At the Asian youth conference there were changed lives, radical life decisions, deepened discipleship – and a lot of fun!
When the Holy Spirit acted powerfully on more than 700 young people from all over Asia who gathered in May for a 5-day youth festival, the result was nothing short of electric. Very real. You could feel it as soon you entered the huge gates of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) in Tagaytay City in the hills above Manila, in the Philippines. On the afternoon of May 27th as young people started crowding into the lounging and registration areas, a sense of excitement and anticipation could be felt in the easy banter and high-fives of the participants who by now were animatedly exchanging introductions and pleasantries.
- “Hi! I’m Orele Joseph from Pune (India). First time in your country!”
- “Yeah? I’m Alfonso Fernandez from Davao.” High-fives. “So wazzup?”
- “Don’t really know why I’m here. But excited to meet new friends.”
- “Me too. Here, how about a selfie with me? You’re the first friend I’ve met here.”
- “Cool!” More selfies follow.
Many of those who came weren’t really clear what to expect. Some came “to learn new things”. Many “to meet new friends from other places.” Still others “to have fun experiences.” A few came just out of curiosity. But by the end, KA (kay-ay)15 turned out to be an experience beyond their expectations, with the Lord blessing them and more. And judging from the evaluation comments and reflections submitted by the participants themselves, it was an awesome experience of God touching and transforming them as they lived together – no matter how briefly – in community.
The numbers turned out to be a real surprise, as well. One of the organizing committee recounts, “At the outset, we thought we’d be happy to have some 400 or so participants coming. As the event drew closer, the numbers increased. And we needed to look for a bigger venue to accommodate those who wanted to join. We pegged it at 500. Soon enough, more people registered. We ended up having over 700 participants! So we got an extra facility a kilometer down the road from the main venue. God was at work and we didn’t want to put a limit on how many of his young people wanted to come. Even the needed funding came in, even enough for those financially challenged.”
The use of time and the events planned for the five-day festival were designed for people 15 to 25 years old. In the mornings there were common morning prayers and worship, plenary sessions on the festival theme: “Arise, Shine, Your Light Has Come!” Afternoons provided teaching tracks on age-sensitive topics: how to bring friends and school mates to Christ, praying over others so God can act in power, explaining the Christian faith in a logical way, fun activities (war games, amazing race, house games).
In the evenings there was a welcome and opening night, an entertainment night, with presentations from various delegations, prayer meetings, a worship concert, a Lord’s Day celebration on Saturday evening. In all of these, there was plenty of flex time and the activities were well spaced for chill time in between.
The opening night was festive. Participants were invited to come in their native costumes, and the famous Bandang Kawayan, a full band using bamboo musical instruments, provided choreographed music during the welcome dinner. This set a festive Filipino atmosphere that warmed up everyone relationally.
Catering for a young audience, the talks (both plenary and the separate tracks) were short and had lots of audio visual elements, even skits and short performances. For the plenary sessions, speakers from the Sword of the Spirit international were invited to speak as well as Filipino youth preachers. These plenary presentations developed the main theme of the festival: “Arise, Shine, Your Light Has Come.”
There were a total of 12 tracks, with topics from relating to parents to bringing friends and classmates closer to Christ, using the theatre arts to communicate the Gospel message, improving public speaking, how to organize mission trips and how to spot and train new leaders. There were workshops on worship and on the rational arguments for Christianity. The presentations were spiced with lively activies and attractive audio visuals.
High-energy spiritual events
The spiritual events were high-energy. Morning worship. Prayer meetings. The Lord’s Day celebration. Prayer for one another. Participants experienced them as “powerful.” Ther was powerful preaching, high-energy music and inspired leadership of worship.
One highlight, for example, was the father-and-son tandem of John Barbara, president of the Sword of the Spirit, and John’s son Peter, who together delivered the keynote talk on being light of the world. They ended their presentation by leading the entire crowd in a powerful time of prayer for one another – and this, even without the benefit of music or vocal prayer. Just quiet, Spirit-filled singing in the Spirit. Participants spontaneously prostrated themselves in worship, made personal commitments to be radical disciples. Some were in tears, and even those who didn’t yet have the gift of tongues began raising their hands and singing in the Spirit.
On the last night of the festival, the open-air prayer meeting at the amphitheater was another example of a powerful spiritual event at KA15. Many young people prophesied, came up the stage to glorify God, while everyone else worshipped the Lord without inhibition.
Prep 15 households
Perhaps the one feature of the KA15 that made the most significant impact on participants (those who joined the households) were the six Prep15 households. These were 2-week live-in households of young men and households of young women that ran simultaneously two weeks before the actual KA15. Most of the international delegates (from India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong) and some delegates from Mindanao (the larger southern island in the Philippines) were part of these households, totaling close to a hundred people.
The households were in several locations in Metro Manila and were led by staffers from Sword of the Spirit’s university outreach in Manila called Christ’s Youth in Action (CYA). During those two weeks, participants were exposed to practical community life and its various components: common times of prayer and meditation, meals together, doing chores, listening to teachings, participating in Scripture study, fun fellowship, as well as mission and outreach to the poor.
The experience of living together (for many, their first time to do so) was life-changing. Many of them also made personal decisions to live as radical disciples and to share their faith and be missionaries. And then, following the households, these hundred or so participants acted as a leaven at the conference.
Hardworking and dedicated staff
KA15 wouldn’t have been the glorious success that it was without the hardworking staff who helped out in leading and caring for the participants. They were kuya and ate (Tagalog terms of respect for older brother and older sister, respectively).
Not only did they share their wisdom in service and discipleship but they also inspired the young people with their zeal, humility, patience, servanthood and love for God and his people. As they led the Prep 15 households and organized the KA15 events, as they listened to the concerns of the participants and arranged their transportation, as they prayed over participants and stayed up late after meetings with them, as they taught Scriptures and looked out for people who were shy and withdrawn – all these (and more!) the brother and sister staffers carried out with a ready smile, encouraging speech and unmistakable love.
The young people of the Sword of the Spirit in Asia tasted a bit of heaven in May 2015. And they want to have it all over again – to come together and worship, to share life, to speak of Jesus, to serve, to love, to enjoy being young in Christ.
When we first thought of doing KA15, we were intimidated by the challenges: the bigness of the project, the resources needed, the language barriers, the long-distance travel, our lack of experience (our first time to host such an event!), the administrative requirements. But the Lord delivered. And KA15 goes down the annals of Sword of the Spirit history as the first ever youth event of the Asian Region.
Anyone for seconds?