On March 20, 2021, the continued pandemic did not faze the hundreds of Ontario children, youth, young adults and young at heart serving their communities on a sunny Global Youth Day. Instead, it inspired them even more to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Since 2013, Global Youth Day has challenged young people to “be the sermon,” sharing God’s love through outreach activities. This year, COVID-19 brought a unique sense of purpose and creativity to a now-familiar world church initiative.
New for 2021, Edwin Martin, Adventurer, Master Guide and Pathfinder (AMP) director, and John Scott, Youth and Young Adult director, hosted an exciting, two-part Global Youth Day broadcast from Ontario Conference’s studio. The studio, fully developed in 2020, proved vital to this undertaking. Morning and afternoon segments featured special music, AMP and Youth ministry updates and—most significantly—field reports. Thanks to technologies discovered and used more during the pandemic, regional outreach groups could enter the broadcast and live stream their activities with their phones.
The pandemic shaped both the type of outreach and the individuals served. Several groups offered COVID care packages, including hand sanitizer, masks, snacks, lotion, notes, water bottles, homemade cards and gifts (hand-knitted monkeys in one region). For instance, Metro North Central youth and Berea Beacon Pathfinders offered free hand sanitizer and masks, along with religious materials at Keele and Lawrence in North York and downtown Toronto, respectively.
This year, there was a special focus on acknowledging essential workers—e.g., healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes, police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers and bus drivers. Young people showed their appreciation for these individuals’ work via gift packages, gift cards and signs. Metro East even presented essential workers at Extendicare Rouge Valley with a thank-you cake. “Forget Spider Man, forget Batman. It’s all about our frontline workers. They’re truly our unsung heroes,” said Dora from Metro North Central.
Other activities across Ontario included picking up garbage, dropping off items to food pantries and giving their church’s seniors or shut-ins food or gift packages. In Peterborough (East Central Ontario), the youth gave seniors gift bags with Bible games, puzzles and colouring books, attached with helium balloons reading “You Are Special.” Michela from Toronto West reported on their region’s “Adopt a Grandparent” initiative, giving gifts, letters, pictures and food to shut-in seniors. In Scarborough, youth picking up garbage caught people’s attention, including one police officer who said he was proud of them once they shared what the activity and the day signified.
A few other highlights captured live were:
- Youth organizing and delivering 130 lunch bags to the homeless in downtown Hamilton (Southern Ontario Adventist Youth Network)
- Metro West youth and their leaders preparing lunch for Youth Without Shelter—one of the five organizations they partnered with that day. Viewers also met leaders from other partnering organizations, namely, the New Genesis Gospel Chorale and the Black Outreach Collective
- Eastern Ontario youth and their leaders running an exceptionally well-organized operation, with stations in Ottawa East Church, including one for donation drop-off, one to pick up a sign (reading “You are loved,” “You are appreciated,” “Don’t give up,” etc.), one to pick up baskets with gift card envelopes, a prayer station for writing prayers to give people and a final station for giving their Global Youth Day testimonies
- In Windsor (Western Ontario), bus drivers who were blessed by young people brandishing thank-you signs and distributing Tim Hortons gift cards asked them to come back daily to encourage them. Some drivers also shared their Facebook and Instagram handles with the youth
- Jason, the East Central Ontario youth leader, reported on a few activities unique to that region: 1) church members had knitted afghans and hats for newborn babies, which were distributed at the local hospital; 2) the region kick-started the day with a well-attended seminar showing attendees how to use social media and their testimony to “be the sermon”
We also enjoyed a video of youth (including Adventurers and Pathfinders) from Metro North Central, who’d gone out earlier that week, dropping care packages off to frontline workers at a local community centre, a fire station, a police station, etc. This video showed the essential workers’ joy as they tapped elbows with young people, posed for pictures and learned about our uniform ministries (Adventurers and Pathfinders) and church.
Compassion Ministry, a community service-oriented branch of Ontario Conference’s Youth department, also sent out teams going across Ontario giving gift packages to essential workers and people isolated due to COVID-19. In a report on their outreach throughout COVID, Compassion leader Jhona David said, “The community really needs God. This is not the time for us to stay inside and just do virtual worship. We need to bring God to them, bring the church to them, bring the love that we’ve experienced to them in creative ways.”
Compassion later hosted the Compassion Huddle, a monthly virtual gathering started in 2020, where people shared their Global Youth Day experiences. There, Dora (Metro North Central), echoed Jhona’s earlier sentiments to encourage anyone hesitant to participate in future outreach. “Being the sermon is an action word. Zoom is great. But being outside is a different experience. We can only be the hands and feet of Jesus if we move, so get out of your comfort zone. And just have some fun with it.”
In the end, Martin and Scott met their aim of, as Martin described it, “coordinating, receiving and listening to all the reports so viewers will see that our young people [in Ontario] are on the move and on fire for Jesus.”
Scott asked people to pray for and encourage our young leaders. “We need to quit [saying] youth are our leaders of tomorrow. Youth are the leaders of today. As you saw with all those live reports, youth are doing amazing things in the community wherever they go. Lift them up, pray them up, support them as much as you can. When our young at hearts move on, [they will] take the mantle, keep our church alive and [continue] sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.”