Amaya Harrison credits the United Methodist Youth Institute with saving her life — literally.
The Topeka teenager, one of the youth care group coordinators at Institute, told a full sanctuary at Baldwin City First UMC about her early teens, which included substance addiction and emotional challenges, either of which could have cut short her life.
New to Christianity, she said all of her apprehensions left when she first stepped foot on the Baker University campus.
“It was the first time I had felt God’s presence touch my heart and soul,” she recalled after the visitors’ night service. “It gave me the opportunity to grow in Christ and helped me meet the most supportive, loving Christians I have ever met in my entire life. It gave me an opportunity to grow and learn about Christ, and it brought me so much joy to work in Him.”
Harrison, who will enter Allen County Community College this fall, with the eventual goal of going into seminary, said she can help those teenagers who were just like her.
“God will love them no matter what — no matter how many times you fall down, no matter how many times you turn away, He’ll be there,” she said. “He is the constant in your life that you can always depend on.”
Eighty-six youth attended Institute, June 24-28, continuing a century-plus tradition. But organizers say it’s a balance of the tradition and keeping things fresh and relevant for today’s youth that is part of what keeps young people coming back.
“Tradition kind of exudes around the Institute. And there’s a piece of tradition just walking into the Baldwin First sanctuary,” said the Rev. Kurt Cooper, community life coordinator and campus pastor at Emporia State University. “It speaks, hopefully, to the young people today and hopefully gives them that sense of place and presence.
“It’s always been, in a way, reflective of the times going on around us,” he added. “That’s one of the things I love about it.”
The midweek visitors’ night service, another tradition, brought friends and family of Institute members to the church for a 90-plus minute service that included diverse elements such as spirited singalong songs and heartfelt testimonials, including Harrison’s.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., in his first time attending Institute, delivered the sermon based on Mark 12:28-31 and talked about loving themselves and others as they love God.
“Sometimes the last person we love is ourselves,” the bishop said. “You are unique in all of human history and creation.”
Coming to Institute energized youth such as Joy Lee of Pittsburg, attending for her second year.
“When I first came, I was not excited” after years of adoring Camp Chippewa, she said. “I spent my first week here, and it was the most heartfelt, amazing thing that I’ve ever experienced.
“I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say Institute is the most perfect place on this planet,” she added.
The Revs. Jeff and Christine Potter, spiritual life co-coordinators, said the week of discussion, lessons and spiritual formation have a way of quickly changing the youth.
“The changes that I’ve witnessed in the past, and what we’re starting to see this week, are a willingness to open up and to share and to ask tough questions about faith and life,” he said. “It’s an openness in sharing who they are and a willingness to go deeper into scripture.”
Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.