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Youth Challenged To Face Their Fears
Christ empowers, makes people courageous, Tony Campolo tells CMU youth conference.

Decades later, the memory still haunts Tony Campolo.

It happened many years ago, when the now 74-year old former university professor was in high school. A boy at his school, named Roger, was gay. The other boys bullied him incessantly, heaping abuse after abuse on him.

Tony Campolo

One evening, Roger couldn’t take it anymore. He went home and killed himself.

“As a Christian, I knew I should have stood up for Roger, but I didn’t,” Campolo told about 400 youth at Face Your Fears, the March 6-8 Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) Peace, Praise and Pray It Together (PIT) Conference. “I was afraid to be Roger’s friend.”

He didn’t stand up, Campolo said, because he was afraid of what the bullies would think of him. “I didn’t want them to think I was like Roger, that I was ‘one of them.’

“I didn’t do what I should have done.”

A fear about standing up for what is right was just one of the fears Campolo spoke about at the annual youth event, which brings young people from Ontario to British Columbia to the university for a weekend of presentations, inspiration, workshops and activities.

Other fears Campolo addressed included a fear of being seen for what we really are, of being rejected and being condemned by God.

“I’m afraid that people will find out what I am really like, that my Christianity is a pretend game,” he said. “I’m afraid they will find out what the real Tony Campolo is like.”

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He also admitted that, as a younger person, he was afraid of being condemned by God.

“I was afraid that God would remember my sins and shortcomings and judge me,” he said. “But Jesus has blotted them all out – he remembers my sins no more ... we have a forgetful God. We should not fear condemnation.”

One way he counters his fears is through prayer, he said.

“When you pray, don’t tell God what you want,” he said. “God doesn’t need to be informed. Be still, and don’t ask God for anything.”

He challenged conference-goers not just to believe in Christ, but “to be disciples.”

“The church is full of believers, but few who are disciples,” he stated, adding that “when Christ is in you, he empowers you to live out your life for others in the world.”

Campolo also encouraged the group to not be afraid to go against the current.

“The world is going to sell you a bill of goods as you grow up,” he said. “People will tell you to get a good education so you can get a good job and make a lot of money.”

Young people should get “a great education,” he said, “but you need to remember that the purpose of education is to learn how to be an agent of God in a world of need.”

“Break out of conventional expectations,” Campolo said. “Surrender to a God who will ask you to do things that contradict what the world is telling you to do. Be fearless enough to be employed for the work of the kingdom of God.”

Facing fears isn’t always easy, he noted. But, he said, “Christ in me empowers me, makes me courageous, helps me do what I can’t do on my own. Love Jesus, invite him into your heart, because perfect love casts out all fear.”

In addition to speaking three times to youth at PIT, Campolo also addressed youth leaders at the event, telling them that society is in a transition from modernity to post-modernity, and that “reason and science have exhausted themselves.”

“Young people today are mystical,” he said. “They want to experience God and feel his presence.”

When asked whether there is a danger that this will result in an individualistic “Jesus and me” experience, Campolo replied: “The proof of whether this is a genuine encounter is whether we are involved in the lives of the poor and the oppressed.”

He went on to emphasize the danger of following a cultural Jesus, of “creating God in our image,” with the result that we “end up worshipping ourselves.” He challenged youth leaders to nurture youth into a gospel that is countercultural and challenges the status quo, a life where the goal is “not found in simply becoming wealthy, but in loving others in the way Jesus did.”

John Longhurst is the director of communications and marketing for the Canadian Mennonite University. Phone: (204) 487-3300.

Originally published on the CMU Website, March 2009.




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