By Nicole James
With 25 countries officially registered at TeenStreet (TS) this year (and 43 nations represented), the diversity of teenagers at the summer conference is staggering. While some youth leaders plan TS into the annual church calendar and bring scores of teens with them, other country leaders or home office reps gather individual Christian teens from far-flung corners of their respective nations. For many of these teens, TS is the only place they encounter lots of Jesus followers who are the same age.
Maïa, 17, and Iona, 15, met each other at TS. “In my school, I have no Christian friends, and I have one Christian friend at church,” Iona explained. She has TS friends, like Maïa, of course, but they live far away. Even though Maïa knows about 15 Christian teens in her church youth group, she has only two Christian friends at school.
At TS, “you feel new again, and you’re able to get all the energy for the rest of the year,” she said.
“It always gives us a boost to continue the year,” Iona agreed. “even though we come from everywhere and we don’t even know each other. It feels like we’re all family.”
With few exceptions, the seven Turkish teens, ages 15 to 17, who attended TS this year have only a handful of Christian friends at school. Some have none at all.
Cousins Isa, 16, and Ali, 17, looked up TS on the internet before registering to come. “I saw pictures of lots of people worshipping in the big room (Mainhall). That was one of the reasons I thought I could receive blessings from TeenStreet and I wanted to come,” Isa explained.
When asked about the experience of being with 4,000 other people who love Jesus, the teens responded with a common theme: freedom.
Samuel, 17, said he felt free to worship by raising his hands. His church in Turkey is not open to that kind of worship expression, he explained.
“It gave me courage to see lots of youth in my age who are also believing,” Yoel, 16, stated.
Living in Muslim country, the Turkish teens face challenges at home, ranging from lack of acceptance to outright bullying. “People have a hard time understanding how someone is Turkish and a Christian at the same time,” said Egemen, 15.
According to Matthias, 15, “trusting God is sometimes really hard. But I learned once more that Jesus is always with us and is for us. And He loves us …God is our unshakeable refuge. We can do everything through Him, and He protects us.”
Four Danish teens – Emilie, 13; Hanna, 14; Catherine, 13; Miriam, 14 – said they had no Christian friends at school (apart from Hanna and Miriam, who attend the same school but are not in the same class).
In Denmark, a “Christian” country, Emilie explained, “people say they tolerate everything, but it doesn’t feel like you’re being tolerated [when you’re a believer].”
“There are not many teens who are Christians,” added Maja, 15. “People think you’re weird if you talk about Jesus.”
Being at TS “brings faith,” Hanna stated. “It’s hard to believe at a public school. People do things we don’t believe in and it pulls you away from Christianity.”
“At school, you feel far away from God,” Catherine noted, but “At TeenStreet, you meet God.”
Joseph, 16; Joanna, 15; Joshua, 16; and Michael, 14 (Korean-Americans, USA) said they had very few Christian friends at school. Often, those who say they’re Christians “don’t act like it,” Michael stated.
“Especially in America right now, there are a lot of issues that go against our beliefs [as Christians], but everyone else supports them. It’s hard to be the only one against something,” Joanna said.
“It’s hard to talk about your faith,” Joshua agreed.
Michael finds it difficult to be accepted by non-Christian peer groups in his school, but “TeenStreet taught me to be confident in sharing.” The theme, UNSHAKEABLE, hit home for him. “I’m shaky when it comes to sharing the Gospel with my friends, but [after TS] I’m less scared to be outgoing.”