European Youth congress impacts community


Seventh-day Adventist young people helped clear the air this week in Novi Sad’s Liberty Square (Serbia), where they asked passers-by to trade their cigarettes for watermelon and other fresh fruit on a warm summer day.

Benjamin Zihlman and Reimo Butscher from Switzerland expressed surprise when most of the residents were willing to swap not just their lit cigarettes, but their entire pack of cigarettes. Others went further, indicating a desire to quit smoking altogether and exchanging contact information with the young volunteers.

Growing in Christ is a walk, not a leap. It takes time.

Zihlman and Butscher plan to keep in touch with one couple through Facebook, where they’ll offer ongoing support in their efforts to quit.

The outreach event was one of six community-wide activities undertaken by young people in Serbia this week for the “Power of One” Pan-European Youth Congress. Adventist youth also cleared rubbish along the banks of the Danube River, repainted playgrounds equipment at local elementary schools and donated blood. Other young people handed out gift bags full of books such as “Gifted Hands,” by renowned Adventist neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson.

“It is a privilege to watch our young people take the ‘Power of One’ to the people through practical Christianity and sharing the gospel,” said Janos Kovacs-Biro, director for Evangelism for the Adventist Church’s Trans-European Division. 

Back at the SPENS Sports Center, after helping passers-by confront addiction, young people heard a message on facing their own struggles during a devotional by Adventist evangelist David Asscherick.

Asscherick reminded an audience of some 3,000 Adventist youth that growing in Christ is “a walk, not a leap. It takes time.”

“So many of us have been told that struggle is wrong, but if you struggle in your Christian experience, if you’re finding it hard to learn how to walk with Christ, that means you’re swimming against … the inclinations of the world,” Asscherick said, adding that the key to Christian growth is “to keep getting up.”

Matthew Gamble, pastor of the Elmshaven Seventh-day Adventist Church in St. Helena, California, United States, built on Asscherick’s message of spiritual growth.

“Some people believe they need to get over sin to be accepted by Christ. This is not the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is this: You’re going to heaven because of what Christ has done, what he is still doing and what he will continue to do.”

Asscherick and Gamble were both on hand to lead some of 17 workshops during the congress. In “The Mission Lifestyle,” Asscherick outlined the importance of guarding both spiritual and physical health while leading a Christ-centered, mission-focused life.

“This was a life-changing message for me,” said Elycia Martins from Australia.

Martins wasn’t the only young person to travel to the continent for the congress. Two visitors from Papua New Guinea logged 87 travel hours and passed through seven countries on their way. Forty-five European countries were also represented at the congress.

For Adventist youth ministry leaders in Europe, the congress marked a breakthrough. In the 1990s, church leaders first tried to organize a youth congress in Serbia, but political instability in the region thwarted their efforts.

This time around, young people were reminded how a relationship with God can bring lasting stability to their lives.

“If this congress has been the motivation for [young people] to either find Christ or to continue in this mission, I think it has achieved its main goal,” said Stefan Sigg, director of Youth Ministries for the church’s Inter-European Division.

“The [conference] was a magnificent and multicultural experience,” said Tabitha Krznar-Radovanovic, from Sydney, Australia. “Everything was so inspiring! The highlight moments were the creative approach to outreach activities from blood donation, book crossing, watermelon stalls and swapping cigarettes for fruit. Now we hope to continue to go confidently forward and share the good news about the power of the One, (Jesus Christ).