Nearly 100 “Nehemiahs“ from over ten different countries came together in the Ukraine for two weeks in August – most of the participants under the age of 30. It was the first gathering of its kind, a group of “Young Nehemiahs,” who came together at the invitation of the nehemiah international network.
…Well certainly not the usual kind – no famous speaker delivering impressive speeches, no well-known music group to impress the crowd with an exciting sideshow. Anybody who showed up just for the show was at the wrong place. Instead, there was a variety of minigroups, workshops, and abundant opportunities to interact, to just open up and share from the heart.
Asked to describe what they found special about this get-together, the participants came back again and again to concepts such as warm-heartedness, respect, openness, love, interest, freedom, authenticity, encouragement, trust, caring, belonging, fun, naturalness, and encounter.
These two weeks were marked by an atmosphere of deep mutual care and acceptance – of being accepted as I really am, with all my beliefs, questions, and doubts; with my experience, my life story and background; with my hopes and my dreams.
Learning was a shared experience – learning from one another, at all levels. The young benefited from the experience of their elders, who in turn enjoyed the creativity and energy of the young. It was especially exciting and sometimes challenging to get to know people from different countries and cultures, and to see how, together, the different pieces form a whole. The participants’ diverse Christian backgrounds also added to the overall variety. And if anyone found something hard to understand or to accept, they were encouraged to ask about it rather than to just pass hasty judgment and put one another into “pigeonholes”.
This was an especially important aspect during this time, according to a lot of younger participants: “For us, it was a special privilege to be able to ask real-life, personal questions, openly and honestly.” They came away enriched by the experience, having discovered that asking honest questions brings honest answers.
Every day, a different country from the nehemiah international network gave a brief presentation of its work. In this way, the many facets and forms of the various Nehemiah activities worldwide were highlighted, making evident just how much potential lies in this international work.
The program wasn’t limited to talks and presentations. Three excursions offered a chance to discover the natural beauty of the Transcarpathian region. Fantastic weather and the excellent food at the Nehemiah Center did their part in making these two weeks a time to enjoy and to celebrate life. The Ukrainian nehemiah team‘s special brand of hospitality, plus the participants’ mutual openness towards one another were further ‘extras’, opening the door to many precious friendships – that will go on for more than just those two weeks.
It’s good to be loved! Attention, respect, and genuine concern helped more than one participant to move beyond their “comfort zones,” to open up and be honest to themselves and to one another, thus allowing God’s love to reach them again in a new way and in a new depth.
And let’s not forget that there was plenty of sport and other fun. One special highlight was called “Cultural Night,” to which the participants all contributed in their own ways, some of them wearing traditional costumes from their homelands. They sang Ukrainian folk songs, acted out a modern Russian fairy tale, performed a Thai dance, and recited Indonesian folklore. A “Haka” from New Zealand was part of the show, as was a Bavarian “Schuhplattler” folk dance, the latter was performed by the “Heidel Boy Group” decked out in lederhosen. In this way, the variety and abundance of the different cultures was again made evident for all to see.
More than a few participants used their time in Ukraine to question their own priorities and living habits. Some discovered that they had made compromises and taken wrong turns leading to deadends. They welcomed the chance to start anew.
Something that was abundantly evident was the urge felt especially by many of the youth to play an active role in this world, rather than to indulge in pre-packaged “consumer Christianity.“ Many creative ideas flowed. Add to this the experience that God uses the “weak” and equips them with the power, the gifts and the presence of His Spirit. Everyone has gifts to use for the good of others!
What remains is yet to be seen. Even three months later, a lasting, tangible result is a new enthusiasm for Jesus, and the earnest effort to put all the experiences and lessons from this time into action in everyday life. For everyone involved, Gateway to Life 2011 was a Milestone – not only in the personal lives of many, but also for the further development of the nehemiah team as a whole. The way so many younger and older „Nehemiahs“ came together as natural counterparts, each serving to complement the other, leaves us with the hope of interesting developments ahead in the future of the nehemiah international network.