The long, arduous journey to Phoenix, Arizona, from our home in north Texas almost took all the energy out of me. The drive was supposed to take sixteen hours, but with the many stops as a young family of five needs on a long road trip, sixteen hours turned to twenty-three.
But the long, tiring journey was worth it.
The aura of Christian happiness was apparent on almost every attending face. Smiles could be seen all around as modestly dressed young men and women flooded the streets around the Phoenix Convention Center. The climate was very friendly; both nature and local businesses seemed to enjoy the presence of godly youth invigorating the city.
I arrived too late to witness the opening ceremony and plenary, but took in the worship services and seminars of the next two days. Chris Holland of It Is Written Canada blessed us with messages of hope and revival, reminding us that to have success we need to not only work fervently, but to work at the pace God ordains for us. We often lose ourselves in the enthusiasm and energy of the work we forget we need a connection to the Director of the work, Jesus Christ.
It was a blessing to surround oneself with like-minded individuals, and to the extent it happens at GYC, one doesn’t get to indulge in it too often. GYC embodies Adventism to a “T”, and as a youth movement has proven to be one of the more robust and enduring in the modern era. There is a reason for that, and it was decidedly evident in Phoenix. The air was filled with excited talk of mission and service, and if you were lucky enough to pass a particular area, you’d hear a melody of two, three or more voices singing a godly tune in harmony.
The movement stood a peculiar people in its modest attire and speech, eliciting smiles from local workers and bystanders who had pleasant chats with our young people and their chaperones. Curious guests of the hotel where we stayed asked about our program/badges and what we were doing. There were a few moments of sharing.
Then there were the seminars. It was a pity I could not be at several places at one time; there were too many interesting ones. One that gripped my attention in particular was presented by Jarod Thomas, which focused on putting together the pieces of the big picture we know as the Great Controversy, Jarod brought home the point that God is waiting for a manifestation of Himself in His people before the end could occur. His powerful presentation included inspired gems such as this one:
“But Christ has given us no assurance that to attain perfection of character is an easy matter. A noble, all-round character is not inherited. It does not come to us by accident. A noble character is earned by individual effort through the merits and grace of Christ. God gives the talents, the powers of the mind; we form the character. It is formed by hard, stern battles with self. Conflict after conflict must be waged against hereditary tendencies. We shall have to criticize ourselves closely, and allow not one unfavorable trait to remain uncorrected.” (1)
Character perfection helps God’s people finish the work He ordained for us to complete. Each generation has the potential to complete this mission, just as it was possible for Moses’ generation to enter the Promised Land had they not allowed doubt and disbelief constrain them. When are given the tools and strength to carry out the task, we only have ourselves to blame for its incompletion.
Such is the impetus behind GYC. While we become excited about each conference that comes around, a somber realization hits the conscientiously observant attendee: we’re still here on this Earth. With each conference that takes place, there is a feeling of missed opportunities and “what-ifs”. However, this is no reason to fret, just reason to reflect Jesus all the more.
We need more mission, more service and more teaching. Pathway to Health provided a health and well-being mission to Phoenix before the start of the conference. Almost 7,000 people were serviced by medical professionals and volunteers to care for their physical needs. (2) As Christ sought to heal physically and spiritually, GYC followed the effort with its community outreach on Friday.
The weather was just perfect for the hundreds of GYC volunteers to step out of their zone and go knocking on doors with literature, prayers and words of encouragement. The sight of buses being loaded with young workers sent shivers of excitement down my spine. I couldn’t think of any sight more exciting. This was the nitty-gritty, boots-on-the-ground work on the frontlines. One couldn’t help but think that the Devil was shivering as well, but for the opposite reason!
The men and women in uniform are heroes of this nation, facing national foes and fighting for the preservation of freedom and our way of life. The young men and women of GYC are fighting a different kind of fight, one that involves a struggle largely unseen, against principalities and the powers of darkness. And yet not as many would deem that heroic. But perhaps that is fitting, for the only Hero GYC is concerned about is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
There was nothing to abate the glowing smiles and the joy seen on the faces of the young ones making their way back to the meeting venue. This was more than evident to me, even as I manned the Advindicate booth, listening to the talk of the passing crowd. Hundreds of pieces of literature were handed out, there were many prayers with random people, and a harvest of Bible prospects ready to pass on to local churches.
The next morning, General Conference Youth Director Gary Blanchard described the effort and the youth as arrows in the hands of a warrior, quoting:
“As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.” (3)
Young people are to live dangerously for God! These arrows would prove to be Satan’s undoing. It was encouraging to see Elder Blanchard heading the youth for the World Church. He pastored my old church before and was the one who ordained me as a church elder while I was only 24. He always saw the value of the youth, and it was only fitting that he is now leading Adventist Youth all over the world.
There were some impressive musical numbers that exuded praise to our Creator. They reflected in my mind, the music we would encounter in the world to come. Oh, how sweet they must have been to the ears of God! Each number rehearsed and practiced, becoming a blessing to others and the Lord. Then Elder Wes Peppers was introduced and came up to give the Divine Worship hour message.
Central to his morning sermon was the preparation of God’s people to reflect Jesus fully. Elder Peppers laid down a sobering and rousing message for the young people. He didn’t try and dilute our distinct identity and mission as a movement. Plainly laying out the Three Angels’ Message, he cried, “We are called to call the world out of Babylon,” and further iterating, “both in its pagan and apostate Christian forms!”
Admitting to our temporary failure in calling people out of Babylon, Peppers’ suggested that it was due to Babylon not yet being evicted from our hearts. It was a sobering fact that Babylon had more unity than the Remnant people of God, Peppers noted. It was disturbing to witness Babylon fulfilling it prophetic destiny at a pace that exceeded that of the Remnant Church.
But not all is lost, Peppers assures. However, it would take a surrender, a surrender to the One who gave Himself to die in our stead so we may have eternal life. Without this surrender “we will die in the ’wilderness’, like all the generations before us”. This is the whole crux of the Last Generation movement. It is often misinterpreted as hubris by its critics; a movement dedicated to living according to God’s high standards can easily be misconstrued as pharisaical.
Yet such critics have a very shallow view of this movement’s motivations and aims. Perfection of Character is one that requires surrender, not arrogance. Sinless perfection and perfect obedience to God’s Law is not accomplished by legalism, but only through living by faith in Jesus, who works in us “to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (4)
This ability is outlined in Inspiration which states:
“Everyone who by faith obeys God’s commandments, will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression.” (5)
This is not referring to a state after translation into Heaven; rather it is referring to a state we can attain in this life, and state which will be to God’s glory, according to the previous paragraph:
“Our lives may seem a tangle; but as we commit ourselves to the wise Master Worker, He will bring out the pattern of life and character that will be to His own glory. And that character which expresses the glory—character—of Christ, will be received into the Paradise of God.”
It is no wonder that the state of sinlessness mentioned by Ellen White when pertaining to those that by faith obey God’s commandments is connected to character development and perfection by proponents and advocates of the GYC movement from its inception. There is an undisputable literary tie to this beloved quotation that has been used many times by laity and leadership alike found in Christ’s Object Lessons page 69. But perhaps another quotation may serve to illustrate this principle even further:
“It is constantly an onward march. Jesus sits as a refiner and purifier of his people, and when his image is reflected in them perfectly, they are perfect and holy, and prepared for translation. A great work is required of the Christian. We are exhorted to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Here we see where the great labor rests. There is a constant work for the Christian. Every branch in the parent vine must derive life and strength from that vine, in order to yield fruit.” (6)
Suffice to say, I left that GYC session, as I did the others before, with a fire kindled within. This is not to say it will stay forever kindled, as Satan has often had his way in my life in the way of discouragements, but while it is there, I will work to reflect Christ, in cooperation with divine agencies and only as I am given that ability, as a free gift of grace. If that helps me and all the rest of the young people of GYC contribute in finishing the worldwide work and closing the book on Earth’s history, then it is my prayer that that flame remains in us all, and helps us arise in times of need.
1. Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pg. 331.
2. Kristyn Dolinsky, “Pathway to Health makes Christmas merry for thousands”, Adventist News Network. < https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2017-12-30/pathway-to-health-makes-christmas-merry-for-thousands/> Accessed January 10, 2017.
3. Psalm 127:4, KJV.
4. Philippians 2:13, KJV.
5. Ellen G. White, Maranatha, pg. 224.
6. ----Review and Herald, May 6, 1862, par. 27.
Lemuel Sapian is a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Divinity through online coursework at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary in the Far East, in the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies (AIIAS). Born and raised in Denton, Texas, USA, as son of immigrants, his paternal great-grandfather was a Conference President in the Philippines during the Second World War, and his maternal grandfather and grandmother were instrumental in the founding of Mountain View College in the southern Philippine province of Bukidnon. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of North Texas and lives in the North Texas area with his wife, Pamela and their three children.