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Global Youth Day
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Growing Momentum
 
By Nathan Brown
 
Imagine inviting your young people to skip church for the day—but to do so for just one Sabbath with the purpose of living out the sermons they have heard during the previous 51 weeks. It’s called Global Youth Day and it’s happening March 21, 2015, in Adventist churches right around the world.

The annual day devoted to service projects by Adventist young people grew exponentially in its second year and is now preparing for its third. Initiated by the Department of Youth Ministries at the Adventist Church’s world headquarters, Global Youth Day is an invitation to experience active community service to kick-start the annual Youth Week of Prayer.

Challenged to “Be the Sermon” for at least one Sabbath, rather than simply hearing another one, on Global Youth Day last year as many as 8 million Adventist young people stepped out of their churches and into their communities, visiting hospital patients and elderly people, feeding the hungry, cleaning up their communities, donating blood, conducting health awareness programs, praying with people on the street, and even simply offering free hugs.

“As well as emphasizing the importance of service to our communities, the objective is to raise global awareness for the Week of Prayer, a time when Adventist young people around the around the world unite as a formidable powerhouse,” explains Pastor Gilbert Cangy, director of Youth Ministries for the worldwide church. With his departmental team in 2014, he served at a homeless shelter in Washington DC on the Friday before Global Youth Day (GYD) before settling in to follow the international GYD broadcast that began in Auckland, New Zealand, and continued for 23 hours in time zones around the world, concluding with the final hour from Hope Channel headquarters on Saturday evening.

Pastor Cangy is planning to repeat his personal involvement this year as the GYD phenomenon, the excitement, the impact and the connectivity continue to grow. “It’s inspiring to watch this special Sabbath spread around the globe across the 24 hours, as updates, posts, tweets and the broadcast itself follow the time zones around our planet, beginning in the South Pacific and concluding in North America,” he says. “It literally represents millions of Adventist young people making a difference and an impact in their community in the name of Jesus.”

According to Pastor Cangy, the GYD broadcast—and its supporting web and social media presence—is integral to the event. “GYD has demonstrated that our young people can storm cyberspace for a good cause and take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity it offers to recapture a sense of global belonging for our young people,” he reflects. “The live broadcast, our Facebook page, the tweets, the GYD webpage and app became the space where our youth meet to share their stories and celebrate the goodness of God.

“GYD reinforced the notion that given an opportunity to lead and to be involved, our youth will surpass our expectations. Last year, every one of the more than 27,000 pictures and videos posted on our Facebook page and GYD app from around the world told its own story of creative engagement in mission.”
 
Pioneering technology for connectivity
The inaugural Global Youth Day in 2013 included three hours of live broadcast. This was upped to 23 hours of live broadcast in 2014 from 20 production sites on six continents, coordinated from Adventist Media Center “Stimme der Hoffnung” in Germany and broadcast on the church’s Hope Channel internationally. This fully global broadcast is planned again for 2015.

“The transmission of the signal from the local production sites to master control was done with IP-streaming equipment over the internet,” explains production director, Wolfgang Schick. “This was a new thing about the production and one thing that, to our knowledge, no-one ever tried before. And since all signals were transmitted over the internet, the costs were really low.”

He admitted that there had been questions about meshing different production sites and possible different levels of picture quality. “But all in all it was a huge success and the connection from all production sites worked,” says Mr Schick. “This was a big step for the church in working together globally to generate an ongoing 23-hour live transmission from all around the world for one single event. This could be a good model for the future in working together and producing together.”

The marathon GYD broadcast is augmented by an expanding online and social media presence, as well as a GYD app for both Android and iPhones. Coordinated by Daryl Gungadoo, distribution and network engineer for Adventist World Radio based in the United Kingdom, this multiple-platform interactivity almost tripled its engagement with young people around the world, compared with the figures from GYD 2013. And it’s expected to be larger still this year.

“It was an awesome experience to watch the stories unfold around the world and see this vision become reality,” reports Pastor Cangy. “I was in Skype contact with the hub of the broadcast operation at the Hope Channel studios in Germany to trouble shoot, until it was time to for the final hour wrap up from the General Conference headquarters.”
 
A growing movement
Social media has also been an important part of getting Adventist young people on board for Global Youth Day. “We went viral,” Pastor Cangy enthuses. “All the action was coming from the grassroots, from local church youth groups who had caught the vision.”
According to Pastor Stephan Sigg, director of youth ministries for the Inter-European Division, based in Bern, Switzerland, GYD 2014 also grew because of the positive experiences many young people enjoyed the previous year, an effect he expects to be repeated in the third GYD.

“Global Youth Day 2014 grew simply by word-of-mouth,” he says. “Young people who were involved in 2013 spread the excitement and now more youth and youth groups wanted to be involved and planned their service activities accordingly. Because the experiences and the impact of the GYD makes a lasting impression among the young people involved, we are still far from having reached the peak of involvement.”

Asked about his favorite story from GYD 2014 in his region, Pastor Sigg mentions creative community outreach in Egypt and Dubai but then says there were too many to choose from. “To see young people sharing the good news in creative ways and being involved in so many different ways to show kindness to people on the streets, in hospitals or old people’s homes whether it was in Germany, or France, in Romania, Bulgaria, Spain and Portugal was just amazing!” he says. “God was moving and that became obvious. That’s my favorite story, that we have a God who moves young people to expand His kingdom.”

While he is excited about the communities served in so many different places, Pastor Sigg sees the additional strength in a day specifically devoted to this by Adventist young people right around the world. “With GYD we can see that God’s Spirit is moving young people around the globe to be the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ and that has inspired everyone involved and watching,” he explains. “There are many outreach, impact and service activities with youth planned on a regular basis in the Inter-European Division but GYD puts such activities in a global and united perspective. That is appealing and motivating especially for youth in our European church contexts of rather small congregations.”
 
A vision fulfilled
According to Pastor Cangy, the concept of Global Youth Day grew in response to what has been seen as the growing fragmentation of societies and communities around the world and perhaps even of the church. “I was thinking about the whole idea of the Seventh-day Adventist young people being a global movement, this ‘army of youth’ we often refer to,” he recalls. “I was wondering how we could recapture for our youth this sense of global belonging. What could we do together, without the trappings of another event in our already overstretched calendar?”

Pastor Cangy remembers sitting on an overnight flight, wrestling with these questions and what could be done on a global level to address these issues and the needs in local churches and communities. While on that flight, he sketched out a vision for what became Global Youth Day. He emailed his thoughts to the division youth leaders around the world and was surprised and the strength and enthusiasm of their responses.

Jesus’ story of the “Good Samaritan” (see Luke 10:30–37) offered inspiration, particularly as it describes two busy religious people failing to help someone in need. “Jesus seems to be suggesting that there is a lot more to religious life than going to church and listening to sermons,” reflects Pastor Cangy. “At the heart of religious faith lies the idea of reaching out to alleviate the suffering of the world, to show compassion and to open a window on the kingdom of God.

“And I asked myself, what if on a particular Sabbath, instead of going to church, Adventist young people around the world became the sermon and embodied the message of Jesus in practical ways?”

Pastor Cangy believes that more traditional corporate worship will always occupy an important role in the Adventist faith community. But he insists that Global Youth Day is also in itself “essentially an act of global corporate worship, albeit in a different form. If Jesus should come back on a Global Youth Day, He will find His people in the right place (see Matthew 25:34–38).”

And there is a much larger vision for Global Youth Day than a once-a-year—or even once-a-week—call to serve. As Global Youth Day continues to grow, it will become more than an event, a logo or a broadcast. “In all our interactions,” Pastor Cangy adds, “we are fostering the notion that Global Youth Day is the springboard for mission as a way of life.”
 
See more photos and reports from Global Youth Day 2014.
 
 
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing, based near Melbourne, Australia.