With 54 chaperones and youth, the Youth Bus Tour 2016 was alive with conversation and new experiences. Gathering at Evanston First United Methodist Church, the group heard about the topics of genocide, Holocaust, and rebirth, weighty topics that most confirmation or youth groups might avoid. Yet this experience brought together middle and high schoolers from as far west as Prophetstown, Lamoille, and Cherry Valley with those from Park Ridge, Hinsdale, and Geneva as they together thought prayerfully about how we as a Church might respond. Bishop Sally Dyck opened the group in prayer and remained with the group throughout the day, making herself available to our youth and chaperones.
The group heard first from George Batah, a Syrian Christian who sought asylum in the US after the civil war began in Syria. Mr. Batah shared with our group the impact the proxy war and its aftermath have had on his family, his home church, and the more than 11 million who have sought refuge both outside the country and within. He spoke of the damage that war creates on infrastructure, homes, cities, and families.
Two years ago, he started an online petition to increase the number of Syrian refugees accepted by the U.S. from about 1,500 annually to 100,000, a petition that was so successful that the White House and Ambassador David Saperstein responded. His petition and his advocacy with others helped to see the number increase to 10,000 per year this year and will slowly increase in the coming years. Mr. Batah also addressed the fears that he hears about refugees, reminding the group that no refugee or asylee has been convicted of terrorism since 9/11 – and that the 3-year-long process and random selection would not favor those engaging in terrorist tactics.
Our second stop was at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie. Exploring the museum at their own pace, many participants took time to pore over the buildup of the Nazis, the creation of ghettos, and the annihilation of Jews through the death camps. The museum tour concluded with a video that linked the experience of Holocaust with the genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda, and other places in the world. One of the youth remarked, “it’s hard to believe [they thought] it was ok to do that to other people.” One chaperone from Park Ridge commented, “we prepared our youth for these heavier topics, and it’s sparking some good discussion.”
Our final stop was at the American Indian Center in Chicago where interim director Vincent Romero took time to give our group an introduction to the center and the many nations who had called the land home. Since the 1950’s, the center has helped Native Americans, many of whom left reservations after Federal Policy encouraged movement to cities. Starting in Evanston in the morning, Bishop Dyck had reminded our group of the Acts of Repentance in our Conference and with the Arapahoe and Cheyenne in Colorado.
Her experience in Colorado was a part of the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, a genocidal act ordered by a Methodist preacher (John Chivington) and overseen by Methodist governor John Evans (who helped secure the land for what became Evanston and Northwestern University). Yet this visit to the American Indian Center was a time to celebrate the living cultures of many nations. Their resiliency showed. As we gathered, representatives of those nations introduced themselves to our group and then showed living culture in dance and drum. All were invited to join in the circle of the intertribal dance as we celebrated new life together. We were invited to continue forming a relationship with the Center and with other Native American communities throughout Northern Illinois.
For nearly 10 years, bus trips in the Northern Illinois Conference have taken adults and youth on an encounter with new religions, cultures, and experiences. We have visited places of worship of many religions, mission sites, and been challenged by experiences like the ones from this year’s trip. The hope is that these groups return to their home congregations and continue the conversations in small groups, discerning how they would like to grow and change. During each presentation, all were given ways to deepen their commitment. The hope for this year’s trip is that the conversation will continue and lead to new ideas of how the church must respond in times of genocide.
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