TeenStreet Balkans - unity in Jesus
The Balkans – a region ravaged by civil wars in the 1990s. In this part of south-eastern Europe, OM teams seek to reach the current generation who did not experience conflict themselves, but have grown up in the shadow of ethnic division, economic hardship and political turmoil. OM leaders in the different Balkan countries have been asking themselves: can youngsters from different backgrounds–who have become followers of Jesus–meet, grow in their faith, explore and celebrate their unity in Him? As the leaders met to talk and pray, the answer became clear – host OM’s youth ministry event called TeenStreet right there in the Balkans to find out.
From the beginning, TeenStreet has been all about showing teens a street to travel on (or a way of life). Since the first TeenStreet gathering in Germany in 1993, the event has spread across the globe; from Asia to Latin America. The overall vision is the same everywhere, but each location has its own unique flavour.
So from 21-25 August 2017 TeenStreet Balkans was held for the first time at a university sports hall and campus in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital. Montenegro was an obvious venue – a central location in the region to make travelling easier and a ‘neutral’ vibe meaning people of all backgrounds could feel relaxed going there. Youth workers from OM teams in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo brought a total of seventy youngsters with them.
Over the next four days, the teens expirenced a full-on time of powerful Bible teachings, spirit-filled worship, hands-on activities and vital Christian fellowship. Most of the delegates had not experienced this before, and many young hearts were deeply touched. For instance, one Montenegrin girl said, “I’ve always done what my parents said – now I want to know for myself what God wants me to do for Him," while another began to ask serious questions from a desire to know more about Jesus. A youngster from Kosovo was radiant as she told everyone she met how she had accepted Christ as her saviour and that God was now her Father.
There are only a handful of evangelical churches in Montenegro and inviting them to assist in the event was a key strategy. Two Roma churches brought their youth groups and the pastor of one of them led some small-group work. He found this rare opportunity a great blessing.
What about the vision of young people being united in faith, irrespective of their ethnic background? At the beginning of the conference, Robbie from OM Montenegro observed that “there was quite an awkward feeling….and definite separation between the teens for each country. But every day you could see the walls and differences being broken down and the similarities and friendships beginning to grow and shine. It was definitely something that only God could have orchestrated."
Sajmir from OM Albania agreed: “It was so great to see teens from the Balkans coming together despite other political issues. In this we understand that God’s family is unshakeable!”
To symbolise this breaking down of barriers, the week culminated in a silent ‘Unity Walk’ through the centre of Podgorica - everyone making a stand for the belief that ‘we are now all one in Christ.' When it was time to finally go home, many of the teens cried as they said good-bye to their new friends from other countries.
With the organisers now exploring how to make things even better, the planning is underway for TeenStreet Balkans in 2018 – and beyond!
Published: Tuesday, 31 October 2017
Credit: OM International