Here we are again, two years later, and another amazing weekend was spent connecting, growing and worshiping at Abundant Springs. On May 17 the youth of Kleefeld EMC, our home church, along with 23 other EMC youth groups across Canada made their journey to Caronport, Sask. A total of 364 youth and 176 leaders and staff joined together in building memories, relationships and taking steps towards knowing and loving Jesus more. Continue reading Disciples Called to Share the Gospel ‘Everywhere’→
By Gerald D. Reimer, Director of Youth and Discipleship
For some students and leaders Abundant Springs 2019 will be remembered as the weekend when they gave their lives to Jesus, they committed to reading their Bible more faithfully, they won the basketball tournament, they worshipped Jesus with thanksgiving, they confirmed in their hearts a desire to get baptized, and so much more. Continue reading Dozens of God Moments Bring Tears of Thankfulness→
Psalm 13 begins with these words, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” We do not know exactly what the Psalmist’s circumstances were when he penned these words, but we do hear the agony, the feelings of God having forgotten him, of God hiding His face from the writer.
What we do know is that many people, maybe including most of us over the roughly 4,000 years since those verses were written, have echoed these words in times of terrible distress when it seemed as if God had either forgotten us or hidden His face from us. It happens often when we pray and pray and pray and pray some more and yet we see no evidence of answers to our prayers or of the changes in the things we are praying about.
Many or maybe all of us have cried these words and some of us are people who are living with serious and long term mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, clinical depression or a variety of other neurological disorders. Then there is another larger group of us who have loved ones, family members, friends, fellow-congregants who have cried those same words because we feel so helpless in walking with our loved ones for whom life is mostly agony and despair. We are not able to help and it just seems as if God is nowhere within calling distance to come and bring us relief. Not even in the days of The Messenger, texting, and all the other wonderful ways in which we communicate today!
How Do We Respond?
How do we as Christians respond both to God and to our community in amid these realities? Do we give up and say God is not doing anything so why believe in Him? Do we reprimand our friends and family members for not believing or even by suggesting that God does not hear because we have sinned? Do we walk away and say we can’t do anything and leave them to whatever happens?
Or are we as believers perhaps in a position to walk alongside and love and to bring a tiny glimpse of hope amid the darkness? Are we able to sit in silence and to listen to their pain? Are we able to hold their hand in the darkness? Are we able to refer them to resources such as medical doctors, therapists, and mobile crisis units at the appropriate times? Are we able go with them to an appointment they don’t have the strength to get to on their own? Are we able to continue to walk with them through the many weeks, months or even years?
This takes a lot of understanding, understanding both of the illness and other issues with which the person may be struggling. This takes leaving our fears with God and asking Him for wisdom as to how best to do this without giving simplistic answers. This includes grace and humility on our part because we probably don’t have helpful answers to give. This takes much prayer and faith that God is working in ways we cannot yet see and of living with hope for that which we do not yet see.
Many of us are not comfortable with things we cannot fix quickly because we are so busy and have many urgent things to do so we don’t want to become involved. Maybe we not want to be too involved because it will take too much effort. Some of us are scared because we feel helpless. Some of us who have a mental illness are even scared to let others know because we fear stigma and rejection or even that we will be told we are weak or don’t have enough faith.
Younger Generation Sees Need
Having heard many stories especially during the 1990’s and early 2000’s when I (Irma) was working with the Mental Health and Disabilities Program for MCC Canada, I was so glad that the younger generation is seeing the ongoing and continuing need for more education and understanding of mental illnesses and how we are able to help. First, by seeking to help early on so many major crises can be stopped before they actually become crises; and second, also because of the ongoing support many people need now and will for years to come.
Where We Are Going
I (Heidi) am privileged to serve as a member of the EMC Board of Church Ministries, and we are excited to be starting a Mental Health Initiative with the support of several members of our EMC churches who are experienced and skilled in the field of mental health. We believe that it is important for churches to talk about mental health and how to support people who are struggling with mental illnesses.
A Need to Talk and Help
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life, with 8% of adults experiencing major depression. Between 10 and 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness, with 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth experiencing a major depressive episode. These statistics are not meant to create fear, but rather to highlight the need for churches to talk about mental health and help individuals and families access appropriate care.
This need was especially clear to me while at Abundant Springs in May 2017. I was able to attend Abundant Springs as the campus counselor, offering to talk to youth and leaders throughout the weekend, and consulting with leaders when concerns came up about their youth.
Many conversations about mental health were sparked by the well-attended workshops led by Dan Dacombe (Heartland Community Church) entitled Faith and Mental Illness. Feedback from both youth and leaders was very positive, and many leaders asked for more resources to help them support youth who are struggling with mental illnesses.
Mennonite Central Committee has already done much work, as Irma has already described, and EMC churches are already integrating many practices that promote positive mental health. This BCM mental health promotion initiative aims to support churches in the positive practices they already have in place, and to provide information and resources to further develop these positive practices.
A Year-Long Encouragement
Articles exploring different mental health topics will appear in The Messenger in print and online over the next year. Our hope and prayer is that these articles will be an encouragement to those who are in distress, and provide practical information about mental health to support those who are caring for individuals who are struggling.
Irma Janzen, MEd, MA, has served in education, as the coordinator of MCC Canada’s Mental Health and Disabilities Program, and as a pastor. She is part of Fort Garry EMC.
Heidi Dirks, BEd, MA (counseling), serves on the EMC Board of Church Ministries. She is part of Braeside EMC.
You may not realize that the weekend doesn’t actually begin with the arrival at the destination. It begins the moment the group comes together at 8 a.m. all sleepy-eyed with their pillows under arms ready to load into a squished bus. This journey began on Friday, May 19, 2017, in the parking lot of the Kleefeld EMC (my home church) with 20 youth and an eight hour drive ahead.
One pit stop and plenty of kilometers later, 28 churches from across Canada arrived at Briercrest College in Caronport, Sask., all eager for our weekend of fun and learning.
First Main Session
After settling in the dorms and eating supper, it was time for the first main session. At each session we begin with praise and worship. The band called “The Color” has performed for the past three Abundant Springs. They do an amazing job creating an atmosphere free to worship Jesus; and many youth, when asked their favourite part of the weekend, responded with “the worship.”
This year we had the privilege of having Sid Koop as our main speaker. Sid, who is passionate about awakening the lives of students through the truth of Jesus Christ, has spent over 15 years in full-time youth ministry in the local church. Sid taught us what it meant to be alive in Christ by focusing the weekend’s sessions on Eph. 2:4-5.
Sid explained to us what it means to be alive in Christ and how God makes us alive in Him. He started the session with the story of the Pharisees, in Luke 15:1-7, who were expecting God to be firm and harsh in his judgment, to cast those that stumble or stray away from his presence. But Jesus used the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate how God is eager to be with us.
The shepherd did for the sheep what the sheep cannot do on its own: find its way home. Likewise, God does for us what we cannot do: make us alive in him through the sacrifice of his one and only Son. Sometimes we need the reminder that it wasn’t us that pursued first; even while we were full of sin, God continued to pursue us.
After each main session each of the youth groups break off into small groups to reflect on the message, share thoughts and stories from throughout the day, and to pray for any requests. These strengthen the youth groups and build deep relationships.
Youth continue learning in smaller workshops both Saturday and Sunday morning. There are many workshops running, so youth choose. Some of the topics were Human Trafficking: BringingHope in the Face of Tragedy by Flo Friesen, Freedom From Addictions by Teen Challenge, and Making the Bible Come Alive by Dr. Patrick Friesen.
Saturday afternoon met us with a ton of activities, including sports tournaments: street hockey, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. For those inclined to the finer arts, there were indoor activities and crafts such as bracelet making, painting, drawing, board games, and a wild game of life-sized Dutch Blitz.
Sid talked about condemnation and hypocrisy and how we tend to look to things to give us life (materialistic objects, relationships, success and popularity); and how these things actually give us the exact opposite and lead us farther away from living in the truth.
When we focus on these earthly things we become hypocritical and condemning of others. We listen to the voice telling us that we can do things better than others or be better than others. But Jesus came to recreate us and we no longer have to listen to these voices. Instead of our experiencing condemnation, Jesus gives us life through dying on the cross and offers us continual grace and a better way to live.
After this evening session the entertainment committee hosted what is now called The Showdown. Youth leaders prepared game show activities for volunteers. One was The Whisper Challenge where one person whispered a phrase and the other person, while wearing headphones with loud music playing, tried to figure out what is said. Another was The Bottle Flip: three youths competed to flip a bottle so it landed upright.
Following Sunday’s workshops and lunch was the Wide Game, where all the youth participated in a huge outside game. This year’s game was called “The Search for a Cure.” You were to imagine that you woke up one morning to find out that you have all been infected by a sickness that would remove your ability to feel, think, and create. As small groups you have to retrieve the cure.
Around the campus were multiple stations led by youth leaders where teams had to pass a challenge for the mind, the flesh, or the spirit. Some of the challenges were eating hot sauce, getting your team to stand on a pillow case and flip the pillow case over without anyone stepping off, placing a speedometer on your head and nodding fast enough to reach a predetermined speed, and solving riddles and puzzles.
The first group to complete a certain amount of challenges and make it back to the home base won the game. Seeing everybody’s excitement and participation during the game blew me away. I could see team building relationships and tons of good memories being made.
Sid taught us from 2 Cor. 3:17 about living in freedom and how as a result God will become the core of who you are. True freedom isn’t doing whatever the flesh desires; it’s when what we ought to do becomes what we want to do.
Sid challenged us to reflect on if we are experiencing freedom or slavery. What you behold is what you become, so how are you spending your time? Are you creating time to behold Christ? Following Jesus is more than just becoming a better Christian; it’s about becoming a new creation in Jesus.
Praise and Prayer
With Sunday being our last night, we all gathered into the chapel for a time of praise and prayer. This is a chance to reflect on what God has been doing in the past couple days, to thank him, and just to pray about what we’ve learned. We started it out by praise and worship led by The Color. It was followed by Garth Koop leading us into a time of prayer and repentance within small groups.
On Monday morning we had our fourth and final session with Sid. He taught us about allowing the Word to search our hearts and to lead us to a living faith. Sid used James 2 to show us that a living faith means a loving faith. An example Sid used of a husband who bought flowers for his wife when he didn’t really want to. The deed was empty of feeling.
Sid connected this to how we sometimes serve God just because it’s something that we are told to do. We could really see how living faith loves God and when we love God our actions and our desires will only want to please Him.
Each of the sessions throughout the weekend were eye-opening, they were filled with amazing truth, and were highlights for all.
A Bit More of Jesus With Us
After packing up and saying goodbye to new friends, we began the reverse of our Friday drive. The weekend had been soul searching, full of growth, so much excitement. This writer was thankful for the time of quiet on the bus ride home to reflect before entering back into the daily grind of life. Hopefully, for me as well as the others, we will be carrying a bit more of Jesus with us from here on out.
The National Youth Committee is pleased to welcome back Sid Koop as our speaker. Sid is passionate about awakening the lives of students through the truth of Jesus Christ. Sid has spent over 15 years in full-time youth ministry, both in the local church and now as the full time Executive Director of Truth Matters Ministries; this includes overseeing the Canadian Youth Workers Convention (CYWC) Regional Training Conferences across Canada. Sid is married to Jen and they have two boys. Please pray for Sid as he prepares to speak at our four main sessions! www.truthmatters.ca
We believe that this generation desperately needs to understand who they are in Christ, namely, that they are people who have been made alive by the work Jesus!
Entertainment: The Color
We have invited The Color to come back to lead us in worship throughout the weekend again this year. It’s not just music, lights, or concerts for this Canadian band. With God-given musical talent and the grit for touring, The Color makes music to answer the question our Maker puts to us all eventually, “What did you do with what I gave you?” For The Color, it’s living and breathing songs that speak truth and bring healing into the messy places of the soul. They will also perform a concert during the weekend. www.thecoloronline.com
Entertainment Guests: Refined Undignified
Refined Undignified exists to Equip students to become godly leaders, Excel in dance and lifestyle for the glory of God, and Engage a hurting world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a discipleship training program based at Briercrest Bible College and Christian High School, where it auditions students who want to be challenged in their faith. Team leaders walk alongside members as they grow in faith, vulnerability, character, following and leadership skills, and overall excellence. Students sometimes have opportunity to lead/assistant lead and to tour to shine the light of Christ! www.refinedundignified.com. Please pray that these guests would provide much more than just entertainment!
A key component and highlight of Abundant Springs is our collection of workshops. Students and Leaders will have the following options to attend: List of workshops is coming…
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference