Feature

No Longer a Secret

Love brings Asian teens to Christ

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It started out backwards. Larry and Tina*, Alliance international workers in Asia, sensed God leading them to develop a Youth Encounter similar to one that is highly successful in Latin America: over the course of one weekend, young people reveal to other youth what their lives were like before Christ, tell how they became believers and witness to what their lives are like now that they know Jesus. The couple had planned to send a youth group to Chile to participate in the 36-hour event, but funding for the trip fell through at the last minute.

“We asked, ‘Lord, what do we do now?’” Larry recalls. “God impressed upon our hearts to begin a follow-up to the Youth Encounter”—the one they had never attended. Although it seemed as though the leaders were putting the cart before the horse, “that’s exactly what was supposed to happen,” Larry recalls.

Just the Right Time

Larry and Tina had originally approached another C&MA pastor about starting such a program, but he did not think the youth in his church were ready to reach out to the many followers of the dominant religion in the city. The Lord then led Larry and his wife to another fellowship that had a group of young people who had established quite a few friends, were open to learning how to build deeper relationships and wanted to reach out to other young people.

Inviting the teens to meetings in their home, Larry and Tina explained the Youth Encounter program, and the team eventually made the plan to go to Chile to experience it themselves. Passports were obtained and visas secured. “We thought that we had it all together,” Larry says. But God had a better plan.

After the trip fell through, the couple led the youth through the curriculum they had planned to use after the youth had returned from South America. Called Life Hurts, God Heals, it addresses real life issues teens face: domestic, physical and sexual abuse; drug and alcohol addictions; pornography and masturbation. “You name it,” says Larry. “It covers anything that’s happening in a young person’s life and relationships.”

During the third week of the study, the teens separated for deeper discussion; Tina took the girls and Larry took the guys, and members of the groups began to share honestly with one another. The young people had been brought up attending church—most of their fathers were pastors or elders—so they were well grounded in the Word. But because they lived in a “save-face” culture, they tended to hide sins or shortcomings in order to avoid shame.

“They brought into the light what was in the darkness, things that were keeping them bound, that they were ashamed of—what we in the United States call ‘secret sins.’ God began to move in their lives, and we realized that this had needed to happen with the leaders of the group before they could go to Youth Encounter,” Larry says. “It was God’s way, and it was a good way.”

Broken before God

When the youth found freedom, their lives were radically changed. They were then able to experience Youth Encounter in Chile and came back ready to share Jesus with their friends and family in a way that encouraged discipleship beyond conversion. Building on what they had learned in South America, members of the Asian group held their own 36-hour Youth Encounter, with a team of six presenting the gospel to 25 participants (the usual ratio of presenters to participants is 30/35.)

At that encounter, the Alliance international workers were running the sound booth, which had been set up behind the scenes so the Asian youth could see their peers, rather than the Western adults, as the leaders. As the encounter was coming to a close, the young people were given an opportunity to reflect on what they had heard or learned throughout the weekend. It got quiet.

“I heard some sniffling, and the sniffling turned into sobbing, and the sobbing turned into wailing,” Larry recalls. “I pulled back the curtain and saw 25 young people, every single one that attended, flat on the ground, their faces buried on the floor, completely broken before the Lord.”

That group was then ready to be discipled, just like the original group.

Family Love

After every Youth Encounter, the new teens go through a 12-week discipleship program. The group members become very close, bonding as a new community of believers. “They meet weekly, and this is their family,” says Tina. “The relationships hold them in, and then they start to learn about God and about Christ’s love.”

Community and family are of high importance in the dominant religion of this country. The number of teens from that background who experience Youth Encounter has grown with each event. As they listen to the testimonies of their Christian peers, they see the love of God at work and want that transformation themselves. Even if young people who attend an encounter don’t make an outward profession of faith, they are invited to help at the next encounter, and they invite their friends.

During Youth Encounter, participants’ parents are brought into the program by means of a letter they are asked to write to their children, telling them, maybe for the first time, how much they are loved and what they mean to the family. At the end of the 36 hours, the parents and siblings of the participants are invited to join their kids in the celebration, bringing restoration among family members. One young man said, “I have never had a family that loves me like I have this weekend. Now I finally know what true love is, and I know what a loving family is.”

The 36-hour encounters take place in rented venues because many residents of this city, most of whom are members of the majority religion, will not enter a church. One father, the chief of police, turned to another man in the congregation and said, “What happened this weekend has changed my son, and we need this among our young people.”

Soaked in Prayer

The Asian teens who have gone through Youth Encounter want to take the experience across their nation and see their peers moved toward a relationship with Christ. The financial burden—five to six thousand dollars for a 36-hour encounter—is huge, especially in a third-world country. “We help them financially at first,” says Larry. “But after a time, we say, ‘Okay, this is your thing.’ This is a new generation, so we’re teaching them to take it over. We don’t know how long we’re going to be here, or how long we can support them, since the financial aid from the U.S. is limited.”

Although the recession may reduce the amount of money some can give, Larry knows that the most valuable gift doesn’t come from a bank. “Prayer is the main way the U.S. Alliance can support us. We must pray for these leaders to remain close to God, for unity and purity in this core group and for vision for their going out, to help them to always remember that this an outreach. It’s so easy to go inward—we know that from working in churches in the United States. It’s so easy to think about how we can grow and what we can do, but this whole ministry was started as outreach and we need them to remember consistently that they’ve got to reach out, that their friends need Christ.”

Larry and Tina have observed one phenomenon that lets them know that U.S. churches are praying. “When the U.S. Alliance family hears that a Youth Encounter is about to happen, Satan just blasts us and blasts the group. It happens every time—we have sickness, parents who pull out their kids and kids who get frightened and back out. Very intense.

“It needs to be prayer soaked. Satan does not want it to happen.”

*Names changed.

Larry and Tina live with their children in Asia. Please pray for them and all other international workers living in creative-access countries.

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