By Emily Milburn – Penrith Network Youth Church Leader
On the 29th of July 2023, the Network Youth Church partnered with St Thomas’ Kendal to take fifteen young people to Dreaming The Impossible on Stafford showground. The Christian festival, run by the Vineyard church, had over four thousand young people from across the UK in attendance. The weather throughout the week was a mixture of sunshine, drizzle and clouds; on the final day, the sun shone long enough for our campsite to have an epic water-fight.
Our young people immersed themselves in the event’s jam-packed schedule. In the mornings and evenings, everyone gathered for the main meetings, where we would worship together, listen to speakers talk from across the UK and partake in prayer ministry. Throughout the days and later in the evenings, our young people disappeared into the Dream Café for board games and hot drinks, The Station for merchandise and networking, Flix for movies, The Warehouse for late night silent discos and huge inflatables, and the sports field for football, ultimate frisbee, basketball, netball, a slip ‘n’ slide and the pillow jump. A diverse series of seminars were also available for the young people each day, discussing topics that were relevant and intriguing. Youth leaders also had the option to attend seminars, which were structured into Lectio Divina styled sessions that allowed room for us to connect with God and receive prayer. On the final night, our camp took advantage of the Christmas-themed fancy dress; we had two Christmas puddings, one Christmas cracker, ‘Trucker Santa’ and lots of tinsel representing our camp.
For many of our young people, Dreaming The Impossible was a completely new, unfamiliar experience of a Christian festival; for some of them, this was their first experience of a Christian festival.
Unfortunately, for most young people in Cumbria, Church is just a building. The Network Youth Church works hard daily to forge strong relationships with young people across Cumbria. Throughout the year, we strive to create safe and welcoming spaces in order to develop an inclusive church community – and a family – outside of the building. At large events like Dreaming The Impossible, young people from rural areas are exposed to thousands of other young Christians, gathering in a space that not only encourages them to explore their faith, but allows them to be themselves whilst doing it.
The theme for the week was ‘living life to the full’ and throughout the many talks, seminars and testimonies, the team at DTI encouraged us to seek fulfilment and purpose through our relationship with God over worldly pleasures. In a post-covid world, where we often find ourselves trying to live life to the full in order to make up for lost time, the message served as a reminder to our young people that purpose and fulfilment cannot be found in another person, or a country, or an experience – but only through our heavenly father.
As a youth leader, there is a specific form of joy that comes when a young person decides to open their heart to Jesus. At Dreaming The Impossible this year, five of our young people decided to step forward in faith and follow Jesus. One young person felt as though he was being called to leadership in the church and asked if he could become a young leader at youth group. One boy decided during the week, that he would like to be baptised when we returned home. It was also powerful to see our young people lose themselves in worship, giving praise freely. But amongst these larger displays of God’s presence, the young people were impacted in subtler ways too. One girl, who came to Dreaming The Impossible as an unbeliever, decided to receive prayer multiple times over the week. She had an encounter with the holy spirit and started asking questions, hungry for answers. Another girl also encountered the holy spirit and slowly, brick by brick, tear by tear, interior walls started to lower over the week. One young person, a natural evangelist, developed friendships with everyone in the group, merging the Network Youth Church individuals from Penrith, Eden and Calder, with St Thomas’ Kendal. At the end of the week, a community had formed with the young people and the foundations of strong Christian friendships had been laid.
As a young person in Cumbria, I know that being a Christian can be an isolating experience – especially if you come from a non-Christian family. Attending youth festivals like Dreaming The Impossible gives young people the opportunity to surround themselves with other young Christians from across the UK. It helps them to understand how large the church family is and ultimately, it makes them feel less alone. Coming back from the festival, it is now our responsibility as youth leaders and fellow Christians, to guide and nurture our young people as they embark on their walk on faith back home.
We must continue to create safe and welcoming spaces for all young people across Cumbria and continue to fill ourselves with the holy spirit so that our words and actions are a constant reflection of the God that we serve. We must encourage our young people to search for God in the everyday world outside of Dreaming The Impossible because above all, one encounter with God can change everything.
Penrith Network Youth Church Leader