A portion of the following article appeared in the August 2017 issue of the E-Chronicle. Please note that some of the images to the photo references have been removed and are included in the chronological slideshows shown at right.
EPISCOPAL YOUTH EVENT 2017 & MISSION
By Sybil Nishioka, EYE17 Diocesan Registrar
Many agree that one of the best events that the Episcopal Church puts together is a triennial gathering of high school youth called the Episcopal Youth Event or EYE. Youth from all corners of the Episcopal Church come together for three days of energized worship, a variety of workshops, impressive guest speakers, lively fellowship and activities galore that highlight the host city's uniqueness.
"You're meeting people your age from all around the country and beyond, hearing powerful messages about God," said Grace Yatsko, one of the youth delegates who also attended EYE back in 2014 as a freshman.
This year's EYE17 event was held at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, OK, from July 10 - 14, 2017, where over 1,500 youth and their adult leaders came together. The theme, Path to Peace, was taken from Matthew 5:1-12, to focus on peacemaking and the ways each member of the Jesus Movement can pursue a path to peace. (Pictured at top is a group shot of participants from the EYE17 Facebook page.)
Following EYE17, the Hawai'i delegation stayed in Oklahoma a few more days for mission, serving at various sites that included the Regional Food Bank, City Rescue Mission, Feed the Children, Hope Center and St. Christopher's Episcopal Church.
The Diocese of Hawai'i took a delegation of fourteen high school youth and three chaperones, hailing from O'ahu, Kaua'i and Maui. On July 9, the delegation gathered at the Cathedral of St. Andrew to have lunch with the Bishop and meet the rest of the group, before heading off to Oklahoma. They had a chance to review the itinerary, collect their trip t-shirts, give-aways, and awesome goody bags from Epiphany Episcopal Church. Pictured above, after a couple hilarious ice breaker games and lunch, the Bishop took the group on a tour of the Cathedral where most of the youth had never been before. He offered a prayer and blessing around the Cathedral font before departing.
The following is a day by day account of this incredible trip:
Although the flights to Oklahoma were fraught with challenges (including turning back to Honolulu 1-1/2 hours into the flight and a missed connection in Texas resulting in an 8 hour layover), the youth were troopers and made the best of it! After nearly 30 hours, they finally reached their destination, but missed the first day's pre-event activities. After a couple hours of sleep, their first full day of EYE17 awaited!
DAY 1: The Opening Eucharist began with superb music by a group (with no official name) of talented musicians brought together just for this event, and for every plenary session and Eucharist gathering, they successfully pumped up the crowd with praise and worship songs, and a lot of "silly stuff" too! Pictured above, representatives from each diocese processed in with an EYE17 banner (with our own Mason Tabura pictured in the second photo) followed by a line of attending Bishops, priests and officiants.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Edward J. Konieczny, Bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma, officially greeted everyone with a warm Oklahoman welcome, and introduced representatives from the Muskogee Nation in Oklahoma to translate his opening remarks. The Rev. Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, welcomed everyone to EYE17, and Bronwyn Clark Skov, Director for Formation, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, shared some ground rules and reminders for the event. In his sermon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry turned up the energy with his unfailing zeal, humor and verve, declaring Jesus' words to make disciples, and "to change the world, follow Jesus!" (View his sermon HERE.)
Following the service, most of the delegation attended the New Community luncheon, where people of color were invited to fellowship and learn about the Church's model of diversity and ethnic ministries. Afternoon "Praxis" sessions followed with topics such as advocacy, Polity & Governance of the Episcopal Church, refugees, Scripture and Drama, summer camp games and of course, peace, to name a few. The Presiding Bishop spoke about the Jesus Movement in two workshops and held an open Q&A. Youth lined up to ask their questions in earnest, but unfortunately, there just wasn't enough time to get to everyone.
After dinner, the evening plenary session took on a more somber tone with the focus on the Oklahoma City Bombing, an event that rocked the nation and the world during the Spring of 1995, and a date well before the birth of any of the high school attendees. Among the speakers was survivor Melissa Houston (above left), whose emotional and tearful account visibly moved the audience. She shared the hopelessness and loss of faith that followed, and how an introduction to a priest by her mom, re-ignited her faith journey. Wendy Lambert (above center) was a Physical Therapist who immediately felt called to be there and help in any way she could, not knowing at the time that her own dad had been killed in the bombing. The uncanny chain of events that followed were both incredulous and amazing! The final speaker was a first responder, Fire Chief Larry Hansen, who shared how the city came together so quickly and how the nation opened their hearts to help the city recover and heal. (View the speakers of the plenary session HERE.)
DAY 2: The next day was one that everyone was looking forward to with great anticipation: the Oklahoma Day Celebration. Everyone was instructed to wear their special EYE17 t-shirts that were distributed upon arrival. Following morning prayer, all 1,500 participants embarked on an all-day Oklahoman adventure visiting seven different sites that culminated with the Red Dirt Carnival. About 30 buses were loaded and dispersed across the city to visit museums, gardens, churches and other tourist attractions, a feat that must have required super-human organizational skills to accomplish!
The Hawai'i delegation first visited St. John's Church to learn about the New Hope Prison Ministry that helps children of inmates. We wrote letters of encouragement and affirmation that would be given to the children. We then headed to the Red Earth Museum that featured beautiful Native American artwork in various media, and took part in a "scavenger hunt" (more like a quiz) that really got everyone reading and studying the works of art. Next was lunch at the Myriad Botanical Gardens followed by a visit to Church of the Redeemer, where we learned about the Kairos Prison Ministry, an ecumenical outreach program for prisoners, and decorated placemats with cheerful messages for them. Their mantra: Listen, listen, love, love.
One of the most memorable places we visited was the Oklahoma City National Memorial built on the site of the Federal building that was bombed, leaving 168 dead, 19 of which were children, and over 800 injured. Up until September 11, 2001, it was the deadliest terrorist attack to take place in the United States, sending shock waves throughout the nation and the world. It was obvious that no expense was spared to create an unforgettable experience and tribute to those that died, survived, responded, reported, helped and healed. The chronological self-guided tour featured many interactive displays and a live audio recording of the moments leading up to the blast left us shaken. The devastating videos of news coverages, photos, the charred and damaged sections of the building preserved behind plexi-glass, and memorabilia placed by each victims' photo left an indelible mark on our hearts. We could have spent hours there, but with more sites to visit, we were whisked away.
In stark contrast to the sadness we had felt, the next stop was at one of Oklahoma's most popular visitor (and local) spots--Bricktown, where we boarded a boat in a man-made canal that meandered through the city's trendiest area of restaurants, shops, clubs and hotels. Large bronze sculptures of the old west dotted the waterway and we spied lots of fun little places that we would want to visit later.
The last stop on our all-day tour was the Oklahoma History Center, which combined exhibits and historical artifacts with a learning and research center. Then it was off to the Red Dirt Carnival by St. Paul's Cathedral in downtown Oklahoma City! Roads were closed off so that 1,500 people could enjoy delicious fare from an array of food trucks, play games and activities in every corner, tackle challenging inflatables, watch native dance troupes, and even the NBA's Thunder drummers joined in! It was hard to believe that we had crammed so much into one day... but it was not over yet... not by a long shot!
In the early evening, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry proceeded to bless dozens of wooden bowls filled with water and a branch of fragrant herbs. Each Diocese was then asked to gather together and take a bowl on a "pilgrimage" through the streets of downtown to the Oklahoma Memorial, sprinkling water with the branch as we walked. It was a spectacle and sight to behold with a sea of blue shirts descending into the streets, matched only by the intensity and solemnity of what we were about to experience.
As we entered through one of the Gates of Time at the Memorial, stretched out on the grassy knoll, we could see the 168 chairs representing each of the victims begin to glow with the setting sun. We were handed seat cushions and a glow-stick candle, before filing into the terraces across from the glowing chairs. A large reflecting pool lay before us and a small stage was set up where gentle music and the leaders for the evening compline would be speaking from. It was an incredibly beautiful, moving, serene and sacred time. As we headed quietly back to the campus, it was clear that we had all been touched and changed in some way by what we had experienced that day.
DAY 3: Our final day of EYE17 began with a plenary session with Fr. Josh Thomas and youth from Kidz4Peace International, a Jerusalem-based interfaith youth movement serving more than 1,800 Jewish, Christian and Muslim youth, their parents, and volunteers each year. Kids4Peace’s mission is to end conflict and inspire hope in Jerusalem and divided societies around the world. The three young people pictured above, Adam Bonn-Yavneh, a Jew from Jerusalem, Charlie Azar, a Christian Palestinian, and Lana Al-Namee, a Muslim living in Vermont, shared impassioned real-life accounts of their daily and sometimes deadly struggles. They spoke about the nearly insurmountable challenges built on centuries of hate and violence, and their pathway to peace inspired through Kidz4Peace, that would likely leave an enduring impression on the audience. (Their video can be viewed HERE.)
Final workshops continued after lunch, and the Junior-Senior dinner was available for those who wished to attend including several youth from our delegation.
The final gathering and celebratory Closing Eucharist took place after dinner with thank yous to the planning team and the many people that made the event possible. But the evening was filled with a host of inspiring and powerful messages garnering cheers and standing ovations. Among those, a 16-year old from Arizona who was on the Planning Team, Andres Gonzalez-Bonillas, shared his original work Alabanza. His delivery and words lifted the crowd to its feet numerous times. (His speech can be viewed HERE.) The Rev. Winnie Varghese, whose easy-going and fluid style addressed the many struggles we are facing both individually and globally, and encouraged this next generation to live into our baptismal covenants to help others and fight for justice. (Her sermon can be viewed HERE.) Diocese of Oklahoma's Bishop Konieczny graciously thanked everyone and for the opportunity to share his beloved city with us.
During Communion, each person received three limited edition "peace coins" made especially for EYE17, as a reminder that we are part of the Episcopal branch of The Jesus Movement dedicated to making and keeping peace in our communities and across the globe. Recipients were told to share the coin and its meaning with others. (More about the coin and the symbols on it can be found HERE. ) The rest of the evening was spent saying good-bye to new friends and packing up for the second portion of our trip: Mission.
Note: Unlike the previous two EYE events that included three days of mission, EYE17 did not. It was decided to include mission as part of the trip considering how far we had to travel and the cost to get there. Sabrina Evans from the Diocese of Oklahoma provided a listing of different non-profits in the area and I was able to coordinate six mission offerings to give our youth a chance to experience a variety of sites and their services.
DAY 4: Today we left the campus of UCO and headed to the Holiday Inn which would be closer to the places we would be volunteering at. Today we served at Hope's Kitchen in the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank and made over 3,300 sandwiches for children in afterschool programs. We also got to tour the immense facility that was easily the largest, cleanest and most organized food operation I have ever seen! Because of its sheer size and volume of food and products running through the facility, they have trained staffers who knew exactly how to corral inexperienced volunteers like ourselves, to do their jobs and keep everything running like clockwork.
In the late afternoon, we headed over to City Rescue Mission where we were split up and served dinner in the two different facilities; women/families and men. This would be one of the only times we were in direct contact with the homeless who were grateful for the meal and service they received.
DAY 5: We got an early start and spent the morning back at the Regional Food Bank where we sealed and packaged the sandwiches we made the day before. After lunch, we headed out to St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Midwest City, to prepare food for their Mobile Meals program. We got to impart a bit of aloha with the menu, making haupia for the dessert, and everyone signed notes that were glued onto the boxes. The kids also took turns making salad dressing and chicken salad for the sandwiches. Sabrina Evans from the Diocese of Oklahoma office stopped by and treated us to Oklahoma-style shave ice which was a welcome treat in the nearly 100 degree heat! We spent the evening at Bricktown, where we played mini-golf and treated to laser tag by former All Saints' youth now Oklahoma resident, Shane Nishioka-Healy. We feasted at celebrity Toby Keith's restaurant that was shaped like a guitar before heading back to the hotel. It was a great way to end the day.
DAY 6: This was our day of worship and recreation. We went to Sunday service at St. John's Episcopal Church, the site of our first stop during the Oklahoma Day Celebration. We were greeted warmly and each of us were given a church mug. After a quick lunch, we headed off to Frontier City Theme Park where roller coasters, carnival games and rides, arcades and junk food awaited! The best part was that there were hardly any lines, so we got to do most everything!
DAY 7: Our final day of mission began at Feed the Children, a huge warehouse where food and personal hygiene boxes are prepared for children and families, then distributed around the nation. On this day, we were stocking food boxes down an assembly line where each item had a specific spot in the box. It was like putting a puzzle together to fit the most items in the box. At the end of only a couple hours, we had filled 277boxes! Our last stop was at the Hope Center in Edmond, a facility that features a clinic, thrift shop and food pantry for those in need. Our group split up to sort items for the thrift shop and to categorize and box a full pallet of food collected from a recent food drive by the post office. The center wasn't used to such an industrious group and we felt a great sense of accomplishment afterwards.
We said our good-byes to bus driver Bob who was an absolute life-saver during the entire mission portion of the trip, always early and on-time, finding us quick lunch spots, and maneuvering the bus on a dime.
HOME SWEET HOME: Unlike our flights to Oklahoma, we were on time heading home, filled with new memories to last a lifetime. Mahalo to the Office of the Bishop and Diocese for all of your support, Holy Nativity for the generous grant, Epiphany for the great goody bags, the Hawai'i Visitor's Bureau for the give-aways, the parents, youth leaders and clergy of the youth delegates for their support, and to the chaperones for all their patience and hard work. Here's to 2020!!!
July 10-14, 2017
University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, OK
Diocese of Oklahoma
(Video presentation will be posted after the Annual Meeting of Convention taking place on October 21, 2017.)
PRE-TRIP GATHERING & DEPARTURE
EYE17: July 10-14, 2017
MISSION: July 14-18, 2017
Following EYE17, the Hawai'i delegation stayed for a few more days in the Oklahoma City area for mission. They served at various sites including the Regional Food Bank, shelters, pantries, soup kitchens and at a local church cooking for their mobile food program.
THE HAWAI'I DELEGATION:
The Diocese of Hawai`i delegation consisted of 14 high school youth from the islands of O'ahu, Kaua'i and Maui: