In June 2023, a group from Oregon Conference Hispanic Ministries embarked on Next, an educational journey through the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Forty-four people from a total of 14 Hispanic churches participated in the trip. Thirty-nine of the of the 44 were young adults.
Next, an initiative created by David Paczka, Oregon Conference Hispanic Ministries director, and Maricela Paczka, Oregon Conference Hispanic Ministries associate director, focused on empowering youth adult leadership, spiritual growth, education and — of course — the bonding experience of visiting new countries alongside friends.
With the help of Daniel Nuñes, a pastor in Sweden, the group spent two weeks visiting historical locations and museums and enjoying other activities. Learning the rich history of Nordic cultures and different styles of leadership allowed the group to reflect on what the Gospel can do for different societies.
Each country had a delegated pastor who shared a spiritual message focused on the historical context of the place they were visiting. One topic of discussion was the history of Protestantism in Nordic culture, and how biblical principles helped shape and grow the society seen there today.
Levy Laureano, attending pastor, shared a powerful experience he had while walking down a street in Norway on a Friday evening.
“I heard Christian music, and it really touched me,” he said. “This country is very atheistic, very agnostic. I felt like I was holding back tears.”
As it turned out, a group of various churches had gathered to worship and share testimonies together that night — an unusual occurrence there. When they realized they were in the company of a Christian group from the United States, they switched to singing in English in an effort to worship together.
“You could say we had something like a Friday night vespers in Norway that night, and I thought that was pretty awesome,” said Laureano.
The group visited numerous churches on their trip, many of which have been conserved as monuments by the government, though no services are held there anymore.
One participant, Alexis Pacheco, shared how shocking it was to see how small the church in Norway was — though it is growing. She also shared how the experience inspired her to participate more in her own church, and to collaborate with other churches in her home conference.
Next not only helped train a new generation of youth leaders, but also helped connect them with their wider community and with each other. Many of those on the trip admitted that although they had seen each other before the trip, sharing this experience allowed them to draw closer together and get to know each other on a deeper level, and inspired them to look forward to seeing each other again at area events like camp meeting.
“This trip made me realize how strong you have to be to be a leader,” shared Janeo Ramirez. “But when a leader is 100% with God, they think critically, they don’t give up, they persevere and they’re resilient. That’s something I learned throughout this trip.”