The Hope I See…
Shoy Thomas, the International Coordinator of Jesus Youth, argues the case that there is a lot of hope for future – for there is a lot of goodness in the young people around us.
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” This is a quote from Socrates who lived in 469—399 B.C. Surprising, right? When you read the quote, didn’t you think it might have been yet-more-moaning about today’s youth? Well, apparently, it was so even 2500 years ago.
Youth not behaving according to the expectations of elders is not just a problem of this generation; it is something that has always been there. Even when acknowledging that there might be areas of concerns in young people as well as in youth culture, in my travels and daily encounters as the International Coordinator of Jesus Youth, I have been blessed to have witnessed an abundance of goodness in the world around me, that gives me much hope for the future.
As much as many of you might describe today’s youth as “having bad manners” or “showing disrespect for elders” or who “contradict their parents and tyrannize their teachers”, I am here to tell you otherwise.
Some time back, as part of my travels I happened to stay with a Jesus Youth family in a country outside India. This family consisting of the husband, wife and their three children had their house open for ministry, day and night, making it the de-facto Jesus Youth hub there. During the many times I have stayed with them, I have seen the Jesus Youth in that country, especially young people, arriving unannounced at odd times, having impromptu meetings and other discussions, spanning long hours. I was witness to this family’s difficulty of planning meals and meal times, as it was common for people to arrive unexpectedly and without notice. As I could see the pains they were taking to cater to everyone and everything, once I suggested to the husband who was a youth minister there, that although I appreciated their open heartedness, I felt it would be better for them as a family to provide some guidelines to the young people in that country – about the need to give advance notice of the meetings scheduled and the number of people expected each time. After hearing me out he responded with a smile, “Of course, I can insist on a bit more discipline and that sure will help us as a family, but I doubt whether it will help in building the youth ministry here!” On the one hand, it could be true that the family is going through a fair amount of struggle because of the extreme fluidity in their daily schedules, but for that beautiful couple, they see it as a way to build the youth ministry in that country. And because of their sacrifices and struggles, the youth ministry there has a place to call home, a place where young people can meet and hangout in a safe environment. This is something that has always amazed me, which I see as a model of youth ministry and a model for youth ministers in general.
You might argue that this very thoughtful gentleman and his wife were not youth but youth ministers, hence, the goodness. But that is not entirely true. Not just youth ministers, I have seen many of our young people contribute selflessly to building youth ministry. Nowadays, academic life in colleges/universities is extremely hectic – with regular exams, assignments and viva voce there is hardly any time available for students to do anything else. Yet, I have seen many of them eagerly go out for mission trips even during their miniscule semester breaks. For many of them, they would have had to go through umpteen struggles and sacrifices to raise the money for the journey itself. And yet they want to go to these remotes areas to share the joy of Christ as well as to experience the joy of a mission experience.
Recently, I was so impressed by three young adults, Jesus Youth leaders from a Western country, who visited us at our home in Kochi and spent the day with us. Their behaviour, the questions they asked, their genuine desire to learn about the culture of the movement here and the warmth of their interactions was so inspiring, that both my wife and I were genuinely amazed at their maturity and well-rounded character. This is quite unlike what you would expect to see in young people, especially if you believe that the youth these days are disrespectful and tyrants. I believe that it is a profound testimony to the culture and character formation imparted by Jesus Youth movement that these young adults have become the people they are now.
I remember a situation that arose in a region where the coordinator of the team, early on in his term had to back away from ministry activities because of some serious personal issues. This created a huge vacuum, and in this situation, it was a young girl who stepped in bravely to fill the gap. This was a girl who was thought to be too young and too new to the movement, yet she was convinced that this was her primary call. She would go on to travel through the whole region, giving her time wholly for the youth in her region and for the movement. And her efforts brought a new sense of life into the movement in that region, with the whole team being rejuvenated and pulling together to get through the difficult situation. She played a vital role in touching the lives of the local youth for the better.
I also remember the case of a young man, who was offered an on-site assignment with a promotion and salary hike, around the same time when he was asked to take up an important office within the movement. For any other person, it would have had been an easy choice – choose the promotion, salary hike and onsite assignment, and opt out from the ministry responsibility. But not for him; he chose to take up the office of the movement as he was convinced that this was his mission place and God was calling him here. He is still very active in the place and because of his witness, he has and continues to inspire many young people and is instrumental in building the youth ministry there.
In the recently concluded International Assembly, we launched a new website called www.catholic.cafe. Also, in Kairos Global, the section called “Ask Fr Bitaju” has been running from the beginning. Both are avenues for young people to ask questions related to faith and morals. And when I see the questions being asked in both places, I sense the genuine thirst and yearning in young people to learn more about the Church, about faith and about Christian way of life. And this fills me with hope.
For the last 28 years, Jesus Youth has been running the ‘Fulltimership project’. There are various fulltimership trainings happening around the world today. It is a blessing to see young people being transformed by the training and coming back and actively contributing to Jesus Youth and in their own parishes. But what is more impressive is how young they really are. These are fresh graduates of 20–24 year old’s. These young people are yearning, inspiring and hardworking – not something that you would expect from today’s youth.
Yes, there are lots of young people who are going through difficult struggles around us and yes, every print and broadcast media is filled with negative news about them, constantly painting a doomsday picture for our world and future. Some claim that the youth are hopeless and cannot be relied on, and some, that they are just bad. Yet, all I see around are offshoots of hope and buds ready to bloom; for my reality doesn’t come from news outlets but from knowing the young people in the world around me and everywhere I go, and these young people fill me with hope and a sense of wonder for the future.
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