BURGOS, Spain (Mennonite Mission Network) -- The vibrant youth group of Comunidad Evangélica Menonita de Burgos (Burgos Mennonite Community) is a rare blessing in post-Christian Europe. Not content to bask in their faith, eight youth and four leaders traveled to the United Kingdom, July 28 – August 11, to learn about ways to share their joy in Jesus through coffeehouse ministries.
“Our congregation sometimes seems like a youth camp,” said Connie Byler of Mennonite Mission Network, who serves as an elder on the Burgos church’s leadership team. “It’s a real privilege and a real responsibility to have young people stay in the church.”
Byler's husband, Dennis – professor, author and Anabaptist networker –said that churches in post-Christian Europe don’t have a good record of retaining second-generation Christians.
“I would describe as ‘post-Christian’ those who had a basic understanding of Christianity and rejected the traditional, cultural beliefs they think are Christianity. And, I would describe as ‘pre-Christian’ those who grew up in post-Christian homes. It would only take a two-generation transition to go from Christian to pre-Christian,” Dennis Byler said.
Connie Byler has high expectations of what God will do through the Burgos youth and enjoys their creativity when she shares leadership with them. She is grateful for the increased cohesiveness within the group that is developing through the guidance of Brian and Noelia Fox, also of Mennonite Mission Network.
Some highlights of the youth group’s summer trip were the stories of the Irish ministries’ beginnings, often through the vision of one or two people.
“Their response [to the call to ministry] was to start praying,” said Brian Fox. “One group met every Thursday morning around a kitchen table to pray. They did this for two years before their ministry was able to start up. To this day, more than 10 years later, they still meet every Thursday morning to pray. For us, this was an encouragement and challenge to focus on prayer.”
The trip also helped build stronger relationships between the Burgos youth as they dealt with the difficulties of international travel and physical labor during the service projects at Exodus, a youth ministry in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Their jobs included painting windows and lines for a parking lot and cleaning the premises.
“During trips like these, you get to know the youth better than you can at home because they open up more and you see them for who they really are. I enjoyed seeing them work together as a group,” said José María García, one of the leaders.
The group saw God responding to prayer throughout their travels, strengthening their belief in “God of the impossible”. The facilities of the Irish ministries overwhelmed some of them, causing them to question, “How can we do this in Burgos?”
Brian Fox said the response to this question was to remember the difficult situations that arose during the trip.
“When something seemed impossible for us, we would stop and pray and, in the end, everything worked out. We feel like God was trying to teach us, as a group, this very important truth: God is able to do the impossible,” Fox said.
Seeing what God is doing in other places gives 21-year-old Gadea García faith that God can do similar things in Burgos.
Though a location and finances for a Christian coffee house in Burgos are still uncertain, the musical talent is known. Most of the young people play at least one instrument.
Five of them formed their own band, Adrenalina 33, and a sixth youth group member plays in another band. In a local competition this summer, these two bands took first and second places.
Mennonite Mission Network director for Europe, Tim Foley, is based in Portadown, Northern Ireland.
After meeting with the Burgos youth, Foley said, “I was impressed by the dedication of the group and their willingness to learn from youth in a different culture. They know how hard Christian youth work is in a post-Christian culture, and how vital. They were willing to come all this way to learn from other Christians.”
Comunidad Evangélica Menonita de Burgos has three youth groups; a young adult group for those who are 18 and older, an adolescent group for high-school aged youth and the youngest group that corresponds to middle-school-aged kids in the United States. Activities scheduled for combined youth bring together about 40 participants with the older members sometimes providing leadership for the young ones. The two older groups meet separately each week for worship, teaching and activities. The youngest group meets every other week.
Noelia Fox is a native of Burgos and grew up in the Burgos congregation. She met her husband in Ft. Wayne, Ind., where they both served in Mennonite Mission Network’s short-term mission program, RAD, a predecessor of Radical Journey. After their marriage in 2001, they attended Brian’s home church, First Mennonite Church in Berne, Ind. until beginning their Burgos assignment in 2007.
The Bylers grew up as missionary children in Latin America. In 1971, Dennis began serving with Mennonite Board of Missions in Argentina. After their marriage in 1975, Connie was also appointed to mission ministry. The Bylers moved to Burgos in 1981, responding to an invitation to provide leadership for the young group of believers that has grown into Comunidad Evangélica Menonita de Burgos.