5 Things I Miss About Christmas Institute

Yesterday, my sister and I decided to pay a visit yesterday in the ongoing Christmas Institute (CI) held at Anda Integrated School, Poblacion, Anda, Pangasinan. We were joined by Aida, fellow Methodist member. This post- Christmas activity of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship of the Philippines (UMYFP) is observed across the archipelago. This is the gathering of youth in all Methodist churches within a district to commemorate the coming of the Messiah through various activities.

We reached the camp site at 4:30 in the afternoon. We brought bread for our more than twenty delegates coming from our church. It was the practice of the participants in different interest groups, so we only talked with Pastor Carlos, his wife, and volunteers who were busy in chopping vegetables for the pinakbet recipe. We met our former pastor, Reverend Garner Ted and his wife, Manang Malou, who served as deaconess in our church. This couple ignited my interest to join CI when I was still a teenager (sounds oldie).

I really wanted to go around the venue, but I chose to chat with them. So, what I had taken was photos of hundreds of colourful tents pitched in the wide school playground. The scene made me to think back my CI days. I never joined Boy Scout camping, so I experienced living in a tent only in church activities such as this. Now, that I am an (young) adult, I really want to go in the said activity even just to have sneak peak. 

This event really made humongous changes in my life. I owe a lot from the Pangasinan West District my life as a Christian. Your UMYFP experience is incomplete if you never tried jamming and praising God with other youth. CI is a training ground towards being mature in faith. Every December is exciting because of this. The saddest thing a member could feel in attending this is having the last appearance. Once you reach the age of 23, you are now part of the United Methodist Young Adults. The organizers will announce those who are “candidates for graduation” and be given the chance to speak before the crowd. Sadly, I was not able to feel that peculiar moment because I was in my starting point of my teaching career.

I only joined the Institute for five times. My first time was in our local church at Tondol. I had my fourth appearance in the same venue. Moreover, I was able to attend my second, third, and last CI in Asbury College, Incorporated located at Poblacion, Anda, Pangasinan. Those days were indeed blessings and life- changing. It is apparent in my writing that I miss attending the event, so I have my list of the things I really like in the said church affair.

1.       Bible studies
CI is the perfect time to reflect, to renew, and to rejuvenate our faith in God. Bible studies have a great share of pie in the Institute. Here, the participants are divided according to age range. There are groups for younger participants, middle age, and to the eldest delegates. There are sessions with lessons crafted based on the year’s theme. There, you are going to do activities and sharing. The studies are thirst quenchers for the soul. The lessons are tediously reviewed by the trainers before teaching them for better delivery.

One of the lessons I cannot forget is about taking care of our environment. The issue is timely as the world is experiencing climate change. From that, I understand how crucial the role of people in preserving the nature as they are trustees of God’s bountiful creations. I have instilled in my life to be responsible in managing my garbage.

2.       Interest Groups
Joining an interest group is a must. What is this for? These groups are expected to come up with presentations or parts in the program called as “The Big Night” or the Night of Talents. All delegates should join only one group which will cater a performance. Practice usually starts at the second day. Here, you will have the chance to improve your talent or learn a new one. Furthermore, you can gain friends because of this. You will meet fellows from different churches. I overcame my shyness because of this. Some of these interest groups are hand movement, skit, human video, arts, pop dance, choir, and the like. In the recent years, there were added and removed groups.

For the record, I joined arts group as a first timer. I am not good in arts, but I tried my best to be dexterous that time in cutting paper. I had tried joining interpretative dance twice. I devoted my fourth and last CI in pop dance. I cannot say that I am pro in these fields, but at least I learned additional skills. The district has overflowing talents. Serving God through different talents is a fulfilment.

3.       Workers’ Night
It is a breath of fresh air seeing your pastors and deaconesses singing, dancing, and acting on the stage in CI. At Sundays, you see them very formal. You can see their other side in the activity. Usually, Workers’ Night is slated in the third night. The church workers do various presentations about the struggles of young people in their faith or about the essence of Christmas in our lives as a community of faith. You find them here like they are young people again because of their antics. The highlight of this program is to unearth the calling of serving God among the participants. They ask who wants to be a pastor or a deaconess. Throughout my CI experience, I never heard the “call”. God destined me in another mission.

4.       The Big Night/ Revival Night
The jolliest part of the activity is the Big Night. Here, the groups are going to present what they have been practicing for two- three days. The participants are donned with their attire apropos with the group they belong. Seeing your fellows dancing, singing, acting with gladness is fantastic. All are enjoying the spectacular performances served by each interest group. On the other hand, the Revival Night will break your heart. You will hear stories from people changed by God. You will really cry listening to their painful stories. They are living testaments that God really exists and He loves us no matter who you are. After breaking your heart, the praying/ confession moment will make you feel relief as your heart is restored with gladness and purity. This is the time to ask forgiveness for all vilest things you have committed.

5.       Lifestyle
Camping style in the activity adds the fun there. You will be trained to be responsible with your belongings and to be mindful about your neighbors. You are also trained there to be early in taking a bath as activities there are usually started 7 onwards. As a participant, you have the privilege to have an ID, a bible studies material, and food to eat. These perks are from donations, so you will be really careful and thankful for these. In addition, CI life is fun as you have the chance to mingle with the participants and to know them more through letting them sign up in your friendship notes of your BS material. Some of those messages are from my churchmates whom I just exchanged my material with as we feel shy to let it be signed by other participants. It is like a paradise on earth that you do not want to have its ending. You will feel the separation anxiety as you pack up your tents and stuff and leave the area.

Due to my age, I just participate by giving donations. I may not attend the Institute, but my spirit is there through my prayers and help I can give to my little brothers and sisters. I go back to my CI memories every time I feel that adulting is harsh. CI really contributed a lot into what I am now.

Going back to the story, Aida and my sister helped in cooking the food for dinner. I just watched because I do not want to destroy the appetite of the participants. My cooking is still terrible. We left the area before 5:30 as we need to finish our test papers.

For those young people there, congratulations. You experience one the best moments you could have as youth. Do not lose the faith. Keep it burning. The last two sentences are what I always received in the friendship corner of my BS material.

What is your CI experience? Share it below.  

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