After enjoying that amazing mango ice cream in Comfort, I made my way to Mo Ranch to be a small group leader for the Multi-Cultural Youth Conference. It was my first time at this conference, and I'm so glad I was able to be there. It's now my favorite conference I've been a part of at Mo. Before it all began, I enjoyed a little time appreciating the beauty of Mo:
The rustic, beautiful Chapel on the Hill, where I've gone for years and years. I found a shady tree (thank goodness) and sat reflecting, praying and just enjoying the way I always feel particularly close to God in that place. I did, however, move from my relaxing reflection when I noticed buzzards circling overhead. (Really!)
Before leaving, I made a little cairn (actual size: about 3'' high). Cairns are used all over the world and throughout history for lots of different purposes. Many in Ireland have ancient roots as burial sites or places of particular holiness. For me, it was just a way to respond to how "thin" (space between heaven and earth very close) that place is for me.
I also enjoyed a walk to the rapids and a quick soak in the lulling rapids before everyone arrived.
Once they did, it was busybusybusy and SO much fun. I had a fantastic small group full of diversity and personality, where we shared moments of deep care for one another and lighthearted moments of games and crafts. The theme for the conference was "If you really knew me..." and focused on who we really are as individuals, a community and children of God. We made masks that, rather than concealing ourselves, celebrated who we are in all our diversity and gifting. The kids had a lot of fun with it.
Naomi opted for the (less messy) hand plaster instead of a mask.
Luis had to be very still and patient as Max put the plaster strips on his face to make a mask.
Once they had dried, they all painted and decorated their masks. These young people were really creative.
We used the masks in closing worship. Rodger Nishioka (my awesome former prof at Columbia Seminary) was the keynoter/worship leader and he had the young people bring up their masks and place them on central tables to respond to God's call from Acts 2 and Galatians 3 to be prophets and visionaries and one (not "same") in Christ.
The highlight of my experience at Multi-Cultural was the cultural celebration night, where groups prepared food common to their cultures and then shared dances, songs and poetry. It really was a celebration of the richness of everyone's cultures and was fantastic fun. The food was divine, with everything from Native American tacos made with homemade fry bread to fried chicken and collard greens to kimchi and fried zucchini to chalupas and charro beans to trifle and earl grey tea. For more details on the culinary delights there, see my food blog.
Luis showed off his dance moves with the Hispanic American group and invited others to join in.
There was vivid energetic folklorico dancing...
...followed by some enthusiastic pinata breaking (to the amazement of the boy sitting in the front right).
Dabrina participated in a beautiful Native American dance to the Lord's Prayer...
...followed by Native American group dancing where lots were invited to join in...
...and even a rendition of Amazing Grace by many different tribes in their languages, made complete by Laramie's awesome rock guitar solo. :)
The Asian American group taught us songs in Korean and Chinese and then did the most hilarious skit of the night. April from my small group helped lead the singing.
The European American group did funny skits and songs from around Europe including ancient Greek Olympics, Shakespearean plays and even songs from The Sound of Music to celebrate Austrian heritage.
The African American group had everything from rhythmic step dancing (with a praise theme)...
...to a powerful rap (with a family theme)...
...to a poetry reading by Dawn, one of the most wise and compassionate people I've met, who was an adult leader in my small group. She read this poem by Langston Hughes:
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It was an amazing conference. I'm definitely eager to take part in it next year, too. Do you know that this Multi-Cultural Youth Conference is the only one in all of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in all of the States? A representative from the multi-cultural office at General Assembly even came to show appreciation for the conference. Pictured above are some of the youth leadership team, who worked really hard making it a memorable experience for everyone. They were awesome (and as you can see, knew how to have fun).
Get ready for a few pics where I look exactly the same but am with different cool people from the conference: here's Talvin and me.
...and here I am with Rodger, my former professor. It's been such a gift to see him first at Montreat and now at Mo Ranch this summer. God does great things through him.
All in all, a wonderful time, full of laughter, shared sorrows, worship, play, community, creativity and joy in celebrating God's gift of diversity.