Editor's note: This article was updated on Aug. 8, 2014.
Three Florida Conference delegates to the 2014 Global Young People’s Convocation are back from the Philippines, with tales of inspiration and a typhoon that failed to thwart a global connection in Christ.
Katie Rasmussen of Tallahassee, Paola Ferro of Miami and Edward White of Lakeland were among nearly 400 Methodists from 34 countries gathered in the Philippines July 16-20 for the convocation, a quadrennial event organized by the General Board of Discipleship’s Young People’s Ministries.
|Delegates to the Global Young People's Convocation find rewards in the Philippines, despite disruptions from a typhoon. From left to right, Paola Ferro, Katie Rasmussen and Edward White, all from the Florida Conference. Photos from Rich Rasmussen.|
The trio from Florida made up the largest delegation the conference has ever had, according to Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans, Missional Engagement director for the Florida Conference.
Shortly after the young people arrived in Tagaytay, so did Typhoon Rammasun, also known as Glenda. At 2 a.m. during the first night of the event, participants were awakened by an alarm and evacuated into a basement.
Rasmussen, an 11th grade youth member of Saint Paul's UMC, Tallahassee, describes the night as scary but also as a chance for everyone to bond.
“We were all speaking five or six different languages, but we were still able to sing and pray together. We just found a song that everyone knew and were able to connect that way,” she says.
Damage from the storm prompted the convocation to move from the Center for Community Transformation retreat in Tagaytay to Island Cove, closer to Manila. Though the circumstances brought challenges over the next few days, the delegates persevered.
Their time together consisted of worship, workshops and the Legislative Assembly, which was designed to give United Methodist young people a collective voice on proposals to the General Conference. Petitions discussed could find their way onto the docket for the 2016 General Conference, and topics ranged from global warming to same-sex marriage.
Campbell-Evans says that as the delegates engaged with each other, they explored international issues, such as global migration, from a United Methodist perspective.
“The convocation provides an opportunity for youth and young adults to come together and bear witness that they are not just the future of the church but that they are the church today,” he says.
Rasmussen believes the Legislative Assembly did an incredible job of allowing young people to speak up and be heard.
|Edward White of Lakeland, kneeling, is commissioned as a Global Mission fellow at the international Young People's Convocation in the Philippines.|
“I was aware that I was the voice of Florida youth; I wasn’t just speaking for myself but also representing many other voices,” she says. “I felt it was important to listen to the opinions of other youth there as well, but I also ensured my voice was heard.”
She adds, “As a body, we voted on many different issues, some that were easy to vote on and some that required much debate. But ultimately, we didn't want to see our church split over these issues; we want to be and stay a united church. That is what was most important to us as the youth and young people of this congregation.”
Likewise, Rich Rasmussen, Katie’s father, who accompanied her to the Philippines, was impressed by the youths’ commitment to the task at hand during the Legislative Assembly sessions.
“There were about 500 young people in a single room with fluctuating power and air conditioning – and keep in mind that this was during the summer -- and no one complained,” recalls the older Rasmussen.
“It was obvious that all the participants were there to be engaged and committed in the sessions.”
Highlights of the event included the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries’ commissioning of 42 Global Mission fellows. These young adults were in the Philippines for three weeks of training and attended the convocation as non-voting delegates. They will serve for two years with organizations in 15 countries, sharing God’s love through acts of mercy and piety.
Ferro, of Wesley Hispanic UMC, and White, of First UMC, Lakeland, are two of those commissioned. Ferro will serve in Argentina and White in Mexico. This year was the first time orientation and commissioning for the program occurred outside the U.S.; it is also the first time two people from the Florida Conference have been in this program.
The Global Mission Fellows program is a leadership development and mission service opportunity that allows young adults ages 20 through 30 to take part in mission and social justice ministries in international and domestic contexts. The 2014 class represents a transition for the program, which builds on aspects of the historic US-2 and Mission Intern programs.
Ferro says the training concentrates on connecting the church in mission, engaging in local communities and growing in personal and social holiness.
“The commissioning service was an amazing experience,” she says. “The service consisted of traditional Filipino music and choir, worship and prayer for all the missionaries that were being commissioned.”
The newly commissioned fellows wasted no time in getting to work. To help those affected by the typhoon, they put together 600 bags of food for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines took charge of distribution.
For information on Global Ministries’ Young Adult Mission Service programs, click here.
* Catherine Ryan is a freelance writer based in Greenville, S.C. Information from a General Board of Global Ministries article was used in this report.