An Adventist youth delegation from Colon, Panama, show their enthusiasm as they salute the more than 1,700 attending the church’s first region-wide youth congress, held in Panama City, Panama, Aug. 18-20, 2023. [Photo: Panama Union]

September 22, 2023 | Panama City, Panama | Kayc James and Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

Over 1,700 Seventh-day Adventist young people from across Panama met for the church’s first country-wide youth congress to pause, examine their spiritual life, and jumpstart their relationship with Jesus. Dozens of youth from Cosa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia also attended the three-day event in Panama City, Panama, Aug. 18-20, 2023.

“You are here to make the most of the experience that this congress provides, to learn more about Jesus and connect with other youth from all over the country and beyond,” said Pastor Jose De Gracia, president of the Panama Union. The congress, themed “Jumpstarting”, had been planned ever since the union was organized in 2015 but the event was delayed when the pandemic hit, he said.

Pastor Misael González, youth ministries director of the Panama Union and main organizer of the event welcomes congress delegates at the Cinta Costera Amphitheater in Panama City, Panama, Aug. 18, 2023. Delegations from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Colombia took part in the three-day event.[Photo: Panama Union]

Jumpstarting a connection with Jesus

Jumpstarting a life with Jesus is just what church leaders had in mind when assembling so many youth to the congress, said Pastor Misael González, youth ministries director of the Panama Union and main organizer of the congress. “Young people were looking forward to this event—an event that was meant to train, encourage, and motivate young people to embrace the mission of the church with their skills, talents and spiritual gifts in service to God and their community,” said González. The congress also provided biblical principles they can apply to their lives to deepen their commitment to Jesus and His church, he said.

Hundreds listen attentively during the opening night program at the Cinta Costera Amphitheater in Panama City, Panama. [Photo: Panama Union]

Young people took part in general sessions and seminars on mental health, leadership development, digital discipling, youth society leadership, bible journaling, mission service, lettering and more, as well as engaged in prayer sessions, special concerts, and community impact activities.

“Our young people were 100 percent engaged in every part of the event,” said González. Young people were eager to donate blood to save lives for dozens of people, distribute food, share literature, prayers, and hugs to people across plazas, streets, communities, among other activities, he added. The congress also saw hundreds of young people take part in a 5K walk throughout the city early on Sunday morning before the morning sessions took place on Aug. 20.

Pastor Arnaldo Cruz of the southeastern Florida Conference was the keynote speaker during Panama Union’s Youth Congress.[Photo: Panama Union]

The past remains in the past

Keynote Speaker Pastor Arnaldo Cruz of the Southeastern Florida Conference urged young people to wake up from spiritual death to a life with Jesus. “Whatever happened in your life it’s in the past,” said Cruz. “Jesus wants to slow down ‘your funeral’ and jumpstart your life in Him. No one can minimize what God is doing and can do for you.”

Pastor Andres Peralta, associate youth ministries director of the General Conference, encouraged young people to cling to Jesus as they navigate through the challenges they face. “Jesus can give you peace during the storms that you are facing,” said Peralta. He also encouraged young people to fill their lives with the Word of God so they can better fulfill the mission of sharing the gospel as they lead youth society meetings, community impact events and youth gathering.

Young people traveled from different parts of Panama to enjoy seminars and presentations at the Panama Covention Center in Panama City, Panama, Aug. 19-20, 2023. [Photo: Panama Union]

In addition, “Primera Fe”, a musical group from Chile, sang and led praise and worship during the youth congress.

Blessing other young people

For Tanysha Grenald, getting to the congress was not easy. She travelled by boat from Bocas del Toro at the southern tip of Colón Island in northern Panama, then rode in a car for nine hours to get to the youth event. “Getting here was a challenge because we had to raise funds to get here but thanks to God it has been an unforgettable experience and a true jumpstart for my spiritual life,” said Grenald. “I came here not wanting to miss anything with a heart willing to be moved by the Holy Spirit, and had an exceptional experience with greater conviction to help and care for young people who are the most vulnerable, who feel judged and sometimes rejected.”

Pastor Andres Peralta, associate youth ministries director of the General Conference leads a seminar during the congress event. [Photo: Panama Union]

Commitment, friendship and restoration were some of the key things Eira Rivas took from the youth congress. She traveled from the western part of Panama and basked in the packed activities that helped her meet other young people from across her home country and beyond. “This to me has meant a new beginning and has helped me understand that when we work for God, we are working for the greatest Boss and it doesn’t matter how much we have stumbled on our journey, God is always ready to help us to overcome any challenge,” said Rivas. “God lifts you up every day and it’s not just here that we can jumpstart our lives but every day we can jumpstart with Him.”

[Photo: Panama Union]

Young people spread messages of hope at traffic lights in the city, held musical concerts across malls and plazas, spread cheer and shared acts of kindness.

The youth congress and its activities were covered by national television, radio, and print media in Panama.

Deepening the connection with God

Eight young people representing each of the conferences and missions across Panama were baptized, adding to the dozens more young people who were baptized after hundreds of youth evangelism campaigns were held in local churches and congregations two weeks prior to the congress, said González.

Adventist young people hold posters with the words: “Only in God you will find rest for your soul” “Jesus loves you”, and “Free hugs” during a community impact in Panama City.[Photo: Panama Union]

“This [congress] has been incredible,” said González. “We were able to see the hand of God

moving in the lives of young people. Their commitment to God and their responsibilities in the church and the mission were very visible.”

A young person donates her blood as a service commitment to help others during the youth congress. [Photo: Panama Union]

Church leaders in Panama are already setting their sights on the next youth congress to take place in 2025, González said. “Our church has more than 10,000 active young people and we want be able to welcome more than double the youth congress delegation we had,” he concluded.

Tomas Hils contributed information for this article.

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