Better together

Allie Shoup is an admissions counselor at Hesston College, where she shares her love for education with young people searching for the perfect place to belong. She is a born and raised Wichitan (of Wichita, Kansas) whose heart for people and adventure has taken her to five continents. Since attending Bethel College as a Bible and Religion major, Allie now lives in Newton, Kansas with her husband Will (pictured) and their lively house plants, where their days are filled with board games, cups of tea, folk music and the company of friends. 

In the summer of 2015 I attended the Mennonite Church USA Convention as a youth sponsor for Bethel College Mennonite Church.

I was spending my summer under the loving and guiding hand of Heidi Regier Kreider as a Ministry Inquiry Program intern, where I was given the opportunity to learn by doing — sitting in on meetings and committees, helping run Vacation Bible School, going on pastoral care calls to homes and hospitals, preaching, reading, listening and now, leading the youth of BCMC in Kansas City. I was excited to jump into the culture of the wider Mennonite Church, to learn and build relationships with the young people I was accompanying.

But — and I know I’m not the only one that felt this — convention 2015 was hard.

Looming over the flurry of activities, seminars, worship services and booths, was the heavy cloud of tension. This denomination I was just getting to know was being torn apart in delegate sessions on the far side of the convention hall. I was aware of  the difficult discussions and votes that were taking place; I even sat in on them a couple of times, and from the galley, I heard of hurt and loss and pain — unbelievable brokenness. Honestly it felt like I was stepping into the living room of a family that I didn’t belong to, listening to a fight that didn’t belong to me. But I wasn’t there for the adults.

I was there for youth.

And the 2015 youth convention was not fragmented and broken and tension-filled. Don’t get me wrong, the experience of the adults attending convention certainly colored the experience of the youth — they were aware, they were nervous — but that wasn’t the center of their time. The students that I traveled with were there to have an experience with one another, to hear from exciting speakers that they didn’t normally hear from, to have fun, to worship, to discuss, to learn and to serve together. They came from all over the country and, without heavy questions of theology or belonging, they embraced one another — the long-lost friend from camp, the cousin from Arizona, the new friend who also enjoys a well-played banjo.

What I found amongst the youth of Mennonite Church USA was hope that togetherness was better than separation.

Throughout the last academic year I have been serving Hesston College as an admissions counselor and what I found in Kansas City among the young people of the church has continued to shine through in this position. No matter where they’re from, no matter how their congregations differ on deep theological issues, the youth of Mennonite Church USA are happy to see one another again — to laugh, sing, play, learn, grow, serve – together.

Jesus encouraged us to learn from the children in our communities, to live, love and have faith like those unencumbered by the burdens of adulthood.

The youth of our denomination aren’t all necessarily “children,” but I think they have a valuable lesson to teach — we’re better, we’re happier, we’re more complete, together.

This summer I look forward to seeing that togetherness and gaining inspiration for the years to come.