3rd August 2017

Pack 4,000 youth from across Europe into a large auditorium.  Add a rich mix of music, local Spanish culture, rapidly produced slick, on-the-spot video reports, and the story-telling skills of a master preacher, and you will quickly learn that worship and positive Christianity can still be a vibrant part of life for 21st century youth.  Those youth were ready and excited for 'The Journey', theme of the Pan-European Youth Congress, running 1 – 5 August 2017 in the humid heat of Valencia, Spain.DSC_5774

Adults present had forgotten just how enthusiastic youth can be!  Cheers rose across the packed auditorium as various countries were introduced.  A roar of approval came as a favourite worship song, ’10 thousand reasons,’ was beamed onto the screen.  That was followed by equally enthusiastic singing – particularly impressive as for most of the group, English is their second or third language.  Some had travelled for more than 20 hours by coach, yet their enthusiasm was not dimmed.DSC03742

"The musicians are excellent," states Jeff from Scandinavia, "Giving praise lifts the spirit."  Other youth expressed the desire to gain a deeper spiritual experience with Jesus during the week, to increase their network of friends, and to learn through the 20+ workshops being held each day.



You cannot come to Spain without an introduction to the beauty and culture of the country.  This was provided by a cleverly choreographed mix of Spanish folk dance and music on stage with images from across the country being projected on the screen.  But it was more than that.  While demonstrating the best of Spanish culture, it also told the story of ‘the journey’, a girl’s struggle to find meaning in life.  Success and meaning comes as she eventually discovers a Bible.

That experience was moving in itself – and could easily have concluded a successful first night – but there was more.  Sam Leonor, Chaplain at La Sierra University, California, focused young minds of the start IMG_9902of the journey for Jesus’ disciples, the calling described in Mark 1:16-20.  The auditorium went quiet as he mixed anecdote with deep spiritual truth, concluding with the story of one of his students who constantly prayed for healing from a debilitating degenerative disease, but who found renewal when the prayer changed from healing to commitment.

Sleeping in dormitory tents spread across two gymnasium floors, or in hotels spread across the city. Youth will awake on the second day for morning worship in a ‘TED talk’s’ type format, a series of workshops and activities, and during the week IMG_1588an opportunity for a Guinness Book of Records attempt at the largest image of Jesus created by hammering nails into a piece of wood – an activity that will start on site, but will climax as a witness in town, later in the week.

Commenting on the program so far at the congress, BUC Youth director Dejan Stojkovic, said, 

"We have over 400 people coming from the UK and Ireland. It's absolutely beautiful to see so many from different churches…It's an amazing spiritual atmosphere and place that I believe God is going to use to change lives."

Melisa Thomson from the NEC in summarising her first day at the congress said "I only arrived yesterday morning but I went to the evening service yesterday. I really enjoyed the sermon, with the message that no matter what we go through in life God will always take us back even if when we turn our backs on him. I thought that related to me."

Karl Senessie from the SEC said, "I am liking the variation in speakers and the different topics that they have, and their thoughts and views about it,"

There are also several leisure activities available – from early morning exercise to basketball, hockey, or a myriad of other areas of interest. Workshops are also available, and enough exhibition booths and international stands to engage the interest of any participant or, as Adam Bartosik from Poland points out, "just the real opportunity to meet new people."

One group activity that has started just outside the congress hall and will climax in the centre of Valencia during Thursday’s impact witness, is an attempt to create the world’s largest nail portrait of Jesus – each nail hammered by the youth representing their commitment to discipleship and ‘the journey’, the theme for the congress. The size of the portrait also makes it an attempt to gain an entry in the Guinness book of records – and should attract public interest. The real record, however, may be in heaven as participants at the congress find their own lives being challenged and changed.

Those not at the congress can follow activities on the Congress YouTube channel, on Facebook, and on the Congress website. Youth are posting their comments and photos on social media using the hashtag #AYC2017 and #TheJourney.

[Victor Hulbert]

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