August 12 is the United Nations International Youth Day, an annual celebration of the role of youth as essential partners in change, and an opportunity to raise awareness of challenges and problems facing the world’s youth.
War Cry invited each division/region to nominate a young person to speak up about what matters to them. Here’s what we asked:
- Name, Age, Corps
- What issue is most pressing for you globally, nationally or locally and why?
- As a young person what forums are open to you for responding to that issue?
- In what ways does The Salvation Army help you to contribute to change?
- How does your faith influence the issues you care about?
Miriam Plummer, 13 years old, Midland Division—Tauranga Corps
The issue most pressing for me is family abuse. I hate that Aotearoa has so much family abuse, and lots of people don’t have a safe place to go home to. There are lots of forums out there for young people to access, including school counsellors and phone lines that you can call or text if you need to talk to someone. I believe that even though we go through hard times, God is still there and is watching over us. Growing up in The Salvation Army and being surrounded by believers has helped me to realise and know that he is there.
Tia Tofilau, 14 years old, Central Division—Hutt City Corps
There’s real pressure for teenage girls to fit in with society’s expectation of being ‘pretty’. This means having the perfect ‘hourglass’ figure, big butt and boobs, slim waist, long legs and the perfect face. There’s pressure for girls to achieve this with surgery or body fillers, makeup, false lashes, hair extensions—social media definitely increases the pressure! Everyone wants to get the ‘likes’ and if you don’t get those ‘likes’ you question yourself and wonder if people are making negative judgements about you. In terms of forums, we don’t really talk about this with anyone. It’s left unsaid. It’s good to see posts on social media around being happy with who you are, messages about positive self-image. It’s good to be reminded that there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’. There’s comfort in belonging to a youth group and I have a lot of Christian friends, so I know I’m not alone and that there are people around who understand the pressures we face as young people.
Aitu Pusonna Coraniva Fesuiai, 18 years old—Samoa Corps
I’d say the most pressing issue is teen depression. It’s much more than feeling temporarily sad or down in the dumps, and it’s more than just a feeling or an emotion. Depression is a serious and debilitating mood disorder that can change the way we think, feel and function in our daily routines. I personally struggle with depression, but it varies from person to person depending on their own situation and viewpoint. In Romans 5:8 it says: ‘But Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly’. I never knew how important it was to be surrounded by love until I reached the lowest points of my life. Growing up in a faith-based community with very strong connections to my family and friends, and having a personal relationship with God especially, has encouraged me to reach out so I can deal with depression. The Salvation Army has helped me spiritually and mentally. Opening up to those who seek God’s word has helped me overcome my insecurities and fear of communicating with people. The Army has also encouraged me to listen and support others in need of help with depression.
Tana Konakava, 18 years old, Northern Division—Westgate Corps
The issue that presses against my heart is other people being treated unfairly. An example of this is happening right now over in America with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ topic. African Americans, and even other ethnicities, are being mistreated, bullied and shamed by negative comments, toxic behaviours, images and negative stereotypes. If our God is willing to accept everyone for who he knows we all could become, I’m certain we can do the same. Being part of The Salvation Army is to be part of the fight for change. I’m willing to fight to make a positive impact in people’s lives using God’s love, strength and kindness. I reach out through forums like social media and word of mouth. Having these conversations and getting to share my insights and beliefs with people who agree and disagree with what’s happening has an impact. As disciples we can have our say, but also leave the conversation on a good note. My faith and involvement in The Salvation Army means I can say things and know I won’t offend people. I have learnt to accept everyone for who they are, flaws and all. Even when I may be mistreated myself, having people who support me, inside and outside of church, reminds me of God’s love, and the support he has for everyone. Praise God for the love and kindness he offers me.
Abby Macfarlane, 20 years old, Southern Division—Sydenham Corps
For me the most pressing issue globally is the discrimination against and intolerance of minority groups, such as people of colour and the LGBTQIA+ community. The violence towards these people groups, the effect that it is having on their mental health and the lack of action on the matter from the Church is an issue for me. There’s an abundance of forums available to respond to and inspire change on these issues. Social media is a huge one. You’ll be hard pressed to find a young person who isn’t active on at least one social media platform. Speak up, make your voice heard. You don’t have to have thousands of followers to make a change. Share petitions for people to sign. Start small and have intentional conversations on these issues with your friends and family. Educate yourself and take whatever action you can. My faith and involvement in The Salvation Army has hugely influenced the issues I care about, but some of the responses from Christians around the world just haven’t been sitting right with me. We are called to love everyone. Jesus never said, ‘love your neighbour as long as you agree with them’, or, ‘love your neighbour as long as they look like you’. Jesus simply told us to love our neighbour. We are called to love without discrimination. I’m grateful to have grown up in The Salvation Army in New Zealand because I’ve witnessed so much love and inclusivity and my hope is to see more of that in the church globally.
Mele Vaea, 22 years old, Tonga Region—Kolovai Corps Plant
An issue that I find pressing locally is unemployment among young people in Tonga. There are different programmes and forums responding to this issue here in Tonga, and not only government organisations, but also non-government organisations like the Tongan Youth Employment Entrepreneurship. They help young people find jobs, but still there are some young people who haven’t found a job, especially at this time. But my faith builds my confidence because The Salvation Army also helps energise youth pursuing education, which leads to getting jobs to live life.
Fiona Ram, 20 years old, Fiji Division—Lomaivuna Corps
The loss of jobs is the most pressing issue for Fiji as a nation. The lack or reduction of a source of income greatly impacts the lives of individuals and families financially, mentally and spiritually. This leads to other problems, such as people going to bed hungry and homelessness due to inability of individuals and families to pay rent. The mental health of Fijians is also affected as stress and depression rise. There’s also an increase in domestic violence and child abuse, as well as prostitution, just to make ends meet. Online forums such as a Facebook page called ‘Barter for Better Fiji’ is where people can trade goods and services (in the form of talents and skills) without the use of money. The Government has organised a child helpline and counselling for adults to assist Fijians to cope with mental distress. A group chat organised by young people also exists to inspire youth with words of encouragement, scriptures and prayers daily. My faith and involvement in The Salvation Army allows me to be more passionate, understanding and helpful towards people in need by providing assistance through the foodbank, roofs above the head and clothes. Volunteering for the street appeal and contributing to the Self Denial Appeal has also made me more conscious of the vulnerability of others.
Click here for more about International Youth Day 2020.