Editor’s Note: More than 3,700 youth from 42 states and 274 churches gathered on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., July 13-17 for the United Methodist Youth 2011 event. A week later, July 27-31, another 1,200 young people from 130 churches attended Youth 2011 in Sacramento, Calif. Youth 2011 is a project of Young People’s Ministries, a division of the General Board of Discipleship. Here is a personal story about the Youth 2011 event in Sacramento.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (UMNS) – I learned that you can worship God in different ways, not just by praying.

For Bible study and worship, I thought it was going to be a “regular” service, but it was different! Bible study can be pretty slow, but our Bible study was music by RezLife Youth Band. It was on the big stage, with three large screens. We joined in singing the songs with the words on the screen, and there were flashing lights and colors.

In between the songs, the band members and other speakers talked about their faith – how they follow Jesus – and loving God. They sang the Scripture and sometimes read it aloud, and we always read it from the screen along with them.

One of the workshops we loved was “Sacred Space.” It was very peaceful, with quiet music and very low lights and candles. They had big tarps on the ground with art supplies: brushes, paper, canvasses and oil pastels. We sat on the ground and painted for hours. It was so special to come into this really relaxing space; it made us feel closer to God in some way. We were inspired to paint for hours!

For me, the small-group work in labs was a challenge. It was hard to interact with people we didn’t know. Most of them had different backgrounds from ours. They were not bilingual (Spanish/English) like we are. We dealt with the challenge by pushing ourselves to do something new – to interact and share our feelings and thoughts.

And it worked!

Every day in labs, we got to know the people better, and the activities they had us do helped us relax and learn about each other in our small groups. On the last day, we had to stand up in our small groups and massage each other’s upper backs and then scratch each other’s backs, then pound each other’s backs. That was fun! Some of the videos were funny, and others were pretty dumb, but we went every day. After we were done with the labs, our group felt like a community, a group that says:

I put you first.
I love you anyway.
I got your back.
I play my part.

And we did it by being in the small groups together.

Our lives were changed

It was inspirational.

I felt that Youth 2011 changed participants’ lives and my life, too. I think it changed how I am as a Christian. It made me think more about how I act and live on a daily basis, showing my love for God.

We learned about the different kinds of love. The agape love is deeper and more giving than just saying you care. This kind of loving means that my love of God will take me to new places with new people and doing new things to help others. Agape is a commitment kind of love, and we felt it in the group and saw it in the speakers, like Agape the rapper, and Zach Hunter, who has dedicated himself to fighting slavery worldwide.

Jared Hall, the illusionist, told us that every one of us has talents, and we should use those talents for good. He was really funny, and we were inspired by his tricks, especially getting out of the straightjacket.

The music at Youth 2011 was touching to me, because you could worship God and just be singing. I liked all the bands, and I was surprised to hear Fireflight, because I heard them on the radio before. It was exciting after Fireflight’s concert on Saturday to have them sign their CDs for us, and take a photo with us. They were all really nice to us and friendly, and they shared their faith with us through their music and by meeting with us afterward.

We learned the words to many of the songs that Kristian Stanfill and his band sang as we listened to him every day. The words of the songs and what he said brought us together in the large group.

Meeting people

At first, it was hard to meet people we didn’t know. We were shy and didn’t know what to say. We realized that by not talking to other people, we were letting ourselves down and making the experience less enjoyable. So we decided to open up and meet other people in our small group. We learned that we could meet and enjoy meeting other youth from other churches. We became friends as we ate together and had the shared experience of being a part of Youth 2011.

On the last day, we said, “We should have gotten to know them sooner!” We learned that strangers can become friends and that the others kids were like us, too. What they talked about at the program applies to our lives outside the event – at home, at school, in our neighborhood, at the store and at church. And that’s good!

I am thankful for the experience to be part of Youth 2011, for all the fun activities they had set up for us, the bands and all the music, eating out, learning to swim in the pool, the trip up and back and getting to know our own group better, too.

I’m thankful for the experience because it helped me understand what it means to be a United Methodist, and it made me feel grateful that I am a United Methodist. It also made me think about what I can do now and in the future to help people in need in my community.

Stephane Panteleon, 18, is a member of Watsonville First UMC in northern California. She graduated from Watsonville High School this past spring and will be attending college in the fall.

More than 3,700 youth from across the U.S. worship during the Youth 2011 event at Purdue University at Lafayette. Ind.

I felt that Youth 2011 changed participants’ lives and my life, too.