In June, thousands of young Christians in France were challenged to courageously let their faith shine for others to see. One month later, riots erupted in many cities.
“In a culture of darkness, Jesus calls us to be light. We Christians are the reference for sexual identity, the reference for values, the reference for the model of family... and we will not be afraid!”
The words of the preacher echoed in a convention centre in Auvergne (central France) in mid-June. 6,500 young people mainly from Assemblies of God churches - were attending the Echo 2023 youth congress.
In the audience, there was also a team from Le Parisien, a well-known newspaper that would later publish a 10-minute video report with voices of young people sharing on camera with joy and without complexes how living for Jesus gave them hope, purpose and a desire to love others around them.
[destacate]Where does this frustration, apathy, fear of the future, anxiety come from?
[/destacate]A month later, suburbs of Paris and other major French cities were burning. Nahel’s death led to a week of protests, looting and intense finger-pointing between leading politicians. The country was returning to the feeling that there are fundamental problems that cannot be solved. Some analysts spoke of racism, lack of opportunities, socio-economic problems. Others spoke of irresponsibility, laissez faire policies and Islamic radicalisation.
But no one seemed to ask in public questions such as: what role has the current absence of stable families played in the emotional instability of Generation Z? What effect have social media had in constructing volatile and unreal expectations about life (money, luxury, happiness, for free)? And where does this frustration, apathy, fear of the future, anxiety come from?
It was a guest preacher from Spain who called on the young French people at the aforementioned congress to be courageous in living a counter-cultural lifestyle. In the neighbouring country, Itiel Arroyo mainly focuses on this young generation, challenging them to radically follow God. To discard hollow ideologies, to fight pornography, to seek true peace in Jesus. His message is well received: 950,000 subscribers follow these messages on Youtube alone.
[destacate]Everything seems to tell us that in Europe, young people who find hope, purpose, justice and forgiveness will shine brighter than ever
[/destacate]This is because in Spain, the feelings are no better. Ahead of next week's general election, political parties agree on the need to make more psychologists available to young people, in the midst of a mental health crisis. Statistics show a heavy increase in suicidal thoughts among the Gen Zers. “What is it about my generation that everyone is completely crazy, anxious, unmotivated?”, a columnist wrote in an in-depth article in El Confidencial. “I just don't understand the meaning of life, why do my parents do?”, added a 25-year-old woman with a stable job but a sense of lack of hope.
Everything seems to tell us that in Europe, young people who find hope, purpose, justice and forgiveness will shine brighter than ever. Those who embrace the biblical narrative with a lifestyle that reflects the good news of the gospel will be increasingly noticed in an environment where lack of answers and despair is the norm.
Now, more than ever, is the time to tell young people: your faith makes a difference, you have good news to tell. Your friends are waiting for you.
Joel Forster, journalist and director of Evangelical Focus.