By Anne Marie Amacher
Young adults from across the country are evangelizing junior high and senior high school youths from across the Diocese of Davenport during daylong retreats.
These young adults are part of National Evangelization Teams (NET), which conduct workshops throughout the United States using songs, talks, dramas and prayer to make points on staying connected with God.
According to the NET Ministries website, the ministry’s goal is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ through personal witnesses of faith, invite young people to live for Christ, form young people in Christian character and equip youth workers and young adults with ministry skills needed for evangelization. Typically, NET visits the Diocese of Davenport in early December.
Becky Becker, director of religious education and youth minister for Holy Trinity Parish in Keota, said this is the second year NET has visited the parish. Her first experience in 2009 was “phenomenal. I loved it. I knew then that I was going to incorporate the NET team into our parish — hopefully on a yearly basis.” She learned about NET from Father Charles Fladung, the parish’s pastor.
A NET team worked with students in sixth through eighth grade in Keota on Dec. 8 and with high school students on Dec. 12. For the junior high students, Becker selected the theme Soul Satisfaction. “I wanted the kids in this particular age group to see that there was more to happiness than what we possess. They are at an age where they are trying to figure things out and I wanted them to be able to see that Jesus can help them do that.” For the high school students she chose Why Faith? “This is such a relevant question, not only for the youths in our parish, but also the adults.” The theme’s retreat “really addressed reasons why youth today may not be interested in their Catholic faith.”
The youths, in survey responses after the talks, said they liked having young people talk to them about their own lives. “NET team members aren’t much older than they are,” Becker pointed out. The youths also appreciated that they didn’t know the NET members. “That plays a big part in why small groups are so effective. Living in a small community, everyone knows everyone. There is a comfort level in speaking to someone who doesn’t really know you or your parents and is just there to talk,” Becker said.
At St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, youth minister Patti McTaggart invited NET to offer the program Igniting the Flame for high school students on Dec. 11. “The NET team does a fantastic job with these young people and the day goes by so fast,” she said. More than 100 youth attended from Iowa City parishes: St. Mary, St. Patrick and St. Wenceslaus. McTaggart said she likes to call the event an “advance” instead of a retreat because the youths are “advancing their faith, not retreating.”
Austin Stumpf, a freshman at West High School in Iowa City and a member of St. Patrick Parish, said his leader, Michael, is “someone who can relate to us because he knows what 14- to 15-year-olds do. He’s college age, so he’s close to us. I liked the small groups because we met some new people and also got to have some old friends in our group.”
Shelly Conlon, a youth leader from St. Patrick’s, said she was thrilled that the diocese presents this opportunity for the confirmation students. “The NET team did an amazing job engaging the kids from the moment they came into the room. It was awesome to see 100 high schoolers excited about their faith.”
Brad Jensen, a volunteer from St. Mary who has been helping with confirmation preparation for the past four years, said the NET team “provides a unique opportunity for youths to grow to Christ and learn more about Church teaching because it comes from their peer group.”
“If just one walks away thinking about his or her relationship with Christ and wanting to work on it, then we’ve had success. I would recommend to any parish leader who is thinking about hosting a NET team retreat to do it. It is so positive and powerful and well worth it,” Becker said.