"We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."  Matthew 10:40-42 (The Message)

By Paul Barker
Director of Youth Ministries, St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon

The theme for EYE 2011 was Mission, stepping away from the service of self and doing the work that helps fulfill God’s mission. With this in mind, ten youth and three adults from the Diocese of Pittsburgh headed to Hermitage, PA on June 21, to catch three chartered busses already on their way to the Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. It was a tight fit with over 170 of us travelling from Province III. This was our first experience meeting other youth from Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

After two brief stops, a shot of the Chicago skyline and a breakfast in Madison, Wisconsin, we pulled into the Twin Cities. We had a few hours before our check in time so… Mall of America! The kids had a blast riding roller coasters, grabbing lunch and shopping. What a huge and amazing place!

Our group arrived at Bethel University around 4:00 p.m. Wednesday. We unloaded, located our dorms and immediately found something to do in order to stretch and loosen up legs that had been crammed under bus seats for too long! We had dinner in the Dining Center, sat in informational meetings and then settled into rooms. Much time was spent by youth in the lounges between the girl’s and boy’s wings playing ping pong, foosball, shooting pool and watching TV. This was where the youth mingled and met people from all over and as far away as Hawaii! Our resident staffer went over the rules and expectations and then lights out after a long day.

After breakfast on Thursday, we had worship in the Great Hall with our presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori preaching and celebrating along with all the bishops present. Our call to worship was led by a Native American drum and vocal group from a local tribe. We got an immediate sense of the scale and power of the event; about a thousand Episcopal youth and adults worshipping together. The services were awesome! They were full of energy in the form of song, music and message, and for most of us, the highlights of the week. After lunch we broke into reflection groups where we mingled with other members from all over and discussed our many mission experiences. Next were workshops where we learned more about performing mission in today's world. Then, the kids went to locations around the campus to do mission outreach such as making prayer puppets for children and writing encouragement letters to wounded soldiers.

Friday morning's program was a hit. Dr. Rodger Nishioka, from Columbia Theological Seminary, got us laughing, thinking ahead and reflecting. His message of our youth being prophets and visionaries struck deep with our kids and most of them sat through his workshop later in the day. Images from his "The Brick Testament" really helped bring the presentation alive.  Dr. Rodger told us about two college students graduating from the same university but had only met by chance. One won a cash award of $20,000 for being a top student. The other became a missionary while studying in India, starting her own foundation helping orphans. The first student gave his check to the other, explaining to his perplexed parents, “We all can do well, but what we need to do is good.”

The other speakers were informative and thought provoking as well. The Rev. Luke Fodor, with Episcopal Relief and Development, spoke on his many mission experiences, including those he spent at an early age in dangerous corners of the world. Cameron Graham Vivanco, an Episcopal Missionary, shared her experiences while working in Ecuador. Several challenges were offered up to our Youth; plan ahead, work compassionately, develop relationships and continue with your mission throughout the year and throughout your lives!

The worship band, led by Sam Hensley, was awesome and filled the services with tons of energy! Have you ever seen a mosh pit at an Episcopal service? Well, they do exist! I saw many of the band’s cd’s on the bus home. The other preachers were the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of Maryland and Dr. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies.

The kids continued with their daily reflection groups and their selected workshops. Some favorites were Dr. Rodger, "The Happening", West Texas' Mission to Ward 3 Houston, Miqra, yoga and hackey sack attack. Free times remained busy, playing and mingling with other youth. Our kids made friends they plan to stay in touch with. Our group became instant friends with several youth from Hawaii. They showed us how to "chill"!

Some of our kids from the province had the opportunity to work a shift across the street from the university, where a house was being built through Habitat for Humanity for a local family. All of us made a commitment to continue our mission lives after our return to our own communities.

The week culminated with a huge cookout Saturday night where there were goodbyes, photo shoots and text info exchanges. The evening worship started out with all participants in a long procession and the Rt. Rev. Brian Prior on the roof of the Habitat House! What a finish! Again, the service was awesome.

Well, Sunday morning the busses were waiting to take us all home but the experience for the Pittsburgh Diocese and Province III was not over. We stopped in the middle of Chicago and had communion in front of the offices of the Diocese of Chicago. 170+ Episcopalians in green t-shirts singing, praising God and breaking bread got many looks from city pedestrians and motorists. What a moment!

With visions of family and home and the beautiful Pittsburgh skyline coming into view, our thoughts turned to what to do next, what does God have in store for us? We heard so many stories of amazing people doing incredible things around the world, but what is our mission? During the week, the question was asked, what commitments will we take home with us? What will we do to help those of us in need, right in our own communities, in Pittsburgh.

We don’t have to search far to hear of 370,000 people in western Pennsylvania suffering from hunger. Nor do we need to look hard to learn what we can do to help, right now! As I write this report, the Race Against Hunger is starting, sponsored by our diocese’s Social Justice and Outreach Committee. Many of our youth are planning their efforts to collect food items and dollar donations. Some will volunteer to prepare and serve meals at soup kitchens and shelters. More will attend awareness programs, hunger-themed movie nights and other money raising projects to fight hunger.

One thing I discovered at this event, our youth are ready; ready to serve in this harvest work and to take on whatever God has waiting for them, either here in Pittsburgh or some other corner of the world.

All photos except the Presiding Bishop courtesy Paul Barker
Presiding Bishop photo courtesy Coleman Sellers Photography, © 2011, used with permission

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