By Nica Sy | Photos by Hazel Rollolazo and Kevin Tabora
Christmas Institute 2017, or CI, challenged campers to question, explore, and discover the role of Jesus in their lives through the theme, “Who Do You Say I Am?” This particular theme also encouraged youth and young adults to question their personal and spiritual identity in a digital world. This camp was held from December 26-20, 2017 at The Firs in Bellingham, Washington.
Here are just a few testimonies from several young people who deeply connected with this event.
EJ Ragual (Kent UMC)
This year’s theme (Who Do You Say I Am?) relates to me because for a long time, I questioned myself on the purpose of my existence, or who I am. I questioned my very existence and identity. I questioned everything about myself.
Yet, I just became someone I’m not. I covered myself in the shadows, in the wrong way. However, after CI 2017, I slowly picked up the pieces and now I am me, the true me.
I learned so many things during CI. From new ways to improve my lifestyle to strengthening my faith with God and everything I believe in. I learned how to handle negative energy and people with love, and to always let my will of fire shine bright. I learned that being myself is okay, because that’s who I am. The theme relates to me because we all are trying to find ourselves and our identity. Who Do I Say I Am? Well I’m a protector, a comforter, a shadow to a big light. There are more things I need to find out about myself, but I know one thing that’s certain, I am EJ.
Nia Bentayen (Lakeview Multicultural United Church, Vancouver, BC)
My feelings are proof that I am well-loved by the one I call my God. For the Pacific Northwest Christmas Institute of 2017 is a place where I felt enlightened by the fact I don’t always have to be independent with my life and to never underrate gratitude. Now I know there is no shame in asking my God for help and simultaneously, getting up in the morning radiating with life.
With my peers, I am known to be somebody who is compassionate. This is due to my perspective that people need to be well-cared for, especially when they neglect to care for themselves. For example, my feelings from CI 2017 have refreshed my want to become a physiotherapist so I can promote having an introspective on living a healthy physical life. With things changing and people adapting, I am confident that my God has a plan for me to act accordingly to their will. For now, I just need to be open to their signs.
Bless Soriano (Beacon UMC, Seattle)
What I love about CI is that I am able to meet new friends. I am able to learn more about God, as well as myself. Throughout my years at CI I have gotten to know God more, especially during family groups when we talk about the scriptures.
My favorite thing that we do at CI is Act of Faith. During this time, I am really able to reflect on my faith and my life. At my first year of CI (5 years ago), I had this amazing feeling that I can’t even explain through words. When I went through my first Act of Faith, when I kneeled in front of the cross at Camp Berachah, that was the first time that I really felt the presence of God. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever felt in my life.
I’ve gone to CI every year since then, not only to meet new friends and get myself together, but also to feel the presence of God in different ways. CI has definitely taught me a lot about myself. CI was the place where I really felt it in me that this is who I am. I know that I want to follow God.
Kirk Galang (Beacon UMC, Seattle)
This year’s CI was my second time going as a camper. CI 2017 was very eventful and impactful to so many people. CI is a great time of reflection. So, when I got the chance to participate I took it as a time of reflection on 2017, my life so far, and my faith journey so far.
As campers, we were tasked to the question of “Who is God to us?” What does God mean to you? You think at first, it’s a simple question that you can answer in a single word or sentence. But, leaders had to create that question, so campers had 5 days of reflection.
You may say Savior, Lord, Prince of Peace, Provider and so much more. There are so many answers and that’s what makes that question amazing. You can have two people with totally different answers. During CI, you have other people to talk to and you can join each other in reflection. You hear different answers and different opinions. CI is a great opportunity as a camper because you can better understand God.
So, I ask you; do know who is God to you? What does God mean to you?
Jacob Baradi (Beacon UMC, Seattle)
My first time being at CI was a blast! Some feelings before I got to CI were nervousness and excitement. My questions were, “Where are we going? What are we going to do?”
During CI, I met some new friends and learned more about them. What I learned in CI was about Jesus. I learned who He is to me and what He did for us. I think that CI is great and that God was there to help me. I hope that next year’s CI will be even better and we can learn new things.
Christmas Institute is an ethnically-relevant, annual winter retreat for youth in grades 7 through 2 years post-high school. CI-PNW began in 1999, having originated in the Philippines in 1921. Through its 19th year, it continues to be a space in which youth can learn and grow together in their faith.
Who is God to you?
Nica Sy and Hazel Rollolazo are members of Beacon UMC in Seattle, Wash. Kevin Tabora is a member of Lakeview Multicultural United Church in Vancouver, BC, Canada.