Jesus Youth impact!
My opening question is - How many of you believe the words 'when two or three gather in God’s name, He is there'? Well I didn’t, initially. This was back in mid 2008 when I was at the verge of becoming an atheist. After a series of debates with my mom about my spiritual life, or rather the absence of it, I started making an effort to at least learn about my religion before I fully reject it. However I found the Catholic Church incredibly boring, so I went to a protestant church which devoted a lot of time to Bible study and praise and worship.
Mom still wasn’t happy and wanted me to have some sort of association with the Catholic Church. So I found out about JY through some people and started attending the Friday prayer meetings. I thought a youth gathering would be interesting, as I haven’t really come across active young Catholics of my age. I must admit that my first experience wasn’t very uplifting. The meeting started with the rosary which I hated with a passion. To me it was a boring imposition. It was actually freaky how so polite and friendly people there were. I thought to myself, “oh poor, innocent, naive people; they really haven’t been out there in the real world. Don’t they have anything better to do on a Friday night?” Pretty much at every gathering someone would bring up “Oh Lord, you said when two or more are gathered in your name, you would be there”. I thought, honestly don’t they know any other verses? Ironically, some Friday nights there would literally only be two or three people. I thought that the rest of them sat at home and took this verse quite literally! Now two years have gone by in a whiff. And if I were to list down the growth and knowledge I’ve experienced in this time, the list would be endless and today time wouldn’t permit it. And guys, like all of you out there, I’m also here because of some conversion experience.
Truly, the only reason why I’m here today is because something really DOES happen when two or three gather in His name. I’d like to refer back to an analogy CC Joseph used during our ‘Crossway’ Retreat in 2008 – when you take a burning piece of coal out from a camp fire, it will burn for a while with the energy it gained, but soon die out. You would then have to put it back into the fire for it to gain the energy to emit heat and light again. This is how I value Jesus Youth and its community living experience. There are a number of you here who have helped me in a lot of ways. Each one’s life teaches you something. There are a few close people who’ve helped me to make some important decisions in my life. And pretty much JY is the reason why I didn’t give up on University and move back to Queensland. My time with Jesus Youth and my spiritual growth are so intertwined that it’s almost impossible to separate them. It was a challenge while I was reflecting for this sharing to not cross over to a testimonial style. Maybe one day when I write a book on it, I’ll give you all an autographed copy :). But for today, I just want to highlight a couple of points that I felt was unique to JY, in terms of its impact on my life.
One of my recent experiences was about stepping outside my comfort zone. This came about as I was preparing for my citizenship exam. I thought a lot about my identity in this multicultural country. This is my 9th year in Australia and I still didn’t feel part of the mainstream culture. Another parallel thought was that - JY was just for Malayali fellowship. Until recently, I didn’t see the scope of it expanding outside a group of mallus or Indians sharing curries and stories. I felt uneasy that the country that gave my family a home when we lost everything in India, didn’t feel like home to me. Over time, I realized that there was no such mainstream culture. It was all just in my mind. Like in any culture, you can choose to be who you are or want to be OR you can be influenced by the lifestyle of others, in a detrimental way. I realized that I would face the very same challenges in India in terms of maintaining my integrity or upholding my values. In fact, I realized I became who I am today ONLY because of this country. I may have felt a lot more restricted or limited in India, when I think of things that I’ve achieved here. I felt ashamed that I was shielding myself from integrating with other nationalities and cultures. I am the chance to experience a unique multicultural life, and I wasn't making use of it. This is when I received a forwarded email from Teema (unaware of my thoughts) from a non Indian JY from US - I’ll just point out some excerpts that touched me - We were not given faith to make some magic land where we won't have to worry about anything or face pain ever again - not yet, anyway. If I separate myself from contemporary culture to such a point where I no longer understand what people are talking about, and I no longer have any way to relate to people, how can I possibly bring Christ to them? - If we open ourselves only to a person in the movement who we have become best friends with, what is special about this? - We should never approve or like the many destructive elements at work in our society. But we do have to learn to love it. Because one can NEVER make any country a better place without really loving it.
We have all been asked to think about what this Jubilee year means to us. I thought back to the fact that JY has grown to about 25 countries in the last 25 years, in each country conforming to its own cultural requirements. I realized the significance of the words on the JY t-shirt “Love Beyond Borders”. I realized that we will only grow as far as we limit ourselves and therefore we shouldn’t limit ourselves as we’ve been called to be witnesses to people of any race, caste or creed. After all, people are already watching and being inspired by our lifestyle. This brings me to my next point - about inspiring others! I thought I had to take a PhD in Theology before I can start influencing others. But when people started approaching me with compliments about how I’ve inspired them or sought help from me, I realized that I was able to help them more than, perhaps, anyone else at that point in time; beyond what I thought was my potential! I realized the only thing that matters is your availability.
It doesn’t matter if you find the rosary boring or fall asleep during mass; you will start changing in ways you won’t immediately recognize. As I was preparing today, I came across Hosea 10:12, “break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord”. So I guess whatever we do for the Lord now, without feeling anything or as amateurs, should be seen as the time that we take to prepare the land to grow the seeds the Lord has scattered on it. When the time is right, the seeds will grow, for it's bound to grow and guaranteed to bear fruits. The only thing that affects the yield is how we prepare the land. Like many people have shared, JY is a platform for learning, sharing and caring. I’ve learnt how to become an active Christian, and the challenges of doing so. I’ve learnt that the talents I’m given have to be used for his Glory, and that I can't keep them buried. Like our beloved Pope John Paul II mentioned, if we let Christ into our lives, we lose absolutely nothing. Instead, the doors of life will be opened wide and the great potential of human existence will be truly revealed.
When people praise my talents or expect things from me, I never used to feel that I had it in me. I still struggle with it. At times like these I reflect on how I’ve learnt a lot about the Catholic faith and in the process developed a deep respect for it, as I was able to overcome a lot of apprehensions and misconceptions that I had about Catholicism. I’ve been able to be vocal and expressive about my faith (miracle!), be it on Facebook or in group sharing. Recently one of my closest friends who’s an atheist, and was in fact my companion to make fun of the Church, left the country. I had kept a distance from her for a few reasons, and I honestly felt like she wouldn’t understand me or rather she would make fun of my transformation. But we met up on the night before she left and she said “I’ve noticed that you have grown in your spirituality... I admire your integrity and outlook on life… I must admit that I envy you”. Recently I also met up with some friends from the protestant church I used to attend. There was prayer and fellowship at that gathering, but I just felt something missing. I don’t know if it’s because I’m biased towards JY. But after I shared my experience from 'Behold' and generally about JY, few of them asked “Ok when is your next retreat”… PRAISE GOD?!?!
I just want to finish by saying that we should all come with a reflection like this. If I wasn’t put on the spot, I wouldn’t have reflected so deeply about this. Let’s all be challenged to step outside our comfort zone and take time to reflect on the impact of JY in our lives. And then, only then, let’s all express it freely and openly to one another. And let’s all commit another 25 years for the Lord!! Happy Jubilee!! :)