Experiencing vibrant community at TeenStreet

03 Aug, 2017 | Germany
Nicole James
Teenagers experience vibrant community at TeenStreet, OMs international youth congress.

From 27 July to 2 August, 3,800 people gathered in Offenburg, Germany, for OM’s annual TeenStreet youth congress. Twenty-five countries officially registered for TeenStreet, but the 2,100 participants, staff and service team volunteers, together stemmed from 43 nations. 

Passion. Energy. Excitement. Loud. Worship. Fun. Jesus. 

This list barely scratches the surface of words that describe TeenStreet (TS). Yet, together, they create the community that keeps teens and service team members coming back year after year, to participate and to volunteer during the annual international youth congress in Germany. 

Although TS has been a ministry of its parent organisation, Operation Mobilisation (OM) for 25 years “it is a little bit different; it always has been,” explained TS director Ger van Veen. “TeenStreet was never 100 per cent planned. It came into being because we realised we had this bunch of teenagers coming alongside a missions conference, and we realised we needed to do something for them.” 

The ministry grew organically, quickly developing into the nearly 4,000-person event that defines its existence today. Each year, TS experiences a 50 per cent turnover, which means over 1,000 new teenagers attend the event every summer—not in response to outstanding marketing strategies but because their friends invited them to join the TS experience. Based on numbers and excitement, there’s no question TS is a viable ministry. 

However, in 2016, OM released a new global mission statement: We want to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached. In light of the new, singular focus, many leaders within the organisation began to ask: “How does TS fit into OM?” 

In fact, TS doesn’t seek to immediately engage all teenagers in long- or short-term missions. Still, Ger announced: “I can’t be more joyful in saying I think we’re in the middle of OM’s core business.” 

Why? TS is a vibrant community.  

“We are a big community, an international community, an inter-generational community,” Ger reasoned. Plus, teens “get excited about vibrant communities. The vocabulary of the [OM] vision statement fits the vocabulary of this generation.” 

“The teens don’t ask what denomination the others are from. For them, the important question is, ‘Do you love Jesus or not?’” explained Christian Pilz, field leader of OM Italy. “Country, culture, language, colour—it’s actually not important.” 

The TS core values are relationship, impact and empowerment. “We’re helping people to see [following Jesus] is normal life,” Christian said. “You can be excited about what you share. In a way, you can be contagious by actually having Jesus visible in your life.” 

TS also equips participants—teens and service team volunteers alike—to reach the unreached.  

“Often when we think of unreached, we think of geographical places, but in secularised Europe, those most-removed from the gospel are the generation that is not being taught any Christian principles,” Ger stated. “The younger you are, the more unreached you are.” 

In Italy, a Catholic country whose capital hosts the Vatican City and world-renowned St. Peter’s Basilica, the OM team recently facilitated a day camp for children aged eight to 12. “You talk about Peter from the Bible, and the kids say, ‘Peter? Who is that?’” Christian said. “The least-reached are our own people group. That’s probably very true in most parts of Europe.” 

Two teenagers living in France, Iona, 15, and Maïa, 17, said TS is an essential part of their ability to continually follow Jesus. “In my school, I have no Christian friends, and I have one Christian friend at church,” Iona shared. 

Maïa, who lives eight hours away from Iona on the other side of the country, said she had two Christian friends at school, and around 15 at church, on account of the “big” 20-person youth group.  

The two teens met at TS and stay in touch throughout the year via social media. “It’s easier for us to talk to each other because we believe the same things. When we have questions, or we need someone to pray for us, or we’re not feeling well and it’s related to God, it’s really nice to have a friend you can talk to who understands you,” Maïa explained. 

At school, the girls face the challenges of secularisation and the influence of other religions. “Most of the teens start smoking or drinking… You have to stay firm and not go in those directions,” Maïa said. 

“In my school, there are more Muslims than Christians,” Iona added. 

In 2007, Christian brought a group of seven Spanish teenagers to TS. They arrived, and looked around, their mouths hanging open in amazement: “We didn’t know so many people of our age exist who are Christians, who believe in the same God,” they told Christian. 

Of those seven teens, four were involved in missions afterwards for at least three months, two with OM. “When you talk with the younger generation in OM, especially Europeans, basically all of them got to know OM through TeenStreet,” Christian remarked. “They maybe didn’t make the decision here at TeenStreet to go into missions, but somewhere during their growing up [years], TeenStreet was a link.” 

The atmosphere at TS provides many teens with encouragement that is absent “even in church or at home all by ourselves,” Iona explained. “You have people around you, always praying for you. If you have a question or need someone to pray for you, they’re just next to you. It’s a different feeling, and it’s a very strong feeling.” 

Ger concluded, “If you’re asking me how TeenStreet fits into OM’s vision statement, we focus on Jesus followers, we focus on being a vibrant community and we have people [participating] who live among the least reached.” 

Credit: Nicole James · © 2017 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

OM exists to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached.

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