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Contentious convention charges up youth

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Embrace your heritage – the Anabaptist voice of love and peace – and choose to be “extremists for love and grace,” keynote speaker Shane Claiborne urged U.S. MB youth at the San Antonio 2011 youth convention. The “flood” theme was based on Amos 5:24. The 827 youth and sponsors who attended the event, held every four years, returned home to South Dakota, Kansas, California, Texas, and North Carolina stirred to be like the “little drops” that form a mighty river.

Elements of the convention were designed to create a “head, heart, hands” flow. General sessions – featuring worship band Stories in Braille, speakers Paula Simpson-Parry and Claiborne – provided a biblical foundation for compassion, love, and justice. Sunday morning workshops and seminars inspired students’ hearts for ministry, and Monday’s City Search and volunteer assignments provided practical opportunities to serve.

Claiborne riveted attention, both through controversy leading up to the convention, and his two plenary addresses on taking “the whole Christian thing” beyond “being born again, again.” In the post-session question and answer period, students’ queries touched on how to obey a radical calling when parents don’t agree, how to live as a peacemaker when violence touches friends, and how to keep motivation – even faith – amid the challenges of life.

Several churches did not send youth to the convention because of concerns regarding Claiborne’s views, and two of the groups in attendance left for an alternate session when Claiborne took the stage.

Youth could also attend two of 21 workshops exploring a topics from the MB peace position, to U.S. immigration, to dating. Facilitators came from MB agencies and partners.

San Antonio was a good setting for a justice focus. The only metropolitan city in the U.S. where Latin Americans make up a majority of the population, it is divided along racial lines. Following an afternoon of tourism in trendy and historic San Antonio, students served with ministries in Hispanic or African-American neighbourhoods for a day.

Teens from Neighborhood Church, Visalia, Cal., and Ebenfeld MB Church, Hillsboro, Kan., helped staff carry out a “fiesta” for 100 adults in the day program at Mission Road Developmental Center, a faith-based ministry for children and adults with developmental disabilities. They value past service experiences that emphasize meeting physical needs, but “ultimately, it’s people we care about.”

Attendance was lower than in previous years; feedback from churches suggests the economy was to blame. All five USMB conferences were represented: 827 participants from 41 churches, 42 support personnel, and 49 seminar leaders and exhibitors brought the total to 918. The 2007 Anaheim convention saw 1,075 in total; the 2003 Estes Park, Colo., event drew 1,406 from 67 congregations.

“God is sure doing something big in my life,” posted one student on the SA2011 Facebook page. Student reporter Arianna Castillo from Neighborhood Church wrote, “It was a life-changing four-day experience!”

—from reports by Christian Leader staff

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