By Albin Hillert*
Local and international youth are gathered together in the Netherlands, preparing for the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Meeting under the theme of “On the Move”, the group of some two dozen youth from the Netherlands and across the globe spent three days together as part of a series of celebratory events in Amsterdam, culminating in a prayer service on 23 August 2018 at the place where the WCC was founded 70 years ago.
An integral part of the events is the importance of youth contributions to the ecumenical movement, in the past, in the present, and in the future.
Sisay Obsie, a young deacon in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church – one of the founding members of the WCC in 1948 – says that to him, the cumulative knowledge of the many youth currently gathered in the Netherlands is a key to strengthening the church.
“I hope I can harvest from this meeting, from this group, the different kinds of knowledge. The more the youth struggle together, move on the same line, the more they can have the power to help in solving different kinds of problems that we are facing today, internationally or locally,” Obsie reflects.
Mgrdich Amroian, who lives in the Netherlands since 2015 after arriving as a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, continues, “What is interesting to me being here with other Christian youth is to find out how they are living as Christian communities in their lands, and I would like to hear their experiences, to take it with me back to the church and help other youth members of our church, to find real Christianity in their lives.”
Reflecting on the WCC’s 70th anniversary, Amroian adds, “the WCC is a community of churches around the world. If we can be one body in Christ, then I believe we have a bright future together, and also with our youth. But without this community, it will be difficult to see a bright future together.”
Through pilgrim walks, prayers, song, dance and bibliodrama, the youth explore what it means to be young pilgrims in the ecumenical movement today, particularly in view of the WCC invitation to a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, as their work zeroes in on three sub-themes: ‘moving away’, ‘dreaming’ and ‘moving on’.
“I believe we need to know and learn about our history and our inheritance too,” says Euna Cho, a student at the Busan Presbyterian Seminary in South Korea. ”We cannot always judge our country by how it looks now. If we study our inheritance, we can become proud of our country, and start to dream. And then we can start to do practical things, even if they are just small things.”
”The Bible really taught us to love God and to love people”, Cho adds. ”And we have to remind ourselves that we are peace. Our being is just peace, because we are created in the image of God. Sometimes people expect to do the biggest things, but we should start from the little thing. Just love your neighbour.”
“The main topic for me is how faith is relevant in our lives, in our personal lives, but also for the world, and what we can do as Christians to make faith relevant to other people as well,” says Anne-Maaike Pathuis from the Netherlands, who studies Theology at the Protestant Theological University, in Groningen.
“Maybe the calling is the same today as it was when youth gathered in Amsterdam 70 years ago, to bridge that gap between the many churches,” Pathuis adds, and concludes, “there is so much that can divide us, but I think also in this generation we just see the possibilities of sharing our faith, and of focussing on what we share. Sometimes we just have to experience our faith and our belief together, to grasp anew what is important to us.”
Pilgrims gather from far and wide to celebrate 70 years of WCC (WCC press release of 23 August 2018)
Walk of Peace draws hopeful - and young - crowd in Amsterdam (WCC press release of 23 August 2018)
“Love will find a way” (WCC press release of 23 August 2018)
WCC to celebrate 70th anniversary in the Netherlands (WCC press release of 21 August 2018)
Youth pilgrimage to connect local to global at WCC anniversary (WCC press release of 13 August 2018)
*Albin Hillert is communication officer for the World Council of Churches