RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–They’re everywhere.
They roam the streets of massive cities and the muddy roads of countless villages. Searching, wandering, alone and in packs, they seek a place to call their own in a world full of dying traditions and bewildering change. Many are hungry and ill-educated. Some are rich and bored. All yearn for God, whether they know it or not.
More than a fourth of the world’s 6.3 billion people were between the ages of 10 and 24 when the 21st century began — “the largest group ever to enter adulthood,” according to the Population Reference Bureau. “The actions of these young people — 86 percent of whom live in less-developed countries — will shape the size, health and prosperity of the world’s future population.”
Their future looks bright in some respects. They are the “healthiest, most educated and most urbanized” of any generation in history, a PRB report stated. However, hundreds of millions remain in poverty, cut off from education and opportunities for advancement. About half of all people infected with the HIV/AIDS virus are under age 25, the World Health Organization reports. Up to two-thirds of all rape victims are age 15 or younger.
Physical and economic progress is crucial for the world’s young people. But it won’t count for much if they remain spiritually adrift:
— Communism is long gone in the Czech Republic, but the legacy of atheism and the influence of modern European secularism overshadow a generation of youth who don’t know what to do with the freedoms their parents craved. School officials confront soaring drug and alcohol abuse among students with no moral guidance, reports Mission Network News. “They are seeing a population of young people somewhat out of control,” a mission worker says.
— A Westerner trekking through the Himalayas in Nepal came across a tiny village where he met a 15-year-old girl. Living in such isolation, the girl said her dream was to have a true friend. The trekker told her that Jesus would be such a friend. But she has no Bible or local church to give that truth meaning.
— In Pakistan, a Christian worker befriended two “modern and Westernized” young teachers. “They profess Islam, but say they are searching for peace … but they’ve never known anyone to really find it,” the worker recounted. “I said, ‘I’ve got peace.’ They looked at me in shock [and] responded, ‘No way! You’ve really got peace? How’d you get it? Where’d you find it?'” They listened intently as the worker explained.
— Rodrigo, a former gang member in Brazil, smuggled guns as a teen. “My life was full of violence, drinking and sex,” he says. He went to church once and encountered a woman who said that she and others were praying for him. “It touched something inside of me,” Rodrigo says. “I continued to live my life but gradually the parties, fighting and girls did not satisfy me anymore. Later I was attacked by a group of guys and ended up in the hospital. The [church] women were praying for my life to be spared. I didn’t know why they cared so much about me. I finally understood how God’s love works: I did not have to be ‘someone’ to be important, for God to care for me. It was a group of ladies who got on their knees and prayed for my life.”
How many Rodrigos around the world would respond to Jesus if someone prayed for them? A network of youth ministries and missions organizations — including the National Network of Youth Ministries, Wycliffe, Campus Crusade and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board — wants to find out. They have issued a call to Christian youth and student groups worldwide to spend the night of May 29 in prayer for the lost of their generation.
“A Whole Night for the Whole World” (http://wholenight.com) will unite young people in prayer on the night before Pentecost for a global revival among their generation. It immediately precedes the 2004 Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization May 30, when Southern Baptist churches will intercede for 43 million people in seven countries of the Arab world (http://ime.imb.org/dayofprayer).
“A Whole Night for the Whole World is a call to reach this generation, in this generation, by this generation,” Kelly Davis told Baptist Press when the prayer call was announced in April.
“There are millions of students around the world who do not know Christ,” says Davis, a student mobilization consultant for the International Mission Board. “Statistics have proven over and over again that if a kid doesn’t come to know Christ by the age of 18, the chance of his coming to know Christ is reduced dramatically throughout the rest if his life. The best person to reach a teenager is another teenager. The best person to reach a college student is another college student.”
How that plays out varies from country to country and culture to culture. But it must begin in prayer.
“We know there’s not been any movement of God of any significance that has not been preceded by people praying,” Davis noted — including the student-led revival and mission movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. “So we need to call our students to pray.”
The Rodrigos of the world are waiting.
Erich Bridges, whose column appears twice each month, is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.