By Nica Sy with Jesse N. Love
“In a world of fake news, filters for Instagram photos, and failed relationships hiding behind picture-perfect frames, Jesus comes offering not only his full self, but an opportunity for us to be our full selves.”
Christmas Institute (or CI) is an annual leadership development retreat for young people in 7th grade to second year post-college, and always begins the day after Christmas. This ministry began in the Philippines and continues in the United States. There are CIs in New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, Northern and Southern California, and here in Washington State.
Although this ministry has its origins in nurturing Christianity among the Filipino immigrant and Filipino American community, each year CI blooms to become a multi-cultural event for young people exploring their faith, grappling with their multiple identities, and deepening their experience of the incarnate Christ.
“Who do you say I am?” is a question related to CI’s developing theme. Young people will question identity and the reality of the world – be it in our digital realities to life that is in front of all of us. Nica Sy, a young person who serves as part of CI-PNW’s leadership, has gathered friends who can testify to the rich and formative time that this event provides.
“Each year, Christmas Institute has acted as an escape from the stresses of my daily life. I attended CI six times as a camper, and each year I was able to explore and discover more about my faith. Now that I am entering my first year as a Leader-in-Training (LIT), I am excited to bring the same life-changing experience I had to new campers, who are just starting to develop their faith.”
“With all of the expectations life has, finding a place to feel God’s presence can be very difficult. Being away…allows me to reflect on my identity and moves my heart towards the kind of love Jesus has for us. I really enjoy the many new relationships that are built at CI. God can be seen in these relationships through songs of praise, family group times, scripture studies, workshops, meals and even during the passing time.”
“Ever since I attended my first CI back in 2009, it has become a part of who I am. CI is a place where I am able to grow within myself and strengthen my relationship with God, outside of church, with the help of leaders who guide me. Watching the campers grow within their faith in just five days and being a part of it is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had. Seeing campers enjoy their time at CI is what keeps me coming back every year.”
“Throughout most of the year, I feel as though the relationship that I have built with God does not always resonate with my daily life because of other high priority items that run concurrently with that relationship. CI…offers lessons on why we chose to invite God into our lives and how to process and spread his teachings within ourselves and to other people around us.”
“Just understanding the fact that you can be in a space where you know that you won’t be judged for the mistakes or hard trials that you went through in your life is something that really means a lot. This year would be my third year going to the camp and though there are many more kids that have been going much longer, I automatically feel part of the family from day one. I’m very thankful to be attending and I hope that you will all consider joining our family as well.”
CI is now in it’s 19th year and is supported by the PNW Conference. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more about this great ministry. Nica Sy is a young person and a member of Seattle: Beacon UMC. Jesse N. Love serves as the graphic designer and print manager for the PNWUMC. Special thanks to Anthony Sy and the Rev. Shalom Agtarap.