The youth of every generation all over the world strive to break free of tradition; to be different from what they know and find their own identity. They are the future in many ways, and in shaping them now, one shapes tomorrow. Considering that the arts and creativity strongly influence culture and the hearts and minds of any given community on earth, imparting wisdom and direction into creative youth is an investment into the future.
I saw this clearly illustrated in a recent trip to the southern part of Malawi. People under the age of fifteen comprise 40% of Malawi’s population (2016 PRB Fact Sheet, populationmalawi.org). This segment of the population receives attention from the government and NGOs, but not as much from churches. In one city, I was told the churches disregard the youth, seeing them as wild, rough, and not worthy of investment.
That the youth in this place in southern Malawi are wild and rough is undoubtedly true. Their environment and upbringing engenders a kind of bold, unrefined expressiveness that defines them beyond the fields and town where they grew up. The three day seminar we held with some of them was characterized by energy, intensity, and VOLUME. The youth who came to this seminar were challenged to grapple directly with the Bible and the songs to which they listen and create, as well as parts of themselves and their culture. Some who came would say they are Christians, others might say they believe in Jesus, and others could say neither.
Following Jesus is strongly discouraged by the majority people group in this area. Being Christian and sharing the Gospel are perfectly legal in Malawi, but in this part of the country, to be this people group is to be Muslim. Workers here tell me darkness reigns in this place, and the culture is characterized by infidelity and abuse. All this and more, despite the fact that a generation of work by a handful of missions organizations and a translation of the Bible in the local language has been completed.
The youth, especially by means of the arts, have potential to change this narrative. What they sing, dance and act now can plant seeds of salvation that will bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control community-wide in the future. The challenge has been posed. Now, how far will they take it?