Big Youth Group News

BIG things are happening, or have happened, in the Newton Presbytery this summer.  The Big Tent event took place in St. Louis in early July.  The Big  Sing Worship Workshop is coming up Saturday, August 26, at the Presbyterian Church at Morris Plains.  Then there’s the ‘BYG’ event which took place in Harlan County, Kentucky on July 15 – 22.

What is BYG you might ask?  With an interest in finding out more about this little-known event, I traveled to the Community Presbyterian Church in Chester, NJ to talk with Pastor Chris Scrivens, who happens to be the Presbytery’s resident expert on all thing BYG.

Chris’ passion for this event came through loud and clear.  What follows is some of our conversation about BYG.  I would urge you to take an opportunity to talk to him personally to get further insight into just how much his BYG experiences mean to him.  In his own words, Chris explained just why he invests so much of his time and energy in BYG: “To be there with young people on the front line seeing what youth are going through, how they are processing it, and how it is changing their lives, is an invaluable experience.”

I share some more of our conversation below:

Kathi:  I’ve had a little difficulty finding out much about BYG.  What can you tell me about it?

Chris:  BYG stands for Big Youth Group, which has been in existence since 1992.  The Community Presbyterian Church of Chester is the organizing church for BYG and there are six other churches whose youth groups partner with us in this mission.  This is my 10th work camp with BYG which currently does their annual trip with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP).  ASP is dedicated to serving the less fortunate, and works in the poorest areas of our country, in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.  ASP bills themselves as a “relational ministry with construction on the side” – working hand in hand with not only the BYG and many other groups from across the country, but also with the families at whose homes we’ll be working on.  All of the homes are occupied and we are interacting with the families getting to know them in a personal way.  In fact, the first day on the site is called “Mosey Monday” – just a casual time of getting acquainted and becoming familiar with our environment.

Kathi:  So ASP works with your requirements to tailor a BYG event?

Chris:  We tell ASP how many people we have and what week of their summer construction season we want to come to, and they do all the rest.  They vet the projects and make all the arrangements.  The work camps usually last for eight days – five of which are working days and the other three spent in travel time.  The time spent together during these three days is utilized for intentional team building and getting to know each other. It’s an important part of the trip.

Kathi:  What can you tell me about your recent trip?

Chris:  Sixty-five youth and adults from local churches split into work crews of five to seven people and traveled to Kentucky in rented vans.  Churches from our Presbytery included Chester, Fairmount, Hackettstown, Sussex and Lower Valley (Califon). Califon United Methodist and St. Paul Lutheran in Flemington were also involved.

Kathi:  In what kind of work or projects did your team participate?

Chris:  We got a lot done in five days.  My crew of seven worked on installing a new bathroom which included replacing an entire subfloor, putting down new flooring, tiling the floor, installing a new sink and vanity, as well as the plumbing for the toilet and sink.  We also put on a small back porch from scratch and rebuilt and painted a front porch handicap ramp. To top it off, we even installed a few new windows.  The amazing thing is that many of the adults and youth have never used a tool before.  But ASP actually provides ‘tool training’ so everyone is prepared to get the job done.

Kathi:  What else is involved in preparing for this eight-day mission project?

Chris:  A great deal of fundraising is done within the churches to help fund the trip.  In addition we do three retreats throughout the year to build and keep up enthusiasm about the project.  We want the youth to get to know each other, to feel connected in and committed to a common purpose. In the Fall, we do a retreat together with youth from past trips.  This gives new participants a flavor of what the trips are like, and is a time for the veteran BYGers to process with each other their own experiences from the past trip.

This commitment is both physically and emotionally demanding.  So these retreats allow the proper time for the adult leaders and youth to realize who’s not really committed to the demands of the project and who is ready, willing and able to see it through. This year was really an extraordinary group of kids.  Everybody who participated really wanted to be there.

Kathi:  I know you just got back from BYG.  What were some of the highlights of this year’s event for you?

Chris:  Well, every year there’s the satisfaction of seeing the job or project completed and knowing you had a hand in that.  It’s a very personal experience but at the same time there’s the joy of accomplishing something with a group of others who have the same goal.  There’s a lot of interaction and satisfaction.

But just as important as what we’ve built together, is seeing the transformation that takes place for so many of the youth as they come to an awareness or deeper recognition that not everyone is as fortunate as they are.  They realize we’re all just human beings – and some just have different stories to tell.  A lot of the youth come to realize that “success” in the way they’ve been taught is important – in academics, sports, extra-curricular activities – is not as important or rewarding as helping others in need.  BYG provides a ripe environment for faith to take hold as the youth come to see what Jesus meant when he talked about the importance of ministering to the ‘least of these.’  They get to see what really matters in life.

But it’s not just about the kids.  I’ve seen Christ at work in the hearts of those who have been helped by BYG.  They work side by side with the BYG youth and adults and they too are touched by the love of Christ in action in their lives.  There is real opportunity to live out the Good News of the gospel in both loving, encouraging words, fellowship, and in productive action.

Kathi:  No doubt you’ve seen the first glimmers of emerging youth leaders at these BYG events.  The PCT is currently in the process of forming an emerging leaders team for youth.  What are your thoughts about what they might focus on as they develop this ministry?

Chris:  We need to prepare ourselves, for the sake of our future leaders and members, for less relevancy of things like organizations, institutions, and buildings.  I see so much happening within the churches and so much needs to happen – but what I’ve come to realize is if it’s not developing at the grass roots level – it might not happen.

I have had the opportunity through this process of participating in BYG events to build up trust with the youth – and their parents – over many years.  The kids trust me and I get to know them in more significant ways.  When youth come back from this event and are now connected to the church in a deeper way – when they want to come to be with each other – that’s “magic.”  They’re in the trenches together and that bonds them.  That’s how leadership gets built up.  While a structure in which to worship is important, I think church is most real for our youth today out among the people that society regards as the least of these or perhaps as even forgotten or discarded as having no worth.

What impresses our young people more than the pomp and circumstance of church, what is meaningful to our young people more than structure and organization, is love in action, faith in action.  What impresses, inspires and motivates young people are the amazing experiences of interacting with God’s people in love.  That’s when transformation happens at all levels.

~Kathi Heath, PCT Communications Team