An open letter to Adventist Youth Leaders: Are we rightly trained?

Elder Baraka Muganda, former General Conference Youth Ministries gave the following analogy:

I would like us all to imagine a vast army on the eve of battle. Just across the hills, the enemy army is ready to strike, but the impending army faces a terrible problem.

As they face the impending battle, their soldiers are deserting in large numbers. One by one, they drop out and disappear. The commanding officers call the roll call and shake their heads sadly as they cross their names off the list. New recruits are brought in regularly, but they barely replace those that have left. Officers introduce tough rules to prevent soldiers from escaping, but nothing seems to help

Meanwhile, the remaining soldiers are kept busy. What are they doing? Not drilling, or practicing with their weapons, or making raids into the enemy’s territory. No, the soldiers are assigned to clean the latrines and dig holes- over and over, day by day. Many of them complain “This work is menial and pointless; there is an enemy just over the hills, why are we not preparing to fight them?”

Some young soldiers join the army eager to go into battle, yet after weeks and months of doing meaningless labor, they become discouraged “I’ve joined the wrong army!” Some cry as they throw down their weapons and slip away into the night.

The Commanders are worried. They know the enemy is drawing near and they are losing the soldiers rapidly. How will they fight with a depleted, demoralized force? Some officers start a campaign of making the army more attractive to their soldiers. They organize parties and games in the mess hall, show movies every night, loosen the rules a bit and organize sporting events. The soldiers enjoy the entertainment- yet it doesn’t stop them from deserting in record numbers. When questioned later, some say “Yes, the entertainment was good- but I can go to parties and play sports in the nearby towns and I don’t have to worry about wearing a uniform or eating army food. Why should I stay in the army just to be entertained?”

The officers meet to discuss how to deal with the crisis. They are discouraged by the statistics. The desertions continue to increase, while recruitment is down and morale is poor. But most serious of all, over the hills, they can hear the distant sounds of drums and bugles. Today I ask my friends, is this the picture of our army?**

We have kept our young people active and some times as leaders we burn out with busy-ness, but if we are not engaged in the main business of the movement “The Advent Message to all the world”, the picture painted by Elder Muganda fits us. Where did the Vision of the teenagers who started this movement? Where is the passion they had about ministry?

We focus youth programs around anything that will keep the youth busy. As long as the group is ‘busy’ – singing, sporting, having fun, pitching tents, wearing uniform and doing drills, we are satisfied. Our focus is to give them an alternative spot from what the world offers. We will keep them active in the church, by all means necessary. Outreach, life-transformation, once in a while gets a passing mention, but it’s clearly not the central focus.

We want to make ministry to the youth “entertainment-oriented” because we have no greater vision for them than to “keep them in the church” – or perhaps, to “keep them in their place in the church.”

We have an army of youth, but are they rightly trained? The best kind of training happens on the mission field. Is the AY aim another slogan to you? If we were to evaluate your leadership after one year, will we truly say that ‘taking the Advent Message to all the world has been your ‘main’ business?

I long for that day that we will make outreach our main business. When we will train our young people rightly – for Mission, and engage them in reaching out to a world that is perishing.

With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained, might furnish, how soon the message of a crucified, risen, and soon-coming Saviour might be carried to the whole world!–Education, p. 271.

We have an army of youth. This dream must come true in our generation.

**Adapted from Pr. Baraka Muganda’s keynote address “Salvation and Service”

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