Jen Evans could not stop the tears when she saw a year’s worth of work come to completion at the 2016 Presbyterian Youth Triennium, a gathering of thousands of Presbyterian youth that takes place every three years at Purdue University. As one of the recreation leaders, she was responsible for creating a Hate to Hope Wall experience that was part spiritual reflection, part prophecy, and part art installation. A year in the making, the wall project encouraged youth to write notes of hope on cloth ribbons to cover hateful words and phrases that had been spray painted onto a wall built of pallets.
Evans and other organizers put up the wall as a hands-on demonstration that love can overcome hate. Beth Gunn, co-coordinator for the recreation ministry team, said building the wall came with challenges.
“It was so hard for the recreation teams to put the slurs and derogatory comments on the wall to begin with,” she said. “It felt risky to build it and put it out there. Then there was an hour of uncomfortableness while people tried to figure out what we were doing. But soon everyone wanted to cover the wall with their hopes and prayers.”
At the beginning, the wall had words like stupid, racist, fat, redneck, and idiot. By the end, the wall had been transformed as messages of hope covered the wall. One youth quoted Nelson Mandela; another wrote the fruits of the Spirit, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and generosity. Youth reminded one another that they are God’s beloved.
“There had to have been thousands of ribbons on the wall, and every single one carried a message of love,” said Jackson Ringley, a youth from Unity Presbyterian Church of Fort Mill, South Carolina. “I think for those who have been hurt by the words written on that wall, it was especially powerful to see the love that was brought to Triennium by participants from all around the world.”
Sarah Moore of Tirzah Presbyterian Church in York, South Carolina, said the experience had an impact on how she feels called to live her life.
“God’s work and mercy can overcome hate. What I wrote made me think of what I can overcome every day,” she said. “God is calling me to be an example of love in everyday life, with my parents, at my school, in band, and everywhere I go.”
The wall was a popular attraction as people walked by and stopped to read the messages of hope written by the youth. Those messages give Evans hope.
“When I saw the cloth pieces with all of those beautiful messages, I knew that those young people had an understanding of who God intends for us to be,” she said. “They could speak their hearts on those pieces of fabric. They understand that God is love. Through that project they reminded us that we don’t have to participate in the hate. We don’t have to be trapped by the ugliness of society.”
Today’s Focus: 2016 Presbyterian Youth Triennium
Let us join in prayer for:
Staff of Unity Presbyterian Church, Fort Mill, South Carolina
Dr. R. Dan Holloway, Senior Pastor
Jeannie Bickett, Senior Associate Pastor
Patsy Surratt, Director of Music
Kathryn McGregor, Director of Christian Education
Lindsay White, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
Jacob Saylor, Church Administrative Officer
Pam Bright, Financial Manager and Facilities Manager
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Lord, bless the youth in our communities who, without reservation, help others in need. Keep them in your heart and give them the strength to continue their mission. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.