Learning about hope and suffering
Ellyn Schellenberg | Malaysia
276 teens and staff gathered together 9–13 December, 2017, with guest speakers Dan and Suzie Potter for learning and fellowship at TeenStreet (TS) Malaysia. Participants from both East and West Malaysia (speaking Chinese, Tamil, Malay and tribal languages) as well as those from China, Egypt, Singapore, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei, Hong Kong, England and the United States spent five days interactively studying the theme ‘Key to Hope.’ The teaching used the story of Joseph and illustrations about a key to answer challenging questions: Are we loved? What do we do with suffering? Is there hope?
The TS structure—morning teachings led by Dan and Suzie, ‘Shh times,’ which are an opportunity for participants to take time alone with God, discussions in net groups with coaches, and a variety of workshops and activities—help teens to build friendships, both with peers and adults.
“Sometimes we think we have to do life alone, but that is not how God made us. He designed us to need a ‘net’ support which is made up of two parts: One is that we need older people, mentors, or adults that we look up to and can learn from in their Christian walk, but we also need peers, same-age friends who walk along side of us in our walk with God,” Dan told the diverse group. “When we are alone in our walk with God, we can start out strong, but we will slow down, and when we trip and fall and there is no ‘net’ to catch you, you will falter.”
“I don’t really have any Christian friends, so I want to find some,” Jane, one 16-year-old, said. “I’ve been challenged to think differently about my problems... It’s easier to blame people sometimes. We learned about removing people from the problems.”
During a session on suffering, Dan and Suzie challenged people to keep their focus on God, which meant choosing not to focus on who caused a problem. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with people [who said] that was a very significant, very practical training,” Suzie said.
“I learned about persevering. How Joseph didn’t give up. That we need to look forward to what God’s plan is,” Thasa, a 17-year-old attending TS Malaysia for the first time, said. “They taught us to look from our problems to God’s plan. I have a group of friends at school who speak bad about me behind my back, but I realised I shouldn’t fight back. I need to show them a Christian love and just turn to God. It is hard to do, but it is God’s plan.”
One coach, Vanessa from Hong Kong, shared that her net group expressed that they knew they were God’s favourites, but easily forgot that. They liked how at TS Malaysia people came alongside of them and reminded them about God’s truth and encouraged them. “Praying for teens is very important to build up relationship with them!” Vanessa concluded about her first experience at TS Malaysia. She was able to connect with one of her teens especially when they spent a time of prayer together during a worship night. “We hugged each other and both cried. I could feel her pain, struggles and stress, so I prayed for her. Afterwards she thanked me and she is different today.”
“I learned that God is always there for you; no matter how far away you stray away, He will always pull you back because you are His child,” said Ken, a 17-year-old participant who has attended TS Malaysia three times. He appreciated that there were new activities and surprises every year. “They keep up-to-date in how Christianity is growing and how youth experience life today,” he added. “Every year we have different workshops. The I-zone (game area) last year was good, but this year they had video games, and it showed me that [organisers] are trying to stay up-to-date on what we like.”
“Everything that we’ve learned this week is not only as a little packet for now,” Suzie shared. “We get to take that home and multiply that hope of Jesus and living with Him.”
Dan and Suzie see TS as an opportunity to transform the next generation, and to mobilise them to bring positive elements back into their own churches. “Come here, grow as a youth worker or as a kid, and go home and make a difference in your church,” Dan challenged.
So as these teens and coaches return home, pray that they would not forget the lessons they’ve learned, that they would form accountability groups with both peers and mentors, that they would seek God every day, that they would impact others around them and that their churches would be blessed by them.
Published: Wednesday, 13 December 2017
Credit: Ellyn Schellenberg