VISION and action were the dual themes of The Salvation Army’s European Youth Event (EYE), designed to encourage young Salvationists and friends from across the continent to strengthen their Christian faith. Held in Altenkirchen, near Cologne in Germany, the event attracted 600 young people between the ages of 15 and 25 - with more than 1,000 others participating via the live webcasts and social media interaction. Despite cultural differences, it became clear that delegates viewed themselves as part of One Army, with One Mission and One Message. The young people came to be challenged, to deepen and to testify to their faith in Christ, and to make themselves wholly available to him.
Starting with a striking dance presentation, the opening celebration meeting included items from a Swedish gospel choir, a German worship band and a Dutch brass ensemble – with several of the musicians also giving their testimonies of how God has worked in their lives. A creative prayer segment was led by Italian delegates, incorporating powerful verses from Scripture – read in a number of European languages. Following some words of welcome from General André Cox, Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women’s Ministries) presented the first of the event’s Bible messages. The commissioner’s passionate sermon led many young people to kneel at the mercy seat to listen to God’s voice and react to what he was saying.
The after-hours programme began with a time of fellowship around a campfire. Each of The Salvation Army’s European territories and commands took part, with music, comedy, dance and drama items running late into the night.
With many of the delegates camping on-site, sleep was scarce – but a considerable number of young people attended the re:charge prayer meetings each morning. Significant periods were also given over to prayer in the main meetings, small group times and at any time in a special prayer tent.
Majors Stephen Court and Danielle Strickland (Canada and Bermuda Territory) were the guest presenters of the keynote ‘EYE on it’ Bible studies. Highly interactive and dynamic, these sessions focused on the Old Testament character of Nehemiah and the challenges he had encountered – and overcome – in his journey of faith. It was taught that God gives vision, which needs to be acted upon. Delegates were encouraged to listen to God’s call in their own lives, with a practical ‘feel it, say it, do it’ method of response – a concept that was spoken about throughout the weekend, at the meal table, during sporting events, in workshops and in cell groups.
Nguyen Kim Nhat Nam is one delegate who took the opportunity to publicly articulate his calling. Originally from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Nam is a 21-year-old studying international business in Lahti, Finland. He says: ‘I discovered The Salvation Army through Salvationists explaining their faith on the streets in Finland. I got to know them and admired what they were doing, though I come from a family and community with no Christian heritage. Last Christmas, I offered to volunteer for The Salvation Army in Reykjavik, Iceland. Through this, I began to search – to focus on a connection with God and to find out more about who Jesus is.’
In one of the EYE meetings, Nam stood up to declare: ‘I have a vision of The Salvation Army in Vietnam. I want to return to Vietnam to serve in The Salvation Army. And if it’s not there, I want to start it!’
The General was asked where The Salvation Army will start work next in a frank and compelling ‘Ask the International Leaders’ segment on Saturday evening. He revealed, to applause, that the legal work required for The Salvation Army to commence ministry in Slovakia has recently been completed, and then listed several other countries where openings are under consideration. Both of the leaders impressed the listeners with their authenticity, showing a willingness to answer difficult questions with honesty.
Delegates were able to choose from a diverse selection of practical workshops throughout the event, with topics ranging from sexuality to sports ministry and from social media to social justice.
The main meetings were enriched through the artistic variety that is found in The Salvation Army. A young people’s brass band from The Netherlands, gospel choir from Sweden and worship band from Germany were inspirational. Also impressive were the offerings of ballet dancer Shaw Coleman, and the EYE Choir (directed by John Mitchinson, United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland) and EYE Dance Group (led by Gloria Luta, Germany and Lithuania Territory), which were formed at workshops during the event.
Sunday morning’s celebration and commitment service was the culmination of a series of meetings where the Holy Spirit’s presence had been particularly evident. The General delivered the final Bible message, using the encounter of the rich young ruler in Luke 18 as his text. He highlighted the cost of following Jesus authentically. Scores of young people knelt and prayed at the mercy seat, with many also responding to the General’s invitation to go forward for prayer if they felt God was calling them to Salvation Army officership. Such was the strength of the Holy Spirit’s conviction that even some of the technical crew and those watching online were impacted.
In the closing song, ‘Storm the Forts of Darkness’, the General led a glory march through the venue, praising God for everything he’d done amongst his people during this short but powerful gathering.
Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts (Under Secretary, Europe Zone, International Headquarters) offered a final benediction, using words from The Message paraphrase of Romans 15:5-7: ‘May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you … then we’ll be a choir – not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony.’
EYE’s legacy will be seen in the many young people who have had life-changing encounters with God. Nam’s face lights up as he explains: ‘Before I came to EYE I was not a Christian. Now I have accepted Jesus as my Saviour and my life is filled with joy. I am proudly a Christian.’
Article compiled from reports by Shaw Coleman and Captain Christiane Walz (Germany and Lithuania Territory) and David Giles (IHQ Communications, International Headquarters)
Photos: Oliver Walz, David Giles and Brent Forrest