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A letter from Dessa Palm in the Philippines

March 2013

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (1 Tim. 4:12).

Silliman University Divinity School choreographing a well-loved church song

The seminary students were huddled in groups of six, with their small index cards in front of them bearing a few words they had scribbled. Hours before this time, they had stretched their bodies, vocalized and explored what their voices can do, did some improvisational activities to loosen their imagination, choreographed their favorite church song, and portrayed beloved Bible stories using movement and sounds. There was a lot of laughter shared, so much goodwill.

This was a workshop on “Communicating the Gospel through Theater Arts” that we were asked to facilitate for a Christian Education class under Rev. Dr. Jeaneth Faller of the Silliman University Divinity School.

Most of the seminarians had just returned from a year of internship in their respective conferences (the equivalent of presbyteries), enriched by their immersion in church realities, including joys and challenges. Their sense of urgency was palpable as they shared what they had written on their index cards—concerns they felt compelled to address as future pastors. As a collective process, they needed to agree on one issue to elaborate on as a performance piece.

I listened in on the groups’ discussions and was drawn to a theme than cut across the groups: the need to engage young people in the church. There were several sub-themes that emerged:

  • Is the worship relevant in content and appealing in form to young people?
  • Is the church, especially its elders, listening to the voice of the youth?
  • Are we treating young people with genuine respect and equality? Are we giving them an opportunity to participate substantively in decision-making?

Eventually one group decided to focus on that theme. As they detailed the dialogue and rehearsed for their piece, I realized how impassioned the students were around this issue, and I came to further understand that these feelings had emerged not simply as detached observations of church life, but more as a testimony of the students' own journey as the church’s faithful. Many of them are still young and experienced invariably the difficulties of generational gaps and misunderstanding, of not being genuinely listened to or allowed to participate in ways that are not always what the church of the elders prescribed to.

But here they are, listening to God’s call for ministry and offering their lives. These young seminarians are also bearing witness to the story of Timothy, who was mentored and trained by the apostle Paul and regarded as a fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ. As future pastors, they want to be part of a church of Christ that continues to be relevant to young people, and to provide an affirming and life-giving environment for young Christians to grow in their faith and lives.

Dessa and Cobbie Palm

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 211
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