National Youth Conference 2014. Ever since we were called by Christ to join the Y P double T this summer and blessed for our journey together, we had been anticipating the mountaintop whirlwind that is NYC. Not only would we get to experience the powerful worship services that we had remembered so fondly from NYC 2010, but we would get to share our message of radical peace with a larger-than-usual audience and check back in with youth we had met in our travels throughout the summer. Our responsibilities at this Spirit-filled conference were far and wide, so I’d like to run you through our typical day and throw in some heartwarming highlights. My teammates will share their favorite moments as well, along with highlights from some of our bigger events of the week.
I arose bright and early each day for a breakfast meeting with all of the wonderful folks of On Earth Peace. We checked in about the day’s tasks and how previous events had gone. From there, we headed to Moby Arena to put on different displays and demonstrations for youth and advisors to view and participate in on their way into worship. This was one of my favorite responsibilities of the week. I got to hold a sign for the Stop Recruiting Kids campaign, which I delivered a speech about in my public speaking class last semester. I got to witness youth writing heartbreaking but very real things that keep them from claiming their identity, from fear to a mom with cancer. It is moments like these that remind me that we are all in this struggle of humanity together, regardless of age or background.
We then entered worship, where Christy and I often joined forces with YPTT alumni and friends to dance our way through the theme song. We soaked in the skits, scriptures, and sermons alongside the youth, carefully noting what stirred our hearts so that we could lead good discussion with our small groups after worship. In one of the rare moments that all members of our team were split up to provide leadership, we all had slightly different approaches to small group time. We would exchange stories about how our respective youth were interactive, honest, and brave, which was always encouraging. After lunch, we led workshops. Alternating between a general introduction to YPTT and leading games with a peace twist, it was a blast to share our message with a more intimate, interested crowd, learn new dance moves, and ultimately get excited about meeting the next generation of peacemakers. The evening led into helping once more with displays and activities outside of worship, and then experiencing the power of music and dynamic speakers. After worship came late night activities, where we either attended concerts, caught up with our youth worker friends, or went to bed for some much needed rest.
It is impossible to record all the life-giving moments that comprised NYC, but we came away from this time so grateful for the many lives that intersected ours. Perhaps above all, we are encouraged by the hordes of youth that we have to join us in the work of bringing heaven to earth.
This summer we have run into the same people numerous times at varying places. From camps to Annual Conference to Song and Story Fest to NYC, multiple faces showed up again and again. Some of my favorite faces to see at these places were those that belonged to the band Mutual Kumquat. This Brethren soul-folk-pop band who plays songs focusing on social change and fun is a joy to listen to as well as hang out with. I’ve gotten to know each bandmate, especially since my brother Jacob Crouse had the opportunity to play with them this summer! Furthermore, in a late-night convo between some YPTTers and Kumquatians, we came up with the idea to collaborate on a song for NYC during their concert. Thus, we did so! Combining the wrap-up raps for a few of our peace sessions with a catchy hook & chorus by the band, we came up with a peace melody that we performed for the NYC body. I had a blast feeling like a rock star, performing with some of the coolest human beings I know, and spreading a message that I’m ridiculously passionate about. Pass the peace, pass the peace please! Pass the peace, yeah, pass the peace please!
One of the many tasks we were given for NYC this year was to come up with a booth for the Brethren Block Party, carnival games sponsored by various organizations for the attendees to have fun partaking in. Having our only parameters be making an easily portable and cheap game was, at first, a pretty difficult task. The only idea that really came up was arm wrestling, but we still wanted something better. After weeks of failing to come up with anything new we settled on “Wrestling With Peace” as a title for our arm wrestling booth. We had hoped for moderate success and for a chance to talk to youth about the things in their lives that cause conflict. What we got was way more than we expected! Not 15 minutes into the block party we found ourselves surrounded by a crowd of youth watching Chris tear through challengers left and right. With color commentary provided by any YPTTers not currently arm wrestling, the crowd continued to grow and cheer for challengers and YPTTers alike. By the end of the block party, the booth had evolved from just us versus them to youth asking to use the table to challenge their friends too. Building community and getting to know the struggles in these youths lives was so much more fun and rewarding than I had imagined.
Each member of the Youth Peace Travel Team was given a small group to lead. My group was Small Group #117 (SHOUTOUT!!!). The entire team missed the introductory lesson as to how one should conduct small groups and so we were left to our own creative energy. The time allotted were four different 45 minute sessions. Somehow in a combined three hours spent together we were to meet and form a bond, reflect and grow together, and leave better than we came. How one individual could manage all of this with 12-14 other individuals baffled me, but I gave it my best effort. Get to know you games were a must, as names are not so easily remembered when you are meeting one hundred new people a day. This was followed by some feeling out of the group as far as how they wanted to go about talking. My group decided they did not enjoy large group discussion, so I had to work without one of the easiest activities to lead. But we managed to get to know each other, check. The next day we did some team building and then got into concentric circles so that individuals were paired up and could share their experience in more intimate manner. The group seemed to enjoy it and the room was buzzing with conversation. I asked them what they wanted to change about the small group and to my surprise very little was suggested, and they enjoyed the concentric circles. So I challenged them that the next day we would be sharing stories about a lesson we learned in our lives. The next day I opened with my own talk and a speech about how this is a safe space. Everyone shared and went deep into their own lives about very serious issues that each of them were facing. I was touched that they all trusted each other. Bonding reflecting and growing together, check. The next day we did an activity I have talked about in the Camp Colorado Blog, Taps. The game correctly expressed the feelings of the group. We all appreciated how far we had come in the four days we had together and we were all going home changed, but blessed for the journey together. It was a wonderful experience to lead a small group and I truly appreciate the youth that are willing to put themselves out their to learn more about themselves.
National Youth Conference 2014, July 19 – 24, Fort Collins, Colorado