By Cynthia A. Lovely
Picture thousands of young people jumping, swaying, laughing, crying, and waving their arms high in the air. Is this a famous rock concert? A huge sporting event? No, it’s the North American Youth Congress held recently at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. This group of energetic youth gathered in July at the biennial event sponsored by the General Youth Division of the United Pentecostal Church International. Why a football stadium? This was the only place large enough to handle the huge crowd of 34,000. Churches from all over the country and beyond sent or brought their youth to this popular and much-anticipated event.
Bethel United Pentecostal Church of Old Westbury, New York, had one of the largest youth groups to attend from one venue, with over 120 youth and adult leaders. “We had been planning this trip for months,” said Jonathan Walker, the Youth Pastor at Bethel UPC. “We have an exceptional group of young people at Bethel who are often involved in choir trips and mission trips out of country. This was a time to gather with their peers and fully celebrate their life in Christ.”
The Youth Congress was a powerful blend of worship and training sessions, social activities and humanitarian and fund raising projects. “Some of our youth were involved in Project 22:39,” stated Walker. “We hit a world record packing over one million meals with 4,000 volunteers, with the help of The Pack Shack and Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. It proves what can be accomplished by all ages working together to improve their community.” Project 22:39 is a movement of UPCI, designed to engage apostolic students in acts of service and evangelism in their community. The core theme is based on Matthew 22:39 which says, ‘Love they neighbor as thyself’.
RJ Manners, age 9, was one of the younger attendees from Bethel. He was glad to give his input on Project 22:39. “I helped to pack bag lunches for the needy people in Indianapolis, Indiana. It made me feel happy because I like helping people.”
The Bethel youth traveled together by plane, building finances months ahead of time in order to attend this major gathering. Joining them in New York for the trip to Indiana, were several teens from France, from a church connected by one of Bethel’s former teens, who is now a missionary to Paris. The ages of those attending ranged from pre-teen up to college and beyond.
Georgia Gabrielsen, age 31, loved the power of prayer evident at the event. “There was dynamic prayer from the very first night which continued on throughout the conference. I experienced the healing power of God upon my life through the many services. I loved the camaraderie among the youth gathered together, from young teens up to college and career age…we were all in one accord worshiping Jesus because He has made such a difference in our lives!”
Nicholas Rusinyak, age 19, was impressed with the growth of the gathering. “This was my fourth time attending NAYC,” he said. “The first time I went in 2011, the attendance was around 18,000. This year the only place large enough to accommodate our crowd of over 34,000 was a football stadium! What a thrill to witness such tremendous growth at this popular event. Youth Congress is a great reminder to all of our youth: we are not alone. We are part of a powerful body of Christ throughout the world. It was wonderful to join together with other youth of like mind and spirit, all worshipping the one true God and determined to live a holy and clean lifestyle. God’s kingdom is so big! I feel so honored to be a part of it. The event helped to strengthen and develop my own relationship with God and bring it to an even higher level. I’m looking forward to NAYC 2019.”
The theme for 2017 was “This is That” based on Acts 2:16-18: “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
“During the sessions, there was a profound outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon thousands of young people at the same time,” said Rebecca Gabrielsen, age 12. “I was inspired by this event because I saw other teens putting so much effort and power in their prayers that it encouraged me to pray harder and to get into a deeper relationship with God. It was definitely life-changing!”
Another Bethelite, James Kelly, age 18, thought the preaching was the best part of the meetings. “The Spirit of God was moving upon the people with each and every message. It kept building up from day to day and from service to service laying the foundation of the power of God’s Word. Joining with other youth groups from all over the country, praying together and supporting each other was an experience I will never forget.”
One of the key happenings at the Youth Congress was when Rev. Michael Ensey, General Youth President of UPCI, read a letter from Vice President Mike Pence to the convention audience. In the personal letter, Pence welcomed the crowd to his home state and congratulated them on following after the Savior and taking a positive stand for Christ in this troubled world. Pence stated, “I am proud to welcome you to my beloved home state of Indiana. As faith-driven young men and women, you have set aside summer plans and selfish ambitions to serve in central Indiana – distributing meals to families in need and envisioning social ventures that will make a real impact in real lives. That is servant leadership. Thank you for seeking to make a positive impact in the Crossroads of America and communities across the world. With your help and God’s help, the rising generation of young people will take our nation to new heights and a boundless future.”
Returning home to New York, the Bethel Youth are determined to be that rising generation of hope and healing. They continue to be a very active group representing their multicultural church of over 800. Bethel United Pentecostal Church was originally founded by Bishop D.D. Davis and is now pastored by Doug Davis, Jr. The Bethel Youth Choir, led by Geraldine Lucchese, presents annual concerts, and several youth choir members are active in the weekly worship team on Sunday mornings.
Pastor Doug Davis is “sanctified proud” of the Bethel Youth and he was delighted that such a large group made the sacrifice of finances, travel and time to attend North American Youth Congress. “Obviously, today’s youth have many choices, including for their summer activities. I am so thankful that the large majority of Bethel’s young people have chosen to involve themselves in the NAYC, where they gain wisdom and strength to face the unique challenges of our current society. I am also very thankful for a venue that strives to directly address the needs and questions of today’s youth with Biblical authority and truth. All of us need heroes, particularly young people, and the leaders and speakers featured at the NAYC provide those sterling examples.”
Encouraged and supported by their pastors, Bethel Youth have their own meeting place in the Annex building on their church property called, “The Refuge.” Anyone visiting this youth group will soon realize the young people have a deep love and respect for their Youth Pastor and Pastor. It is obvious that they are honored to be part of an awesome, spirit-filled church in Long Island with leadership who fully support their youth. They depend on their leaders to guide them in learning the Word of God and following in the steps of Jesus every day.
With excitement still running high, a few months after Youth Congress, the Bethel Youth Choir of over 100 held an “Overflow” concert at Bethel UPC in Old Westbury to an Overflow audience of …over 1000! Following a renewed sense of purpose, the enthusiastic choir members allowed God’s light to shine through their songs of worship and the concert was a major success, touching many lives with the message of hope in Christ.
Bethel Youth have come back from NAYC, inspired and committed to make a difference. Their normal energy and dedication has increased tenfold from attending the Youth Congress. They are more determined than ever before to impact their church, their school, their work, their fami1ies, and their communities, pointing all to the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And they’re already making plans to attend NAYC 2019 at The Dome in St. Louis, Missouri.