Last week I attended the Atlantic Bridge International Youth Festival in Tata, Hungary. There were about 140 in attendance from The Czech Republic, Iceland, Hungary, The Ukraine, Romania, The Netherlands, The USA, and one lone fellow from Slovenia. We stayed in an old monastery that’s been converted into a youth hostel. Apart from the heat and some rather creepy bathing arrangements (read 19th century mental institution), we had a very positive gathering. We met in the adjoining school gym most of the week; however, on the final day, we arranged a special meeting in the monastery chapel. All vestages of iconography were stripped away long ago, leaving only bare walls and cracked plaster. It was simultaneously sad and peaceful. John Oostdyk, the director of Atlantic Bridge, provides a snapshot of that meeting:
A long line of young people with eyes closed winded [sic] towards the secret place in the monastery from which a loving monk had sent his letters of love and encouragement to the participants each day. This last morning would be his final message but for this he invited us all to his special place in the monastery. Through a small door the group was led into a large dungeon-like chapel where Gregorian music and lit candles welcomed the guests. We had just walked back in history 600 years. When everyone was seated, Dennis shared the last message of the monk and spoke about the return of the prodigal son. It was very quiet that morning in the chapel as the message perfectly captured the intensity of the week. Milestones of Love was the theme. Speakers from various cultures, backgrounds and experiences talked about recovering meaningful experiences from the past, allowing healing from painful experiences, learning from our mistakes, and placing them in a context of present realities while providing a spiritual outlook from this point on, building positive milestones for the future. With just one thought through it all: God’s love manifested in Jesus is greater than any of our past, present and future hurts or issues. At the final meeting at the chapel each participant went to the alter to collect a special personal “God” stone as a memory of this week.
I am now editing the curriculum used for the youth groups who attend this festival. I’ve been working on an exchange basis in the Netherlands since late May and plan to finish the curriculum over the next year. The whole concept of bringing youth together through these clubs and festivals like the one that just ended is especially encouraging to me. I believe we are at the beginning of what could become a very useful and life-changing concept here in Europe and beyond. It is certainly the right time to train youth to build bridges and become cross-culturally competent. The doors are opening across borders; we have a common language with which to work; and there is a hope in the air about the possibilities of the future. At the same time, as we can read in the news and see on our televisions, there is still much work ahead to helping people understand and tolerate one another. It is programs like Bridgebuilders that can help the youth of today become people that will avoid conflict in the future. Also, Europe has a history closely identified with Christian thought. However, the core ideas have been so confused, diffused, and abused that there is no longer a clear understanding of how these ideas apply to today’s issues or could be beneficial for the future. While the Bridgebuilders curriculum is not necessarily meant to be a tool for evangelism, it is written from a Christian perspective and should at least introduce participants to Christian thought and ideals. With these goals in mind, I think we can hope for a significant and flexible program that will allow many youth to take up leadership in their families, churches, communities, and beyond.
If you are interested in Bridgebuilding or know a youth group that would like more information (doesn’t matter where you are geographically), e-mail me at nicholas[dot]media@mac[dot]com (replace the [dot] with actual dots) or click on the AB link above for more information.