The Church’s Positive Involvement in the Lives of the Youth for a Bright Future
By Chaden Hani
“Students for Change” was the name of the electoral process for American University of Beirut students for seats on the Student-Faculty Committee. “Be the change you want to see on campus” – an adaptation of the famous quote attributed to Gandhi – was the name of the campaign of the Lebanese American University for student council elections. Notre Dame University students also headed the polls this month to vote for a new student union for the 2018-2019 academic year. Interestingly, the grouping of students in campus elections mirrors the political parties that exist in the real political life of Lebanon. However, rather than national politics, the focus of the elections is on the engagement of students in university issues, academic matters, campus-related events, or university-wide policies.
At the beginning of each academic year, universities in Lebanon engage their students in training sessions concerned with diplomacy and government, and oversee the campus electoral process under the supervision of the Lebanese Association for democratic elections to ensure democratic and ethical behavior among students.
Lebanon has the oldest, non-clerical universities in the region, dating back to 1866 when the American University of Beirut (AUB), formerly the Syrian Protestant College, was founded. Today, Lebanon encompasses 42 institutions of higher education engaged in equipping Lebanese youth with academic skills and citizenship training to become active contributors to their society.
The future will be bright only with the help of education. Every healthy society is built on strong individuals who hold leaders accountable and work for the greater good. With all its color and diversity, universities are a microcosm of Lebanese society. It is at the university level where most students in Lebanon are exposed to religious and political diversity, where they start discovering the complex realities of political and social life in Lebanon. Here, too, they begin developing future plans, either to invest in positive change for their country or to leave Lebanon and seek a future elsewhere.
Are we sufficiently aware of the strategic importance of this stage in the life of Lebanese youth? Political parties recognize the importance of this age bracket and are inculcating within students their largely self-serving ideologies, whereas this should instead be a time for nurturing positive social values. If we hope for a healthy society and healthy political life, schools and universities alike have the responsibility for educating students about the importance of accountability, moving beyond sectarianism, and fighting corruption, not simply walking them through the mechanics of conducting elections.
Many characters in the Bible were charged at a young age with carrying out God’s will at the national level. Prominent examples include: Joseph, Samuel, David and Esther, among others. Daniel, however, stands out as a model for today’s youth as a result of his impressive social and political engagement within the pagan empire of Babylon while simultaneously remaining loyal to God. He was an educated young man who was taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Although he experienced profound social change, he managed to remain firm in his adherence to the Law. We can imagine how intimidated he may have been by the kings and rulers of his day, but we know that he never compromised his faith in the one true God, remaining committed to righteousness, to a life of piety and good deeds. He exercised integrity and was loyal to his overlords by applying his myriad skills for the benefit of the Babylonian society. Meanwhile, his continual devotion to God brought him the admiration of the unbelievers in his circle and he was quick to give God the credit for his abilities (Daniel 2:28).
The Daniels of today might be seen as the Lebanese educated youth who can best serve their society by exercising kingdom principles and ethics while remaining active participants in the socio-political life of Lebanon.
The Church is best equipped to teach the Word of God and train people in the ways of faithful discipleship. If youth are to be involved in the world to produce change, is the church in Lebanon sufficiently aware of the importance of that age bracket and their potential for social transformation?
The church in Lebanon has a potential role in reaching out to the youth in their universities through its various campus-aged ministries. In addition, young people in the church can also be trained to become influential in their universities and proactive participants in the socio-political life of Lebanon. The mission of the Lebanese church ought to be more concerned with training youth and discovering ways to reach out to university students of various social backgrounds, to engaging them in training sessions on themes like citizenship, ethical behavior, righteousness and the difference between morality and kingdom ethics.
As seen throughout scripture, youth can be immensely influential. In order to utilize these important agents for the betterment of our society, churches must take the initiative to train them. Their novelty and intuition, which comes naturally to youth, when coupled with a moral and ethical character, can help bring about positive transformation for a better and more harmonious society.