“We must teach our young people to have some fun and games when they come together”. This was a point of discussion in one ‘First Line’ gathering. But there was stiff resistance. “NOOOO!! Our youth are already too playful and waiting for a chance to have fun. We come together for prayer and evangelization. If our groups become places of fun, then that will kill all that spirit and we will become like any other loose youth group.”

After all the debate and discussions, the group decided to take a new direction. The first line group realized that we ourselves needed training, because fun and play was not natural to our Charismatic ways or teachings. We invited a man named Tomy (from Alleppey in Kerala), a total outsider, to challenge and train us. For three days he broke the ice – all of us key people in the movement, making us run around, laugh and play and making ourselves like children that enjoy exhilarating company. It was early in 1983 and the training changed our personal lives, our approach to group gatherings and the way in which we gave our retreats and talks.

We planned a leadership training. A team from among us planned its content and dynamics, calling it “Know Yourself Program”. Using a lot of fun, games, active discussion and reflection we led groups through this 4-day transforming experience. This was offered all over Kerala. Then the “Youth Camp” at Thevara in 1984, in fact an Initiation Retreat, but was entirely packed in the new wineskin of fun and play. The three hundred odd teenagers who attended it just loved it, and were radically changed. And above all the epoch making “Jesus Youth ‘85” was envisioned on this keystone.

And what was its impact? Introduction of fun and play in our youth circles, especially in our trainings, brought in a lot of fresh air and joy in the movement. Consciously or otherwise our circles became youth friendly, fanatic attitudes were mellowed down; dropout rates dramatically lessened.

WHY FUN AND GAME FOR YOUTH?

Fr Gino’s inputs during a previous training had a definite influence in changing our attitude to prayer, spirituality and mission. The above-mentioned discussion was possible only in that context. In one session he was talking of the ‘Masks’ that we all wear. Our masks of ‘Obedient daughter’, ‘Responsible student’, ‘Pious Catholic’ and so on can be just an external pretension, never truly reflected on and examined by ourselves. Masks are mainly to please others, but inside us our deep yearnings and dreams may be very different. Becoming aware of ‘Me’, the real and special ‘me’, is the first step towards becoming a genuine person and removing my masks. I can grow in prayer only in this way. When I am on my life’s mission, the mission to love, and there my real me is so very important. Unfortunately, most of us think of emulating great saints and excellent examples, but seldom connecting it with the real ‘me’.  And eventually I don’t even ask what I can and want, leading us to wear those ‘masks’.

In our discussions we said, ‘Isn’t this what Jesus said, be like little children?’ As someone said, ‘If you want to see the real child, go to the playground’. And one way to kill the child that is inside every child is by not allowing him/her to play. Another comment was, ‘we grown up people have fun only when we make fun of others’. Innocent fun and play are so far away from us. Even those advanced in spiritual life are good at making fun of others, but very upset, when being made fun of by others. Ability to be playful and laughing together with people around us is a beautiful way of overcoming our pride and self-righteous attitudes. Thus, we overcome the greatest hurdles in the path of holiness. St John Bosco was loved by youth and led them all to Christ in many creative ways. He used to say, “Run, jump, have all the fun you want at the right time, but for heaven’s sake, do not commit sin!”

Hear what Pope Francis says, “we must discover the depth of the person, the fundamental health, the capacity for lightheartedness, the creative capacity for play. The Book of Wisdom says that God was playful, the Wisdom of God was playful. Rediscover play as a learning experience, as an educational experience, so that education will no longer be merely information, but creativity at play. Rediscover this playful aspect which enables us to grow in creativity and in joint work.” As the Pope rightly says, helping children and youth to be joyful and playful is very important, as that is an indication of a healthy inner life and that the person is growing in the path of love and right spirituality.

HELP YOUTH TO PEEL OFF ‘MASKS’ AND BE TRULY JOYFUL AND PLAYFUL

“In 1991 I came across this Jesus Youth group called the Rex Band. Their stage show was beautiful and deeply spiritual, but later when I spent the next day with the group it shocked me. They were just playful, having fun with one another”. This was the words of a young Charismatic leader from Bombay who thought that spiritual people shouldn’t laugh and play. But in a few days, he became a great friend and fan of these prayerful artists, because they were truly genuine and each one had a unique yet deep relationship with God. Later he shared that his deepest conversion was becoming a joyful and genuine Christian like these wonderful ‘’Rex Banders”.

Young people are in search of a spirituality that is genuine and youthful. Fun and play are part of it. When they see it, they will surely be transformed, as that is really “worshipping the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23).


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Dr Edward Edezhath, one of the pioneers of pioneers of Jesus Youth gives us a glimpse of the growth of the movement