Fr. Paul is the Youth Chaplain for Kumbo diocese, and I have been invited to become involved in the diocesan youth ministry scene. While I am still learning and observing, I thought I would share some of what I have experienced so far.
Wednesday, Logan and I were walking home from our language lesson in Bamkika'ay when we were picked up by a friendly priest we know (Fr. Joe). He was seeking Fr. Paul, whom we happened to pass on the road. After stopping and backing up and the requisite greetings, Fr. Paul told me about the upcoming Mass and youth event at Meluf parish, where all the youth from all the mission stations were invited for an event over the weekend, and asked if I could come. I said yes, of course, if I could have a ride.
Fr. Paul then asked if I could speak for some time, on something spiritual. Ok! Well, I guess I'm diving in head first! What does one say to teens who are from an entirely different background and culture than myself? The tight timeframe (4 days for a talk!), not having printing capabilities, and not having easy access to the internet, along with the daily grind here, all add up to quite a challenge, relative to my experience working in churches in the States, where there are resources a-plenty. The good thing though is my time limit: Fr. Paul asked for 30-40 minutes, and said even if I go for an hour or more it would be ok! I'm in mega-tangent heaven! None of this "keep it under 12 minutes" self-imposed time limit stuff. I'll probably break it up with some activities/demonstrations, but we'll see what happens!
OKAY. I have returned from the event, it is Sunday Evening, and wow. It was good to learn more about youth ministry here in Kumbo. The talk went well, but it was not without its own surprises. I will start from the beginning. A four day lead time is not a big problem for me.
Having to remember/find Bible passages without Google ready at hand, however, is a challenge. Not having printing capabilities meant that while I composed the talk on the computer, I walked in with hand-written notes. Have you seen my handwriting? It is atrocious. I hadn't practiced very much, or at all, but I was speaking on a subject I have been thinking and writing and discussing with Logan recently, so that part was not a big problem.
The biggest "on the fly" challenge was the age-range of the youth. I had planned for an audience of jr/sr high school students. When I walked into the Church to give the talk, the youngest there was about 7 or 8 years old, while the oldest was at least 23. There may have even been thirty-year olds, but I'm not sure if they were parents or participants. The age range was a challenge not just because of content, but also because I have noticed that younger children are not as fluent in English as the older students. Add onto that my funny accent, the fact that I don't know the struggles, joys, and challenges of my audience like I do in the States, and you may understand why I was a little bit worried leading up to the event.
The talk went well. I spoke for the better part of an hour. I got positive feedback from the adults, though I am still concerned about my accent... Fr. Paul thinks that it took a few minutes for the youth to adjust, but that they were getting me. I had some VERY excellent questions from the older youth of the parish, challenging some things I said or was unspecific about ("You said we must listen for the voice of God through all the noise of the world. How exactly can one discern the voice of God?" and "If Christ nailed all our pain, sin, and suffering to the cross, why do we still have pain, sin, and suffering in the world?") I managed to utilize some Lamnso' words and phrases I have been learning, which was fun for me, and funny for them (my pronunciation of the various tones is... poor.)
After the talk, I managed to speak with the coordinator of youth ministry of the Meluf Parish, Francis, and he explained some of what they do for me. Most parish activities are at the mission station level, and there are nine mission chapels. Each mission procures 12,500 francs annually for parish youth ministry functions... do the math, and that's less than $250 operating expenses for the entire parish, per year. Most of the food is donated already prepared and ready for consumption. People don't have much money to give, but they do have farms. Most of the money raised goes toward transportation to events around the diocese.
All in all, I was very happy for the opportunity to speak to the young people, and I hope they were able to understand at least some of what I shared!