Monday, October 24, 2016

World Youth Day

It was a remarkable experience.

Nuns in habits sharing tents in fields.

"Papa Francesco!" chanted at full volume while stampedes of young people followed the Pope-mobile.

Endless bushels of tomatoes and paté donated for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for volunteers.

Small gatherings of mini-masses constantly taking place all over the city.

Sleeping on a gym floor with a hundred of my closest friends.

People and flags stretching beyond what the the eye can see.

It was an incredible two weeks: meeting young people from all over the world, learning about faith from a different viewpoint, and dialoguing openly and earnestly with believers, seekers, and agnostics alike. Our group of volunteers primarily ran charging stations where people could recharge their phones and other devices. While they waited, we explained that we were official evangelists and our job was to talk to pilgrims about the gospel and to ask them if they had made a decision to follow Jesus.

I got to talk about the gospel with students from 33 different countries.  A young man from Pakistan was studying theology in secret by himself.  He had written to a Christian university in Canada to ask if they would send him a textbook and grade his exams.

Sharing the gospel and challenging people to make a decision was so easy since pretty much everyone there was spiritually open.  One of the many great conversations I had was with a group from Hungary.  I explained the gospel and asked if they had ever chosen to follow Christ.  They replied that they hadn't.  After telling them how they could do that I challenged them to not leave World Youth Day without having made a choice for or against Jesus.

One of the most challenging yet enjoyable aspects was leading a group of Russians and Americans. The complicated administrative work all paid off when I got to see Russian students, who were used to being regarded as strange outsiders in their own cities, share the gospel and enjoy a the unique atmosphere.

The atmosphere was, without doubt, the most incredible aspect of World Youth Day.  Krakow for two weeks was completely transformed. Groups of young people roamed the streets singing, laughing, and helping one another. People from radically different places and backgrounds gathered together in joy and hope. You could stand at a bus stop on one side of the street and call out to those waiting on the other side of the street: "Hi! Where are you from? How are you doing?" and the group gathered at the opposite bus stop would answer back with joy and enthusiasm. It was such a distant cry from life back in Moscow where even smiling at strangers is foolish and strange. While sharing about Krakow these two weeks, my teammate Kim asked, "So now do you want to move to Poland?" No! I want everywhere to be like Krakow those two summer weeks of World Youth Day, a small picture of a more joyful, more intentional, more merciful, more friendly, and much, much better place. I want the whole world to be transformed with joy, hope, and mercy.

And that's why we do what we do.

Transformation begins small and grows. A global transformation begins with transformation of nations, which begins with transformation of cultures. And it begins in a city, in a university, in a dorm, in a neighborhood, in a community, in a friendship, in a person. We have to prioritize the small transformations if we want to live in the transformed world.

Blessed are the merciful (people, cultures, and nations.) May it be so.

For more backstory and insight into this incredible experience, please read my Mom's take on it.

No comments: