With boundless enthusiasm and energy, high school and college students spread good will and cheer in the greater Bridgeport, CT area the weekend of December 13–16, 2013, as they participated in the YES Program of FOCUS North America (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve). During that weekend, 32 young Orthodox Christians gave up their smart phones for fellowship with each other, and exchanged social networking for social action—with unbridled joy.
YES (Youth Equipped to Serve), based in Pittsburgh, PA, provides opportunities for junior high, high school, and college students to engage in social action. The program is also designed to raise self-awareness through simulated and real encounters that create a deliberate tension between egoism and sacrifice, promoting conscious reflection about what it means to see the image of Christ in each person and to do God’s work. (View a video from the YES website.)
During their weekend in Bridgeport, YES participants took a non-conventional prayer tour of the city, and then on Saturday, quickly shifted their plans from visiting a local homeless shelter (which closed due to a New England snowstorm) to passing out small treats and holiday greetings to shoppers at the local mall. They also surprised shoppers by paying for their coffee or lunch!
“It was actually more uncomfortable sharing kindness with the middle class and rich than with the poor!” acknowledged one participant. “Our efforts toward the poor this weekend were never rejected, but oftentimes people who were better off economically mistrusted or even snubbed us—and this was a valuable exercise in ministry, because we experienced, in a small way, the societal rejection that Jesus must have often felt.”
“The fruit of engaging our groups in service to their community is that they begin to know as friends, the people that they once perceived to be strangers,” said Katrina Bitar, director of the YES Program, and one of the supervisors accompanying the group to Bridgeport. “Students that experience a YES trip often become aware of who the Lord has created them to be—a valuable part of His workmanship—as they enter into a life of selfless love.”
The YES group was hosted by our parish, but housed at St. George Orthodox Church, Trumbull, where Archpriest Dennis Rhodes is rector. The parishes are in the New England Diocese and Albanian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), respectively. The group sang vespers at St. George Church on Saturday, and participated in Divine Liturgy at Holy Ghost Church on Sunday—as well as giving an impromptu and inspired sacred music concert in the church coffee hour!
View a video (taken by LoveAnn Curran) of YES participants singing a hymn of praise to the VIrgin Mary:
Any time Orthodox teens can come together to pray with each other, support each other in their faith, create friendships, and reach out to those in need, it is a very good thing. We were blessed to host the YES Program over the weekend and we look for another opportunity to invite them back. They made a lasting impression on our parish members.
Listen to YES participants sing “Silent Night.”