You might think the heading format is just a form of decoration, but actually, it is a sign – a symbol – of the complexity of Youth Ministry, and a reflection of the creativeness of our youth.
Who are they?
Technically speaking, we can say our youth are the young people who have finished Primary School. As you read this description of Youth Ministry in OMI Kenya Mission, you will notice that we try to use the words “our youth” rather than “the youth.” This helps to describe them better: they are not some object or group “over there”, but truly, they are our spiritual sons and daughters.
Our youth divide themselves into two or three categories. I say two or three, because we have two at the moment, and the third category have run away! The division is not because of hostility, but a reflection of the maturity levels of our aging youth.
- We have the youth still in secondary school.
- We have the youth who have completed school, and are now working (or looking), or at University/College; these are further splitting into two groups:
- Those who are over 25 – more mature – especially after University;
- Those who have, more recently, completed secondary school.
When Does Youth Ministry Start?
As every good parent knows, difficult teenagers are often (but not always), a consequence of reduced parenting/ attention/ presence to their children before they become teenagers. But, of course, many parents who have tried hard also have difficult teenagers because of external influences such as abuse, poor school friends/teachers, etc.
So, in a very practical sense, Youth Ministry must start with our Primary School and Children’s Ministry.
What do we mean? Our Oblates, especially in Parish Ministry, try to have a regular and positive presence in our Primary Schools… not just to celebrate Masses, but to show a friendly face and, as our Bishop in Meru (Rev Bishop Salesius Mugambi) told his priests in January, 2013, “we must be frequent in our primary schools because that is where the children build positive relationships and impressions about the Church and her priests. Many of us always talk about what Fr so and so did when I was in Class xyz.”
The Structure of Youth Ministry in Kenya?
Oblate Youth Ministry in Kenya has 3 or four levels:
- Prayer House level: each Prayer House in each parish facilitates and encourages local youth group structures with leaders who arrange activities. Each Prayer House provide mentors [Youth Matron and Youth Patron] to encourage and “monitor” the group, so that it remains focused, and the young leaders have someone to ask for advice without feeling like they are intruding or interrupting the elders. The Mentors also provide a senior link for the Parish leadership (and coordinating Oblate) to see what is happening, because sometimes the youth are not good at communicating or get distracted with many things. They also assist the youth to start self-reliance projects to create funds for their activities and contributions to the parish, Deanery and Diocesan youth activities;
- Parish Level: each Parish has a Parish Youth leadership structure and Council, made up of leaders from each Prayer House. They coordinate parish level activities, and encourage participation in the same: especially seminars prepared by the pastoral team and Oblates. The Parish Youth leaders also coordinate and arrange participation in both the deanery and the Diocesan Youth activities and ensure the requested contributions are made.
- Deanery Level: the cluster of parishes around each Oblate Parish also cooperate in youth activities… the idea being: the more the merrier. It is also a good way of sharing leadership skills and learning from others. The Parish Youth Leadership attends meetings of the Youth Deanery Leadership and ensure that the parish youth attend the activities and events of the Deanery.
- Diocesan Level: this level is coordinated by a priest appointed by the Bishop. The Youth chaplains and chairpersons from each Parish form the Diocesan leadership, to bring together the youth for six or seven youth events each year. These are usually sporting and “talent show” competitions, leadership training seminars, and one “meet the Bishop” celebration with Mass. In recent years, there is usually a local “World Youth Day” celebration at the Diocesan level on Palm Sunday;
- National Level – Diocesan: two or three times each year representative youth from each Diocese in Kenya come together in various locations for celebrations. Occasionally our youth in Kionyo and Kisaju parishes have joined in, but this is not a major priority at the present time;
- National Level – Oblate: at present, OMI Kenya Mission has three parishes. There is a desire to support our youth who leave the parish for work and study in the city of Nairobi, where the Oblates have a presence. The “diaspora” youth are encouraged by the Oblates to come together and form a local group. They have created a local leadership structure to:
- Manage a social media group on WhatsApp;
- coordinate monthly activities to ensure members can come together for fun, friendship and spiritual development;
- facilitate small financial contributions by themselves to subsidise activities and they hope to start a small income producing project;
- organise for “absent” or “silent” members to be contacted to ensure they are OK;
- Give support and encouragement to our parish based youth groups;
- Give encouraging talks to the Form 4 and Class 8 students in schools in our home parishes;
- Provide a welcome to new youth members from our parishes coming to Nairobi for the first time;
- Support members in sudden crisis (especially food, transport and accommodation).
The Mission is currently training one Oblate in full time Youth Ministry studies. The Bishop of Ngong Diocese has requested the Oblates to provide a full time youth chaplain for the Diocese.
There are plans to slowly build a national Oblate youth team of youth to empower the youth through Mission activities and specialised formation seminars to help the youth know themselves and overcome past disappointments through understanding and healing. We pray this will also complement our Vocations Ministry.
What Form is Our Youth Ministry in Kenya?
Youth Ministry in Kenya involves the following activities:
- Youth Meetings;
- Youth Celebrations;
- Organised (competitive) Sporting days;
- Informal outings – climbing Mt Longonot, etc.;
- Spiritual/Prayer Days;
- Special Seminars – especially during holidays – targeting issues affecting our youth today;
- Initiation Program;
- Contributing to Diocesan youth ministry: in various activities and leadership meetings;
- Bringing together youth in Nairobi (our diaspora);
- Inclusion of youth in our Sunday Masses: liturgy, singing, reading, etc.;
- Spiritual Direction;
- Visiting schools:
- YCS talks;
- YCS activities: prayers, reflections, fund raising, leadership training, etc.
- Build relationships with the teachers, to encourage their good example to our youth.
- Visiting youth at the Nkubu Minor Seminary to encourage those from our Parishes who are thinking of religious life/priesthood.
In all of these “activities” we Oblates seek to:
- Encourage our youth;
- Appreciate our youth;
- Show availability to our youth;
- Look for resources to empower our youth;
- And finally, be basic counsellors for our youth to help them make good decisions for the present and future.
Our Vocations Ministry also overlaps with our Youth Ministry. The workshops we hold for interested candidates are also an opportunity to educate, and give spiritual guidance to them so that they may know themselves better. This is especially true in our Postulancy and Pre-Novitiate programs, where we offer programs for personal development and counselling.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, we try to develop a fatherly attitude towards our youth. As it is true in many parts of the world, in Kenya there are many absent fathers. As Fr Richard Rohr OFM puts it: the greatest hunger in the world is FATHER HUNGER. It doesn’t mean we are easy on them, but we are present to them and don’t turn away when they fail to respond or participate in the programmes/opportunities prepared and provided.
The Future of Youth Ministry in Kenya
We see many exciting potentials for our youth.
- Improving our existing youth programmes;
- Linking of our youth from each Oblate parish into a national youth movement;
- Promoting leadership training – more cost efficient when there are larger numbers of participants;
- Creating a special youth facility that can be used by our Oblate youth as well as assist other youth groups around the country – perhaps in Naivasha or Kisaju areas.
- Discerning how to create pastoral outreach programmes for the poor that will incorporate our youth as collaborators in the Mission… as they empower others, they will also be enriched and empowered.
OMI Kenya Mission funding of youth ministry is minimal, and largely self-funded by the various youth and parish communities. However, the Mission is funding the training of one Oblate in Youth Ministry, and giving contributions to fundraising efforts by the youth. The parishes are the primary funding agents for the youth activities. However, the future plans to provide national leadership training, creation of facilities for the youth and pastoral mission activities will require some external funding from donors.