10th August 2017

More than 4,000 people visited, volunteered and even lived at the Feria Conference Centre in Valencia, Spain from 1-5 August for the All-European Youth Congress.  The quadrennial gathering of youth from the two Divisions was the perfect opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues; to make new acquaintances and lifelong companions; to worship and praise in a variety of styles; to play sports; to be spoilt for choice with the diverse topics of the top-quality workshops; to witness seven precious young people demonstrate their v1commitment through baptism; and to even take part in a record-breaking attempt at the world's largest metal nail mosaic in the form of the face of Christ.

The Journey to the congress had been an adventure for many of the BUC members: some took the opportunity to make the congress a part of a Europeanv2 tour and toured through some beautiful cities on their way to Valencia; for others airport delays meant missed flights needing to be rebooked for later; some only decided last minute to attend and an hour of messaging later, had managed to arrange flights and accommodation! And unfortunately for one young Brit he was dropped off by a taxi nowhere near his accommodation and spent the next hour having an early morning impromptu tour of the local area before finally finding the right place!  Those arriving on the BUC bus also faced many challenges on their Journey, but with BUC Youth Director, Pastor Dejan on board, the difficulties were overcome and he even managed to creatv5e a highly entertaining vlog from the experience!

During the week, the Exhibition of Nations took place in the concourse of the Centro de Eventos Building and many countries embraced the opportunity to present the interesting and quirky nature of their cultures.  The Scottish, Welsh, and North England contingent all participated by taking over the BUC table for a day, each showcasing the flags, food and fun side of their regions. Shortbread, rugby challenges, Welsh cakes, face painting and Marmite tasting challenges enticed passers-by v3to visit and spend time at the stall.  It definitely wasn't a clash of cultures but a time of sharing and laughter and a chance to engage people in conversation and encourage them to donate to the ADRA affiliated charity.

Prayer was an important focus for the congress, with the Finnish Union investing much time, funds and energy on the prayer room and activities at congress. Many people visited the prayer zones and Pastor Andrew Davis organised several BUC youth to take part in a number of the prayer opportunities.

Thursday afternoon saw the feat of planning 4000 people to be transported from the congress centre by bus either to Valencia's old town or the local beach for an Impact programme which would encourage as many locals and tourists to take part in hammering a nail into the mosaic which formed the image of the face of Christ.  The Reformation and Martin Luther's story was also demonstrated through props and a 'real-life' priest, explaining to people the link with the nails and how he nailed his theses to the door of Wittenberg Church. At 8:00 pmv6 the huge boards which had been worked on separately were put together for the first time as the story of the nail image was revealed; the architect measured the artwork and certified that the size was definitely larger than the previous world record attempt.  Verification was needed from the Guinness representatives before it could be announced officially, but everyone was certainly hopeful that it would be pronounced a success in due course.  Congress attendees wanted to make sure that they had hammered in their nail for this historic event, but more importantly were those members of the public whose awareness was raised through leaflets, chats and book gifts of the Journey they are able to make once they begin to know the One whose hands and feet had been nailed during the greatest rescue mission of all time.

A very moving baptismal ceremony took place on the Friday evening and the congregation was thrilled to see the excitement on the faces of those seven young people as they stepped into the pool at the side of the stage.  As they came up out of the water, loud cheers of encouragement greeted each personv4 and Pastor Sam encouraged every young person present to make a commitment themselves by filling in the cards on their seats.  Of those who completed a card, 103 requested baptism, including 12 people from the British Union contingent.  Many more asked for prayers and Bible studies or said that they would like to renew their relationship with God.

Most evenings after the main service, there would be a Chill Out time outside the conference centre with relaxing music, chat and prayer time.  Friday night was a little different as the Croydon Youth Choir took to the stage for British Praise, a time for worship with a difference.  Large numbers who stayed heard some beautifully sung hymns and praises, moving testimonies and powerful prayers. The choir had also been invited to sing again the next day for the international Arts Festival along with Destiny Malcolm, another young lady representing the NEC.

Two attempts at taking a whole-group BUC photo met with limited success in terms of numbers, but plenty of success in terms of enthusiasm!  The first was just before the opening congress meeting and there was a definite air of anticipation as everyone was excited to see what the next five days would bring. Friends from Missions and Conferences met up agaspanish1in and greetings abounded as Pastor Dejan arranged the group for the photoshoot. The second, and more successful attempt, took place on the final Sabbath and it was with mixed feelings that we met for the last time as a Union, somewhat sun kissed, rather more tired but definitely buoyed and enthused by the events that we had witnessed and participated in.  

Those present at the closing meeting will not forget it for many reasons; even those who were home watching through the Livestream facility said that the atmosphere was tangible on their screens, miles away from the Feria Valencia.  An impromptu choir had been formed the day before by Tihomir Lazic, TED Student Ministries director, who had expected no more than 100 people to attend the rehearsal.  When almost 400 turned up he was stunned and even more so when they sang their hearts out at the closing meeting, their energy filling the auditorium and uplifting the audience who could not help but mirror their joyful singing.  The orchestra was magnificent and several BUC members had brought their instruments to blend with others to form a truly international and professional ensemble. 

Pastor Sam Leonor shared his final message, a culmination of the stories he had been telling all week of the people who had passed through his doors at La Sierra College, where he works as chaplain. The regular singers and band, comprised of BUC members, led everyone in singing a mix of hymns old and new and the congress ended on a very emotional high note with thousands of people singing the memorable theme song, composed especially for the congress by Newbold members, Kart Lazic and Peter Manner-Smith. It felt like a foretaste of heaven: no one wanted The Journey to end and mobile phones were out shining torches in the dark or recording the event to be replayed over and over again.

"Good organisation, a great range of workshops, enjoyable and engaging worships and amazing music" were some of the most standout moments of the congress for Luke Stickland and Ben Elias from the SEC.

BUC President Pastor Ian Sweeney stated, "This was my first ever Youth Congress and I found it a really inspiring experience on a number of levels. I was really proud of the British contingent both in the way of how many came out which was over 400 which I think is possibly one of our largest attendances at such events in at least recent years. I was also impressed by the behaviour, just seeing their interactions amongst the other Adventist youth across Europe and also I was very impressed with the Friday evening Praise night where the British led out with testimonies, prayer, and singing. The youth certainly did us proud."

As people made their way home for the last time there were tears and sadness at parting, but such a sense of thankfulness, assurance of a brighter future with Christ and a deep desire to meet again at the next Youth Congress in 2021 (location yet to be decided).

The Journey home might have been troublesome for many with warnings of long delays at airport security on what was the busiest weekend for travel across Europe.  However, despite some cancelled connections and several long waits, most people made it home that same day and even the BUC bus made its way home in record time, despite a random stop and complete search at customs when crossing the Channel and delays on the motorway. 

God travelled with us on our Journey to Valencia and back home as we were reminded through the many activities and messages last week that He has promised to go with us every step of the way until He comes again to gather us home.

We’re on a journey,Walk by my side -

United in faith, Together we’ll stride.

Christ is the Way, Come walk in His light.

Let’s take this road Together!

For further reports and updated information of the congress visit the TED Website

Photos on the BUC Youth Facebook page.

[Natalie Davison, BUC Youth Ministries Department]

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