September 2011 - Vol. 52.

¿Acia Que? “Where To?” 

Reflections on Adelante 2011

by Tadhg Lynch

Ten days to prepare for something is a long time. Having worked with a team of about 100 others to transform an army base in the Basque region of Spain into a venue for a week long Sword of the Spirit gathering – it was time to take a break. So Sunday the 7th of August found young people from all over the world emptied into the town of Vitoria-Gasteiz for a break from their exertions in planning and preparation. We barely made a dent in the place – the local regional festival being in full swing with various musicians, vendors, and parades choking the narrow streets. 

Wandering away from the crowds, I sank down in a plaza to watch a local exhibition match of a game I had never seen before. It looked a little like a mix of handball and squash – but much tougher. Traditionally, Pelota is played outdoors with a hard leather ball and with no form of glove or covering for the hand beyond a few strips of tape. The game rewards untiring running, preparation, and footwork as players in teams of two judge the flight of a ball bouncing from one or more walls and maneuver backwards and forwards into the optimum position to hit it  back against the wall. 

The players were genuine athletes – expending a huge amount of energy in preparation for each shot. They were also undeniably tough as, after a couple of shots (having first amply displayed my complete lack of Spanish during a break in the game) I could testify that it really hurts to hit the ball with the naked hand. 

Finally it seemed that the whole town had turned out to watch. As six o' clock struck and the players trooped out into the arena for the adult exhibition match, the crowd around the middle of the Plaza de los Fueros in central Vitoria was at least six deep. 

participants from Spanish speaking communities enjoy singing together

It was the seventh of August – we were deep into the ten preparation days for the European and Middle East regional conference Adelante – and three days before it was due to begin. I was glad of the chance to relax in the midst of a crowd of strangers, watching the athletes run endlessly back and forth in front of the wall, pounding the ball with the flat of their hand while the shadows lengthened and a partisan crowd bayed for their favorites. 

Prep 10 participants from Europe enjoy a break between sessions

Die Konferenz
 Six years ago in the European and Middle East Region, we hefted a shot against the wall. An enormous amount of effort and expense was poured into five days in Germany for “die Konferenz” a gathering of about 220 people from many different countries with a theme of sacrifice. Now a team of 105 people from all over Europe and even farther afield prepared tirelessly for Adelante – running back and forth across a huge military base, sending thousands of emails and coordinating everything from travel plans, to intercession needs, to allergy information – I found myself looking at Adelante with critical eyes. Mission in the European part of our region seems so difficult, and often fruitless. 

The image of the players endlessly maneuvering forward and back against that wall dogged me during the preparation days. Were we merely keeping the ball in the air? Was all of our running and preparation doing no more than keeping the game alive in a continent sometimes hostile but more often completely indifferent to the message of the gospel and the  call to community life? 

an evening of entertainment featuring some of the Adelante participants

I wondered whether the preparation and planning could somehow spark a new wave of mission and outreach in our region amongst the participants or whether we would allow the moment to pass us by. Would the young people who came be expecting a holiday in the sunshine of Spain or would they be expecting to meet the Lord? As I considered the team which had put so much effort and energy into Adelante – a mission spanning continents, languages and regions – I noticed more than a few sore palms. Some of those shots can hurt when you make them for the 100th time. 

The goals for a conference like Adelante are many and varied. There are perhaps three that stand out however:

Firstly, Adelante was a place to gather and receive encouragement and vision for our mission in Europe. Bringing a large group of young people together – 400 in total – was an astonishing and encouraging number for that part of the Sword of the Spirit region. 

Perhaps more importantly and indeed prophetically, Adelante gathered young people from 22 different nations across the globe. In a continent where unity amidst the many blessings and challenges inherent in being a people of diverse language, church tradition, and culture is so important – ambassadors of so many nations together was a sign of the Lord’s favour to us. 

Adelante also marked a significant step in the living out of our ecumenical call as Kairos. Following a successful application to host a large venue in a prominent position at the Catholic World Youth Day in Madrid, Adelante had been a practical and spiritual preparation for the exercise of our living witness to unity in the body of Christ. As the conference itself brought more than a hundred young people from various Orthodox and Protestant church traditions to join the Roman Catholic majority a living witness to fellowship together was being forged by the days of the conference itself. 

Tadhg Lynch (right) leads worship with musicians and singers

Secondly, Adelante was a place for young people to worship together, to be changed by the experience of the presence of the Lord and to listen to his word – as individuals and as a group. 

As the conference progressed throughout the week, the experience of being bound together by worship increased. Learning songs in the language of another people, singing in German surrounded by a Scot, a Pole, a Russian and a Philippino, being led by a Lebanese in fluent Spanish – these were things growing directly out of our worship together as the Lord moved among us and formed us into a  people who sought him together. 

Finally, Adelante was a place to offer young people a call to radical discipleship and to give them a chance to choose for deeper discipleship as they returned home. As I progressed through the conference speaking to people about their future, their path in life, and what their calling from the Lord might be, I could not help but think about a good friend from Belgium I saw respond to an altar call on the final night of the “Die Konferenz” in Germany. He brought his fiancée to the back of the meeting to ask one of the leaders to pray with them for direction in their new life together. Six years, a wedding, a new house and two children later – I could see the blessing in his life. 

Simeon Mead, from Koinonia London, takes command of the ball

And yet, as the conference drew to a close my mind once again returned to those unique athletes, pounding the unyielding ball against an immovable object with their bare hand. It seemed like they expended so much effort for so little reward – the ball always returned.  More often than not, the points were decided by the team that got tired first and made a mistake, rather than a winning volley. 

I wondered about Adelante – was that all we were doing here? Merely taking another shot that would come right back at us? Would we live more for the Lord Jesus because of what had happened in Spain? Or was it merely a pressure cooker experience – rash decisions made in the heat of the moment to be ground down by the pressure of living in a place which neither supports nor values Christian discipleship? When we all go home, when all is said and done – would it all make any difference?

Sebastian Pourie, from Munich, Germany, prepares for a GAP year of service 

In Spanish the word “Adelante” means to move; to go forward, to walk through. As God’s people come together to seek him, to try to walk further into his presence, the Lord responds. In a square, simple hall, in the back of a military base in the north of Spain. God spoke to the young people of the Sword of the Spirit. 

He walked amongst them and showed them his nature. He spoke as a God of compassion to those who have strayed far from him – a God who welcomed back with open arms many who sought forgiveness and relationship with him once again. 

He appeared as a God of challenge, adventure and hope for those he calls into mission to build up his people in Europe. He appeared as a God of healing and power as we witnessed the healing of two broken legs, numerous minor ailments, and also the miraculous granting of a Visa on the very last day before the conference to enable a participant to travel from India. 

Finally, he revealed himself as a God of infinite majesty, unfathomable depth and gracious relationship to those who had prayed until they were empty and finally sat quietly beholding him in worship. 

He spoke to the young people of Europe and the Middle East – telling them that he was taking up an offering of young lives for mission, telling them that they were a group of young people whom he was calling together into a continuing call – a “Joshua Generation” as main speaker John Keating expressed it. 

Finally an image of an ink blot spreading across the continent of Europe reminded us that our God is calling us to himself to be his warriors in a time of difficulty, trial, and testing for the Christian people here, and that our response to him would demand struggle and sacrifice as we fought for his kingdom. 

Acia que?
Writing to our staff team a month before the conference, a faithful prayer warrior shared these words: “Being a disciple on mission is primarily about learning to be like him – the witness we give is not really about being a miracle worker, but someone who can persevere and endure because he is rooted in trusting that the Father’s will is nothing but love.” 

Practically, Adelante achieved its goals. It brought young people together for vision and encouragement; it provided an opportunity to approach the Lord Almighty in prayer together, and many young people were afforded the opportunity to take a step of faith towards the Lord. Although a true movement of the Lord requires some time in which to assess the fruitfulness it brings in the life of his people – the bus to Bilbao on the return journey from Adelante afforded me an opportunity to reflect once again upon the conference and the endless slugging against the wall. 

As we bounced across the dry landscape and I recalled once again the amphitheatre, the crowd, the players and the relentless mocking return of the small hard ball, I saw a new angle on pelota. The players were more than simple athletes. For the crowd, they represent a tradition, a continuation of a way of life – the symbol in motion of a people. Gathered together for one day during their regional festival – todays’ players join a long line of others who have played in the exhibition match before them. Veteran athletes, mothers, brothers, family, coach and community now seated on the warm stone steps watching them run back and forward again and again – delighting in the intense imperative of the present moment – “hit the ball now!” – sure in the knowledge that with each passing year far more than a temporary spectacle is being performed. 

A people is being moulded. God, we may be thankful, does more than “this time and this time only.” But he does do “now.” Adelante was a “now” moment. The ball was at its apex, it was ready to be hit by a fresh generation of young lives. 

The question on many people’s lips as we left Spain was, “Adelante? acie a que?” – “Go forward? Where to?” For the next shot, we may have to wait for the bounce of the ball, but the direction is clear. Forward into a people, forward into someone who can persevere and endure because he is rooted in trusting in the Father’s will. 

[Tadhg Lynch works for Kairos – EME in resource and outreach development.]

La Pelota Vasca

The País Vasco (Basque Country) in Spain has a unique sport showcased at the yearly festival in the regional capital Vitoria - Gastiez. 

Basque player hitting the ball with bare hand

Pelota is not a complex game. The object is to hit a small hard leather ball against a rectangular area of a wall one more time than your opponent – similar to squash. Perhaps uniquely however, it is played in an L-shaped court with a wall to the left hand side and one directly in front of the players, leaving the ball free to run out of the back or right hand side of the arena into the spectators. 

Teams of two compete against one another; a defensive player controlling the back of the court while an attacker plays closer in to the wall, waiting to pounce on a moment of weakness from the opposing team to deliver a killer shot and finish the point similar to a volley in tennis. 

Traditionally, Pelota is played outdoors with a hard leather ball and with no form of glove or covering for the hand beyond a few strips of tape. Players wear one another out from the back of the court with long rallies, continually hefting the ball high into the air, attempting to get it to bounce back close to the wall on the left hand side. 

The game rewards untiring running, preparation, and footwork as players judge the flight of the ball as it ricochets from one or more walls and maneuver backwards into position one more time before running forward at the apex of the bounce to slap it with the ridge of their palm high against the wall and force their opponent to play one more shot.

The player who fails to run back far enough behind the bounce of the ball and catch it at the optimum time, is either unable to generate enough force with his palm to get it back to the wall or offers up a weak shot which the attacker from the opposing team can attempt to volley. 

Surrender my life to God

a personal reflection on Adelante
by Gina Benedetto

During the Adelante Conference I felt strongly called to surrender my life to God completely so that I can discover his perfect plan for my life. I know I am called to do mission work but I need to trust God to point me exactly where he wants me to be. I felt God’s presence very tangibly during all of the prayer times and I know others did as well. 

The strongest message I am taking away from this week is to always be strong and have courage because no matter where God leads us he will be with us and be strengthening us.

John Keating, presiding elder of the Servants of the Word, gave three presentations from scripture on godly men and women who responded to the challenges of their times with faith, hope, and courage. 

Here are a few highpoints from his presentations.

Teaching # 1: Daniel and his friends – faith, hope, courage, boldness and humility against the current (based on Daniel chapter 1)

Daniel’s story has been told over and over again as a children’s story or as a nice little example of God saving his people from exile but until now I’ve never been able to see how it relates to my life. 

Daniel has a lot in common with most modern-day youth, in terms of being faced with a non-believing and immoral culture, so he is set up to be the perfect example of how to respond to such negative surroundings. 

Daniel and his three friends find their identity in God and therefore they love who they are and refuse to change for anyone. God calls them to a specific mission, just like he calls us, and they pursue him with all of their being. 

They show us that God is faithful when we put our hope and trust in him. 

Teaching # 2: Daniel Chapter 3 – hope, faithfulness, and courage under fire 

This talk focused on being bold when responding to God’s call, no matter how crazy it may seem. John Keating gave us some examples (Queen Esther and also the story of Daniel and his three friends who were cast into the fiery furnace) of God’s seemingly crazy plan which ends up being perfect and has amazing results every time. God wants us to take on a spirit of martyrdom for him so that we can be strong and courageous when spreading his word to those around us and those around the world.

Teaching #3: Joshua takes the lead – Be strong and of good courage 

The story of Joshua is about God commissioning him to take up Moses’ work in leading God’s people. Throughout the story, God promises Joshua that he will always help him and will never leave him abandoned. John Keating was calling us on to be a “generation of Joshuas” and lead God’s people to follow the Lord. John encouraged us to listen to God and to be ready to completely surrender ourselves to God so that we can follow his plan and lead accordingly.

[Gina Benedetto, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, recently completed a GAP year of service in London, UK with Koinonia and Antioch Community.]

Be strong and courageous

a personal reflection on Adelante
by Simeon Mead

I personally experienced a great time of growth during Adelante, both spiritually and through growth in new relationships and strengthening of old ones. 

I enjoyed the series of talks given by John Keating during the conference. He spoke about the characters of Daniel, Esther, and Joshua in the Bible – who all responded with faith, hope, courage, boldness, and humility to the situations they faced.

I was particularly struck by the promise of God to Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous" (Joshua 1:5-6). 

I was also struck by another verse from Deuteronomy 31:6 which said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

As Christians we have to be courageous, and following the example of people of faith and courage, we have to stand up for what we believe, even if it means going against the grain or risking dangerous consequences. 

The prayer meeting on Saturday evening was brilliant, and I could really feel the Holy Spirit among us and experienced a wonderful time of fellowship and worship with young people just like me from 22 different countries.

I also attended World Youth Day in Madrid, where we ran a Soul Food Café, where we met with different groups around Madrid and invited them into our huge tent for events, performances, entertainment, talks, and a hugely successful prayer meeting on Wednesday evening – we made several links with different groups who seemed interested in our way of life, and I really was strengthened in faith and enjoyed the atmosphere and meeting different people from around the world who share the same beliefs and want to follow Christ.

[Simeon Mead lives in Acton, London and is part of the Antioch Community. He recently graduated from high school and will attend university in the autumn. He is currently involved in the university Christian outreach in London called Koinonia.]

Overwhelmed and blessed

a personal reflection by Marie-Sophie Vanderstuyft

If I would have to explain Adelante in 3 words I would say: overwhelming, genius and blessed.

My first impression. We arrived a little late at the military base due to bus problems. The opening session was about to begin. We got dropped in the middle of 400 mostly familiar faces. I think I have never been hugged/greeted/kissed one, two, or three times (depending on the person’s custom) by so many people in such a short time. So many nationalities, so many languages, so many faces and smiles. A little overwhelmed I sat down for what would become a crazy welcome party including balloons falling from the ceiling, confetti pistols shooting around, and the soldiers at the barracks preaching. Beautifully done. It did set a tone for the rest of the conference.

How can you avoid getting lost in an impersonal crowd of 400 people at a conference? The pastoral team for the conference solved this by dividing us into households with caring household leaders and into villages with village leaders caring for the household leaders. In addition to that we had regional representatives looking after us. I thought this was genius.

As a household leader I was able to share during the week with 6 other sisters from different countries and communities. We had some rich conversations together. It was an honor to be able to watch people struggle, search and find, make big steps, and try to live a holy life.

I also had plenty of meetings and chats with my village leader, which made it possible for me, too, to fully engage with the program and to keep the right focus.

When I came home after the conference, I felt the urge to list all my blessings. They were too many to keep in my mind, so I had to write them down. Adelante was a very blessed time for me. Even though the conference was very challenging, I felt God speaking to me clearly through teachings, workshops, meetings, prayer times, conversations. I came from a dry land. I had not heard the Lord for a long time. It was incredibly refreshing to hear his voice again!

The teachings were very interesting. They were mostly given by John Keating. We talked about young people in the Old Testament being examples for us in our daily lives.

I will not go into this too deeply, but here are a few star-thoughts.

 - Daniel 'Wherever I place you, I want you to be who you are, living your own identity in humble boldness, for me.'

 - Our generation as a Joshua generation: "I have called you and chosen you. Do not be afraid. Be strong and of good courage. I will be with you. Follow me!" - A key strategy: Seek the Lord first before all else!

In addition to the teachings, we were able to go to some workshops. The workshop on mission was a personal highlight of the conference for me.

"Our generation is not called to simply continue our parents’ mission, but we hold the keys for a new way of mission. Do you want to dream with God?'"This message struck me very deeply. I want to be a missionary, I want to dream with God and do whatever I can to make it come true.

During the rest of the conference this theme was in my head and in my prayers.

I made a decision during the closing session, and with God’s grace I will go and tell the good news as Jesus commands. And I hope we can do this together, as a generation.

Let's get this work started! Adelante! I’m more than ever ready for my GAP year now!

Thanks to everybody who made this week possible, and special thanks to the mysterious benefactor who made it financially possible for me to attend this conference!

[Marie-Sophie Vanderstuyft (age 23) lives in Belgium and is part of the Jerusalem community and Pharos, a university student outreach in Leuven. She recently finished her 5th year of medicine at the Catholic University of Leuven. She is currently doing a GAP year in London with Koinonia, a Christian outreach to university students.]

Additional reflections from Karen Karagoulis and Daniel Spokoinyi on next page.  > click here


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