Mylin Wilson (left), Mariah Gooday, and Shayan Gooday attended Youth 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo: Ginny Underwood)

This article is shared by youth who attended Youth 2023 in Florida with support from Native American Ministries Sunday offerings. They reflect on the life lessons and impact the event had for them. Native American Ministries Sunday is set for April 14, 2024, but congregations can celebrate this churchwide Sunday at any convenient time. The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) has published a list of resources as a resource for allies and partners to engage and support Native American ministries throughout The United Methodist Church.

FLETCHER, OKLAHOMA –More than 2,500 young individuals convened at Discipleship Ministries’ Youth 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida, in July 2023, immersing themselves in a collective pursuit of faith-building experiences and camaraderie. Workshops, worship, concerts, and a poignant beach-side communion were among the activities that threaded together under the theme “BOLD – Being Ourselves, Living Different.”

Reflecting on their experiences, attendees from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) expressed profound takeaways that transcended the event’s activities.

“For me, the worship and the chance to meet new people were the highlights,” shared Mariah Gooday, 18, encapsulating the electric atmosphere she encountered. “There was a lot of energy, and I felt it every time I walked into that building.” Mariah is a descendant of the Comanche, Ft. Sill Apache and Kiowa Tribes and a senior at Anadarko High School.

Shayan Gooday found solace in the resonance of shared beliefs, stating, “It made me feel really good that there are teenagers who believe in God and who aren’t afraid to talk about him.” Shayan is a descendant of the Comanche, Ft. Sill Apache and Kiowa tribes and a sophomore at Anadarko High School.

Mylin Wilson, contrary to popular expectations, found his standout moments within the workshops, relishing in the connections forged. “It was definitely an amazing experience to meet with other people,” he reflected. Mylin is a freshman at Apache High School and is a descendant of the Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Ho-Chunk Tribes.

Cedric Littlecrow, in awe of the ocean’s grandeur, vividly recounted his first encounter. “I kind of just stood there before I went out in the water and stared out looking at the ocean and waves, it was really pretty.” Cedric is in 8th  grade and is descendant of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Otoe, and Ho-Chunk Tribes.

The journey to Youth 2023 was made possible through grants from the Oklahoma Conference and the General Board of Global Ministries, alongside dedicated efforts by youth groups who organized bake sales, taco sales, and various fundraisers.

Beyond the activities and the scenic backdrop, the event became a canvas for these young minds to paint lessons in faith, connection, and the beauty of nature—a mosaic of experiences that they continue to cherish and reflect upon in their everyday lives.

Ginny Underwood is a communication consultant with ties to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. She is a member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. This story was originally published by the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference on its website. Read it here.