No to being Couch Christians: A reflection ahead of the Synod

“Young people, the Church asks you to go, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to those who are near and those who are far away. Share with them the freedom you have found in Christ. People thirst for genuine inner freedom. They yearn for the Life which Christ came to give in abundance….In your hands, carry the Cross of Christ. On your lips, the words of Life. In your hearts, the saving grace of the Lord.” These were the words of St John Paul II mission young people during the World Youth Day

The Church dedicated the year 2018 to young people. This space if used wisely can forever engrave the importance of youth ministry. Looking forward to the Synod, as young people we have our own aspirations and challenges. There is need to look at areas that might be a guiding light as we look towards the Synod.

A lot of young people have a huge desire to follow Christ within the Church but, we still end up losing quite a number to different denominations. One young lady wanted to leave the Church because the way we pray was not uplifting for her and having lived close to a Pentecostal Church, she was attracted to their way of praying. Ever since she discovered Charismatic Renewal, she wants to remain and enjoy the fruits on offer. The Church has space for everyone, but, at times we are not exposed to these choices.

There is no solid support structure after confirmation for young people. Between ages 6-18 youth formation is guaranteed mostly by the parents and in other instances, Catholic Schools. Between 18 and 30 there is no adequate support structures for continuous formation. Fewer groupings still exist in the Young Adult Ministry and hence the migration. The space that is there is physical and regulated. Focus should be put on finding creative ways to engage with young people at this crucial age. It cannot be a one size fits all approach, but, have attractive packages that bring youth together, express themselves and share experiences. 

 

In our Zimbabwean context, there are some limiting factors to full participation of young people and these include:

Unemployment– A large fraction of the young people in the church are not employed. This often leads to dishonest ways of making ends meet and hedonistic lifestyles to alleviate the boredom. Most have left the country in search of greener pastures in the diaspora, in other regions where the Church is less vibrant.

Political Violence – Because of high unemployment, young people are used as political pawns advancing agendas of big political players.

Drug and Substance Abuse – Alcohol has been problematic to the extent of disturbing normal daily routines.

Child Headed Families – A lot of young people find ourselves with the burden of taking care of families. The levels of responsibility at such a young age affects fuller participation and potential losing out on the fuller growth process within the Church.

Child Abuse– Due to the dire economic situation, a lot of young people find themselves on the end of physical, verbal and child abuse. This leads to a rise in cases of STIs including HIV/AIDS.

 

Are there opportunities for young people? The Church has set up structures for youth to have a voice in the future we desire. However, they have been reduced to formality and not fully respected with regards to value of contribution. We are guilty as youth from not standing up to our responsibilities within the Church. Instead of tackling issues head on, we retreat into the background and the space is taken up by others. It is not all bleak in terms of opportunities below are some ways we can enhance participation: 
1. Exposure to different communities and lifestyles. Programs like World Youth Day, MAGIS AFRICA provide space for youths to share experiences.

2. Virtual Social Platforms, while these are not physical places, social media deserves mention because it is at times supplanting the former said unregulated spaces. They are effective because of affordability, accessibility and the chance they offer to reach people not in one place but anywhere in the world, beyond borders and across continents.

3. In face of the economic crisis we are facing, there is need for an Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Church. The Church given the links she has, can become the biggest employer of its very own. Not only is it good for livelihoods of young people, but, a way to even expand its reach into unchartered territories. 

4. Use of established Church institutions like VCTs, Hospitals, Schools to provide life skills education and community oriented developmental programs. The global climatic movement is taking shape and it is an avenue where a lot of youths can get involved with adequate support.

 

There is need to invoke a deep thought process, discernment and a constructive voice. The youth divides cuts across from urban to rural and there is need for an inclusive approach to capture the views of everyone. Think tanks, focal group discussions, conferences, forums facilitated by young people can go a long way in achieving a more detailed view of the situation young people are in. Structures are already there to assist, but, more importantly the young people to participate fully. 

It is time as young people, we stop being ‘Couch Christians’ and start to take our place in the world. Not only are we the future of the Church, but, we are the PRESENT and we have a role to shape the today and tomorrow we desire.

By Hamadziripi Chinhoyi

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