An innovative youth ministry in Argentina is seeing young people find Jesus and grow in their faith.
The youth ministry of a church in Salta, Argentina, is reaching out to and discipling young people. San Andrés Anglican Church runs a creative and innovative youth outreach called EJE. Young people are invited by their friends to come to a weekend event, where lives are invariably changed by an encounter with Jesus. Efra, one of the young people who started coming to the youth group at the invitation of a footballing friend, describes his EJE experience: ‘Even though I’m not very emotional I was moved to tears a number of times. Two of the drama sketches in EJE made a big impression on me, especially one about hiding behind masks and being laughed at for what you believe. It made me think a lot about my family. It was really great.’
Twenty-one-year-old Jime comments that before EJE she ‘didn’t believe much, I wasn’t very convinced about God. Even though I went to another church, it wasn’t important. EJE showed me that God exists and loves us. It impressed me seeing so many young people together.’
Keeping fit spiritually
But coming to Jesus through EJE is just the start, as it’s then that the Gimnasio discipleship programme takes over.
‘Gimnasio – ‘Gym’ in English – is a concept we have obtained from the Anglican Church in Chile,’ says Latin Link member Priscilla Breekveldt. ‘Groups study and are trained spiritually together. At San Andrés we have 10–12 groups of different ages and stages. We encourage all our youth members to be part of a group.’
With so many of the young people being new to the faith, the choice of books is crucial. ‘We start with a basic course called Vida Abundante (Abundant Life),’ comments Priscilla. ‘Then we move onto Panorama de la Bíblia (Panorama of the Bible), before looking at the life of Jesus in six books. The students get a full and rounded picture of what it means to be a Christian and then how the Christian faith all fits together.’
‘For the young people that I have in this group, Vida Abundante was their first introduction to the Bible. It’s a huge privilege to see them interacting and discovering how the Bible is relevant to their lives. Since they’ve never read the Bible or used it before, Panorama de la Bíblia then helps them find their way around it.’
Gymnasio has been just what the young people needed. ‘When we started Vida Abundante it was very strange for me as I had never read the Bible before,’ says Jime. ‘It was a real challenge for me to find my way around the Bible. It was a good group and helped me grow in my faith. God has been showing me how his love is in each one of us.’
‘When I started I needed a SatNav to find my way around the Bible,’ comments 22-year-old Efra. ‘I think we always had a good group. It built me because the group stayed together and our lives change. We are learning things that God maybe wants for our lives. We don’t think in the same way anymore. I have learnt about God’s will for my life.’
Studying the Bible is good, but what is vital is that it begins to have an impact on daily living.
Priscilla says: ‘Recently Efra came to our group full of an experience he had where he had been asked to play football for a new team. He’s very good and gets paid for each goal he scores. Needless to say, this causes rivalry among some of the long-standing players, and one of them tried to pick a fight with him after training. To Efra’s amazement the passage that we read that day was about being peacemakers.’
‘It’s a real challenge to help them translate biblical truths into their day-to-day lives. I see them grow in faith and dependency on God. I’ve seen many of them make changes to the way they dress, the vocabulary they use, how they relate to parents and siblings. Often these have been changes that they have felt compelled to make as they have grown in understanding Jesus’ love for them, not necessarily things we have even talked about.’
‘These young people are at the beginning of their walk with Jesus,’ comments Priscilla. ‘What is key is to continue to help them grow in their faith beyond Gymnasio. Crucial to that is getting them settled within the church community. They are part of the youth group and have regular pastoral chats. They are encouraged to serve in some capacity, such as serving coffee, or helping in Sunday school. The learning is an ongoing process.’
‘As their leader, it’s so exciting to be part of this. It’s challenging to read the Bible with them, to see life through their eyes, to be part of what God is doing. It’s humbling to realise again and again the relevance of scripture through the ages.’