Visitors from around the globe: youth reflect on Unity Tour

ministry photo

Last August, 22 young people from across the Moravian Unity participated in the Unity Youth Tour, visiting congregations, cultural sites and historical locations throughout the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in America.

The tour included youth representing Czech Republic, Great Britain, Jamaica, South Africa, Suriname, Peru, Tanzania, USA, Germany and the Netherlands. The two-week tour traveled from New York to North Carolina, visiting more than 20 Moravian congregations and learning more about the rich diversity of Moravian history, customs and traditions.

The theme, “Empowered to Engage”, served as a call to action for youth and young adults within congregations and provinces to take up leadership positions in the church and to inform church members of the pivotal role that youth and young adults play in the church today and forever.

Here, six of the tours’ participants share their reflections on this once-in-a-lifetime event. These young adults represent an important part of the future of the Moravian Unity.

Victor Tory Reid

Northern Province

First and foremost, I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for this opportunity of having the honor and privilege to represent the Northern Province of the Moravian Church at this year’s Unity Youth Heritage Tour.

Throughout the tour, each province gave presentations on the work they are doing to promote youth involvement our congregation, along with the capacities in which they serve their congregations/provinces both locally and globally. One of the recurring topics that arose during each presentation and each congregation we toured was the decrease of youth and young adults who are actively involved in church. As we began to work on the problem of why young people are not fully engaged in church, we spoke with several clergy and church members. One of the reasons we found is that many congregations are fixated on the preservation of planning worship services around traditions and customs, rather than rearranging worship styles to cater to the spiritual development of our young people. As a result of this, many young people decided to leave the church for good and not come back.

This is saddening to hear because if youth and young adults aren’t welcome or accepted in our churches, then our churches get older and older, and eventually close completely.

After discussing, we came up with some solutions on how congregations can best reach out to the youth in their communities to come back and to be involved in church. One way was to create a survey to figure out the needs of the youth – things like after-school programs, music lessons, etc. Second, youth along with the elders and other church members need to have frank discussions about changes we want to see in the church. Third, incorporate a more contemporary style of worship in our congregations instead of having an organ — integrate some drums, keyboard, hand bells, electric guitars, and some steel pans. Lastly create a Facebook account with the church’s name to connect with them, so when they leave church to begin college, military or other careers their church family will always be there to support and guide them from afar.

My hopes and aspirations for our Unity are that we’ll continue to support one another in any way possible through prayer, finances and mission involvement. My goal is to remain in contact with every representative on the Unity Youth Tour as we strive to advocate for youth being engaged with church affairs.

I would like us all to be more attentive to the needs of the world, instead of being selfish and egocentric. Let’s continue to utilize the example of Zinzendorf in being a part of our community instead of being closed-minded.  I would also like every province to continue to promote how, with youthful energy and the wisdom of the elders, we can accomplish anything that life throws our way if we all learn to listen and work with each other.

To conclude, this idea sums up my take on the importance of youth involvement: “Although everyone knows that youth are the leaders of tomorrow, too few people recognize that they can be – and in many cases, already are – the leaders of today.”

Ana Gabriela (Gaby) Vela

Peru Mission Area

Being part of the tour was one of the best experiences of my life. Traveling with Moravians from other parts of the world meant a lot to me. I see life differently after sharing two weeks with different cultures and different perspectives on life. It was very beautiful that in the middle of our daily activities we gathered to pray for our churches, the churches we would visit during the course of the day and our countries. I am convinced that each of the delegates will continue working for their churches and that they will do great things in their lives.

We received a lot of information about the Moravian Church in North America and about the first Moravians who established the church from scratch. Knowing everything they had to endure made me feel proud of being Moravian and I also learned about the provinces of the North and South.

When I was on my way to the tour, I was scared. I was afraid that I would not be understood since I have an intermediate level in English, but there was no impediment when we praised God, we could be singing hymns in English, praising in the native language of Suriname and also in Swahili, the native language of Tanzania, in German and Spanish, even when making jokes about what happened in the week. As I write this I can hear ourselves singing on the bus and I have to contain my tears. Those on the tour have been a great blessing to me, they have inspired me so much and I am happy to keep in touch with them.

When we visited congregations in the Northern and Southern Provinces, I felt that I was at home; all the churches we visited received us with a lot of love. For me it was very nice to see how the members of each church organized themselves to receive us, to talk about the history of their congregations and about the projects they have. Everyone was happy to have us; they asked us about our congregations and how we were doing on this trip. It was a great blessing to have them on the tour and to be interested in our congregations. Throughout the tour, Moravians received us with a smile and with food because I do not know if you have noticed but the Moravians love to eat.

Being part of the tour has made me a new person. I used to stress a lot for the future, I was very shy and I had forgotten that I should leave everything in God’s hands. The tour gave me the security to be myself and not be afraid. In these weeks I am organizing a camp for my congregation to be held in February, I am also thinking of a women’s retreat, I have many ideas to continue working for my church and I know that there will always be someone praying for me. I want to thank the delegates; they created a great impact in my life and in my ministry.

Arlene Ricketts

Northern Province

The Moravian Unity Youth Heritage Tour was an intense 13-day trip, where we visited at least 18 churches amongst the Northern and Southern Provinces of North America. I had the privilege of meeting various individuals from 12 provinces (and 1 mission area) at one time, and it was an opportunity I’ll never forget. I was able to partake in Lovefeast on August 12 with the diverse group, and we had multiple opportunities to pray and sing in each of our languages. It was such a spiritual moment, one I’d never trade for the world. Traveling from New York to North Carolina, going from church to church, and fellowshiping with one another was a true blessing and I pray the next generation gets to experience it as well. 

Being from North America, there were quite a few things I already knew about the history of the denomination. I came to understand the church as a very accepting one, a place where the dejected and rejected could find solace. Once we touched down in Old Salem, we had the opportunity to tour and explore the first location for St. Philips’ Moravian Church, one of the oldest African-American churches in the country. We also learned about the land being a burial ground, since in the 1800s, black people were recognized as “strangers” and were not allowed to be buried in God’s Acre. The adoption of worldly practices and racist fears led to the segregation of the races, something that was swept under the rug in the present day, though they officially apologized in 2006.

Altogether, the trip was full of spiritual support and encouraging words. We had the opportunity to share information on the state of our youth groups in each province, and give advice on how to improve and grow.

Cheryl van Eer

Youth Leader Moravian Church Suriname

At first, I was not sure if I was the right person to partake in the tour. But I am very thankful and glad I was the one chosen to experience all of this.

In Essentials Unity…we are youngsters from different parts of the world. We all have our own culture, lifestyles and even ways of worshipping, but it was very awesome to see that when we came together, there are so many similarities that make us a very special union. We talked about our own youth work and found that, even in our struggles, we shared that special unity. This gave us a chance to help each other find ways to take action and overcome these struggles. It gave us courage and even newfound respect and love for the work that we are doing as youth leaders and Moravian Christians.

In non-essentials liberty (freedom)…ee learned about the values of the Moravian history. So much history…and the fact that we are part of this great culture and denomination is a blessing. The traditions are amazing and have a great meaning to them. But as we experienced throughout the tour, we found that these traditions do belong to the non-essentials and that they do create a barrier for young people to join our amazing Moravian church.

In all things Love …we should go back to the basics—to the love that was expressed in the beginning by Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf. He did not look at gender, race, ethnicity, income or even age. He wanted to carry out God’s purpose for mankind: be kind and give love.

Throughout the whole tour and with all the very nice and warm people that we met, I really did experience that there is a reason why we belong to the Moravian church and that is the fact that it does not matter where we are from or even where we are going. If you meet a fellow Moravian you feel the love.

It was an amazing experience, and I pray blessings above blessings to every soul we met throughout the tour, everyone who made the tour possible and everyone that prayed (and is still praying) for us. God bless.

Stanislav Pohunek

Czech Province

Greetings from the Czech province! 

My name is Stan, and my wife Lenka and I were delegates on the Youth Heritage Tour. We were glad that we could spend two weeks in U.S. provinces and see the church life there. We have seen and met many people who will always stay in our hearts and prayers!

We thank First Moravian (New York) for delicious Caribbean chicken, the best one ever. Thank you to every congregation; we felt welcome everywhere we came. Thank you all for the cooking, waking up early to feed us, enabling us to gain some energy to continue. Big thanks to our host family in Lititz, Tom and Tami. Greetings to hardworking people in the archives who uncover our Moravian history. We are sure there were many people there we didn’t have a chance to meet, but you worked hard to make this tour happen – and thanks go to you, as well! We are truly blessed to be part of worldwide Moravian Church. 

In addition to that, the most touching and deepest moment of all was when we visited one of the congregations in Winston-Salem. Local members were talking about the struggle with no people coming into the church; thus, they have no young generation to continue in the work of the congregation. We were truly grateful for this moment, even though it was very hard emotionally, yet truthful and sincere. It helped all of us to realize that people are not much interested in God anymore and rather fill their lives with things this world offers. They have no hunger for God in this era of materialism and consumption, especially our young generation.

It touched us a lot and we realized that it is our own responsibility to be humble every day, not to dodge to admit our sins, not to hide and pretend, not to live dual lives, but be real and open, so thus the young can see our authentic lives in Christ with all strengths and weaknesses.” 

Thanks to all those who contributed to this article. Photos throughout by Andrew David Cox, who represented the Southern Province on the Unity Youth Tour.