mistakes and learning new things, but I’m following God’s call in my life and finding my pastoral identity.

As I reflect on my call, it becomes clear to me what happens from a simple prayer and willingness to say yes to God, no matter where it takes you. There has been some wrestling and some discerning, but God’s call in my life has become clear.

Danilo Sanchez is the youth minister for Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple, and Vietnamese Gospel in the Allentown, PA area. For more about Danilo’s work as an urban youth minister check out his blog post for The Gathering Place.