03 August 2022 | Lahti, Finland [Karen Holford]
The morning starts with a short walk in the early morning sun. There is a steady trickle of young people, moving along the pavements, through the park, and converging on the congress centre like streams running into a flowing river. They come in various states of alertness after a night of laughter, games, making music, and making friends. And they come to worship, hushing into the darkened auditorium, ready to plug in to God’s love. There is bright praise, a prayer in German, stories of faith and stories of pain.
The centrepiece of worship is the story of Mary Magdalene crying at the empty tomb, a story where we can all find ourselves, at some time in our lives, interpreted by Daniel Bosqued from Sagunto Adventist College. It’s a story of utter grief, confusion, bewilderment, and trauma. An experience of disorientation. The Lord and Messiah Mary loves, and who has transformed her life, has been brutally executed, hastily buried in a borrowed tomb, and guarded by Roman soldiers. On Sunday she rises early and runs to the tomb, but Jesus’ body has gone. Tears distort her vision and pain distorts her thinking. She is trying to put the pieces together in her mind, as we all do when our world falls apart. First the angels in the tomb ask her why she is crying, and then Jesus asks why she is crying. They are inviting her to tell her story of pain, because, in the telling of her story, she will begin to organise her thoughts, feel calmer, and start to experience the healing power of having her heartache heard and comforted. And they know that, if only she could see more clearly, she would no longer cry so desperately, because the Lord she loves so much is alive again.
So the Bible story is introduced to be explored by 2000 people in more than 200 small groups. Thousands of stories and ideas and reflections and fresh insights are sparked around the auditorium as participants experience the first small group discussions ever held during a youth congress in Europe. The atmosphere is warm and energised. People who have never met before share some of their deepest pain, explore God’s love, and experience the comfort and understanding of those who care for them. Almost everyone takes away fresh thoughts to help them process their past, current, and future pain, as well as ways to support and comfort others who are hurting.
Time for workshops. Bible journaling, sexuality, creativity, disability, service, theology, understanding the will of God, and becoming positive influencers in society. Time to learn, to be inspired and perhaps explore topics that might not be discussed on Sabbath morning in our own churches…
Then time to chill, to unplug, to wander around the information stands, chat to old friends, make new ones, play games at the football tables, participate in group art projects, take time out to pray in the tranquil Upper Room, or even go for a prayer walk in the woods and feel the summer sun soaking like God’s love into your tired body.
And then time for fun: exploring Lahti and making friends through an exciting scavenger hunt around the city. Laughter, discovery, creativity, and teambuilding in the golden light of a gentle August afternoon.
Back to the centre to sit and rest before supper. Maybe time for a workshop on recovering from trauma, reading Revelation from Sci-fi, or discovering a fresh approach to urban ministry? Or maybe just time to unplug from the Internet, and plug in to meeting real people in a real world, who might just become your best forever friends?