October 25, 2010

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Participants get to know each other at the archdiocesan youth rally Oct. 16 at Edmonton’s Archbishop O’Leary High School

CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

At the archdiocesan youth rally, the reaction on the faces of youth told the story.

For example, jokes that the boys laughed at, most girls did not. When observations pertained to one gender, it showed in their expressions, while the others looked with blank, unknowing stares. The differences between boys and girls were evident.

Understanding those differences and knowing what love is are two key elements that youth must grasp before the abstinence message will be effective, said Brad Henning, a speaker on sex and relationships.

Henning was the keynote speaker at the youth rally, held Oct. 16 at Archbishop O'Leary High School. Don't Take Love Lying Down was the theme for the rally.

More than 30 years ago, in Puyallup, Wash., outside of Tacoma, Henning coordinated a non-denominational Christian youth group for about 1,200 high school and college students. He discovered that Grade 8 is the average time when girls become sexually active.

"The number one killer for these kids in their relationships with Christ was their relationships with each other. Their dating habits were terrible. They were getting into trouble sexually, but not wanting to," said Henning.

He gave a talk on the differences between men and women to help them better understand what was going on.

His talk was so successful that over the past 30 years he has tweaked it, and presented it at youth rallies, public schools and colleges. He estimated that he's spoken to about three million young people.

"Love is choosing the highest good for the other person. They all think that love is a feeling, so the problem with that is if you get in an argument with your girlfriend, does that mean you love her? The feelings are gone. They think it's all about feelings, but it's not," he said.

The premise is based on John 3.16, God loving us so much that he sent his Son to save us.

"The message of abstinence does not work if you don't talk about the first two things. If they don't understand the differences in the way we think and feel, and if they don't know what love is, abstinence is stupid. You've got to give them all three. Leave one part out and it's a mess," said Henning.

About 400 youth, Grades 7 to 12, attended the youth rally.

"When they leave here, I want them to have learned that God made them the way they are. We are amazing people, fearfully and wonderfully made. We shouldn't feel down about the things we struggle with," he said.

Tyler Gordon, a youth from Calmar, said he had no expectations going into the youth rally. When his mother signed him up, he decided to go in with an open mind.

HELPFUL TIPS

His overall assessment of Henning was, "He was pretty cool. Those tips were pretty helpful."

A common description of Henning by youth, including Samantha Smith, a Grade 9 student from Olds, was "funny but accurate."

She said that he seems to understand how men and women think, and he explained the differences humorously.

"At my camp, Our Lady of Victory Camp, they were talking about the youth rally. They said it was really fun. I was talking to a lot of people who have been here before, and they said there are a lot of good sessions," said Smith.

Leading breakout sessions were Jason and Pam Byer, youth leaders at St. Theresa's Parish; Mike Landry, youth minister for Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove; and Brittney White, pastoral assistant at St. Albert Parish.

Reanne Schaber, also a Grade 9 student from Olds, said, "I came here today because my youth pastor was saying it would be a lot of fun. I wasn't sure about it, and then I went to camp and they were talking about it there too, so I decided I'd give it a try."

The youth rally far exceeded her expectations, and instead of the "facts, facts, facts," she anticipated, the rally was lively and a source of amusement. Highlights of the youth rally included good food, live band, dancing and free T-shirts, based on the cover of Henning's book.

Alia Campos is from Leduc. Her grandmother registered her for the youth rally, and she went there with her uncle.

"I didn't know what it was about, but my friends come to it and they say it's really cool. I thought it was going to be a bunch of games and activity stations," said Campos. "But it's really fun, a lot better than I thought it would be. The speakers are hilarious."