Creative fundraisers, overnight lock-ins, super bowl parties, services project. If you drive throughout the Synod, you can see outstanding youth groups in our congregations actively engaged in any of the aforementioned activities.
One youth leader from Winchester, VA saw the positive energy that came from the youth at his church and he knew that Christians could make an even larger impact if more people joined together. Bryan Jaster, Director of Youth and Family Faith Formation from Bethel Lutheran Church, began meeting and gathering leaders from different churches in the area to plan an overnight event that would impact the local area and hopefully change perspectives of students.
“As we gathered the group of youth leaders, we asked about the needs of our community,” Jaster said. “We did a lot of talking and a lot of listening.”
The result of all of those conversations was an event in Winchester called “Feed the Need” during April 22-23 that was organized through a nonprofit called Youth Encounter.
There were about 65 people from five different churches who were involved in this new event that gathered to address issues of hunger and homelessness in their community. The group gathered in the gym of Winchester Church of God where there was no bunk beds or air mattresses. But wait–wasn’t this an overnight event?
The entire two days was designed to help teens think about the experience of others. The youth heard many stories from William, a man who spent 12.5 years homeless. To help them learn about the daily reality of being homeless, the youth constructed their own cardboard shacks out of boxes where they slept for the night. They event ate a meal from a Salvation Army food truck that is relied upon by many in the Winchester who are food scarce.
“The hope is that youth will become long term advocates for the people and the places where we live,” Jaster said.
When the teens weren’t focused on their own survival, they were learning from others and working on projects to help serve their community and the world.
Tori Rittelmeyer, 14, is an 8th grade student at Daniel Morgan Middle School. Tori was not a participant at this event, but a guest speaker.
She and her mother, Anita Rittelmeyer, came to share their story with the youth. They are in the process to build a habitat for humanity house here in Winchester that is designed to help Tori who has cerebral palsy. Tori taught the youth to make bracelets that she then sells to help pay for the future construction of her home.
People gathered around tables, all with strings in hands, smiles on their faces. Arms reached across the table to intentionally pick out the next bead. Each of the bracelets that were made will be sold to help pay for the Habitat for Humanity house where Tori and Anita will one day live.
Later the youth gathered around the tables for another purpose–to pack 12,000 meals that would be sent to Syrian Refugees.
Throughout the event the youth prayed together, they worshiped together, they learned together and they served together. Now there is a new community of teenagers in the Northern Shenandoah Valley that has been empowered to change the world around them.
“We are meeting next week to reflect on what God wants us to do next and what we are excited about,” Jaster said. “I am hoping that this is the beginning of something.”
“Ultimately I hang on to the fact that God is way more interested in the needs of this world and loving the people of our community than we could ever be. It is really cool to be following this Jesus.”