Raising up a new generation of leaders was a strong theme during this year’s “RED Youth” event that was held on May 13th in the Oregon Conference Holden Convention Center. For those unfamiliar with RED, the acronym comes from the Spanish words Redimir, Entrenar y Discipular (that’s “redeem, train and disciple” in English). Youth and young adults from Spanish speaking churches across the conference had the opportunity to learn from Pastor José Rojas, including spending some time in Q&A with Pastor Rojas, pastor Sam Moreno (of the REMIX and Gather & Scatter Adventist churches), and Oregon Conference Young Adult Director Benjamin Lundquist on Sabbath afternoon.
During the Q&A, some of the most popular topics revolved around relationships and mental health. One attendee shared that they were struggling to care about other people due to an extended battle with depression, sparking a passionate conversation about the importance of connecting with others, finding professional help, and being willing to be vulnerable with each other when we are struggling. “If you are going through depression you must talk to people you trust,” said Pastor Rojas. “Do not stay quiet in your depression. My wife is a counselor, and my daughter is a therapist. Guess who most of her patients are. Young people. If you are depressed or upset, talk about it.”
“I’ve had times where things got so hard, I had thoughts of suicide,” shared Pastor Ben. “I’ve had moments where the crossroads I was facing were so rough and so challenging that I thought I’d rather not be living – so hear my heart on this. Don’t make a permanent decision based on temporary circumstances or emotions.” As the conversation continued, he shared a story that hit close to home. “The hardest phone call I’ve ever gotten was last February. My best friend called me while I was driving. I was his first phone call. He told me that his son had committed suicide. I did the funeral service for him, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We lost a beautiful young man. You’ve got to ask for help. Be willing to be vulnerable. Step out and call somebody. You might think it’s a sign of weakness to say you’re not okay, but it’s not. Let’s flip that script. One of the greatest signs of strength is having the courage to tell someone you’re not okay.”
Throughout the weekend, Pastor Rojas emphasized the importance of mentorship and meaningful leadership roles for the youth. “I was working as a pastor in Fresno, California when my conference youth director first told me that I was a youth leader,” said Pastor Rojas. “I had never seen that in myself. I had never even thought about it, but I had people to speak that into my life. That’s the power of a mentor. Trainers can teach you to take what you have – to strengthen it and make it better. But a mentor encourages you to think in new ways.”
Tying the generations together, Pastor Rojas quoted Acts 2:17: “’In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” He shared that it is the role of older generations to remember the past, to provide guidance and wisdom and help direct those younger than them away from danger. But in a message of hope to the younger generation, he shared that it is the role of youth and young adults to cast a new vision for God’s people; to imagine new ways of doing things and to inspire positive change in the world. “I look up to people like Ben,” said Pastor Rojas. “I have begun to diminish, and he continues to increase. See how that works with leadership? As each generation begins to quiet and fade, the next generation rises to fulfill the destiny God has laid out for them.”
Pastor Levy Laureano, who works as a youth pastor in the Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Forest Grove areas, shared the following: “Despite our differences, the church is about unity and community. The most meaningful takeaway from RED Jovenes this year was seeing our community of youth from all parts of the Oregon Conference come together. Our shared faith should be like this––more than just what’s within our church walls and it was a blessing to see our community united like this for the weekend. This event fed my spiritual life as a pastor thanks to the wonderful words and stories Pastor José Vicente Rojas shared that were so intertwined with God’s word. My prayer is that this event inspired all of our youth that attended to realize that now is the time to become leaders for Christ.”