By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Two rappers take to the stage, their rapid-fire freestyle rhymes spitting forth in an effort to outdo one another. Watching the two lyrical combatants are about 100 Morinville and area youth, each of whom enthusiastically applaud the performers at the conclusion of their set. But the rappers are not the only act to be seen at Impact Ministry’s Soul Café. Singers both solo and accompanied take to the stage offering the youth entertainment, companionship, and most importantly – a place they can go on a Friday night where they are simply welcomed and accepted for who they are.
Impact Ministries is a branch of Morinville Christian Fellowship run by Youth Pastor Peter Visscher, his wife Chantal, and a large number of volunteers. The youth ministry began seven years ago with eight youth and Youth Pastor Matt Sampson, but within a year there were more than 80 young people coming out on Friday nights. Although the group has grown considerably over the past seven years and Visscher is now in charge, the format and concept have remained largely the same.
Visscher said the normal Friday night event begins with worship, some songs glorifying God and addressing the participants’ need for Him in their lives. This is followed by Pastor Visscher preaching on a variety of subjects, and concluded with everyone playing some games. Once every two months, Impact holds their Soul Café, a youth-oriented evening that converts the old Anglican Church where the youth group meets into a coffee house complete with stage, entertainers and servers.
“Those ones are very big,” Pastor Visscher said of the Soul Café events, noting he sees approximately 60 youth during the regular Friday night events, but can see in excess of 100 on coffee house night. “Generally speaking everybody who would perform at a Soul Café has a connection to our church and youth ministry, but there are certainly those who would appear more regularly at those types of events. It’s an opportunity for them to play, and to sing, and to dance. ”
The pastor said some of the youth drawn to Impact come to make a commitment to God, but there are many who are just drawn by the atmosphere. “They are welcome,” Visscher said, noting although there are boundaries, no one is judged. “Everybody’s welcome. Everybody is celebrated.”
Visscher said the group accepts people no matter where they are at in their life. “Obviously, I have a history and I’m on a journey, just as any youth who comes into our ministry has,” the pastor said. “So it starts with acceptance and them learning that God accepted them enough to send His son Jesus to die for them. It is a powerful revelation that they need to have, but also understanding that as their pastor, I’m not there to condemn them or point the finger at them and push something down their throats.”
That sense of openness, acceptance and community is a natural result of the church’s values, which Visscher explained as celebrating Jesus Christ in every aspect of their lives, accepting themselves and others in the process of life change, receiving god’s grace daily in order to fulfil His purposes, and engaging their community by being equipped to serve. Collectively, the four values spell out the word CARE.
Ultimately, Impact Youth Ministries is not to be inward,” Pastor Visscher said. “We’re not focused on just the Christian kids from our church. First and foremost it is actually an outreach. Just because you see 110 kids on a Friday doesn’t mean you see 110 kids that agree with what I’m saying.”
The pastor said engaging the community means reaching out to Morinville Community High School, reaching out to Georges H. Primeau, and accepting youth. However, none of that is possible without the church being willing to serve.
With respect to Soul Café, youth involved in the ministry get the opportunity to serve by operating the various components of the bi-monthly Soul Café. On an ongoing basis, Visscher said the ministry’s worship and greeting team are made up of youth. “That’s really what connects people,” he said. “We believe that people are engaged when they learn to move beyond themselves and just having fun for themselves to being of service to people.”
One member of the ministry who decided to get involved and give back is Visscher’s wife, Chantal, who came to the ministry as a 15-year-old participant and has become increasingly involved with the ministry over the past seven years. “I went there and I felt very accepted,” she said of her first experience with Impact almost a decade ago. “As I just kept going, I got more and more involved with serving, and that just changed me.”
Chantal said part of that change was from her increasing relationship with God and part from the other members of the youth group accepting her and where she was in her life at that time. “I think it is important for us as a youth group to love people where they are at,” she said. “To make them feel accepted because I think people in general are really hard on themselves. Life is not easy for a lot of people.”
Pastor Visscher explained as the youth begin to accept themselves and accept others who might have a history, together they all move towards maturity and responsibility. That movement towards responsibility and maturity is a common theme in the message and mission of the group. For the people at Impact, it is important to just be there for people.
But like all groups secular and faith-based that work with youth, listening is the key. “We can’t tell these youth what to do,” the pastor said. “We love them to a place of change. I think preaching is good to a degree. It lays out the values and the expectations, but the foundation of counselling is asking the right questions. If I ask guiding questions to a youth, I can actually work that youth to a place of self-discovery. I can beat them over my head with my preaching, but if I get them talking about it, they figure it out.”
But while the youth pastor may not preach in a fire-and-brimstone style, he does preach, often a message of acceptance and love and his belief that God is on the side of youth. Visscher said he realizes not all who come to youth group on Friday nights or to the bimonthly Soul Café sessions will accept that message, but they are always welcome to join other youth in a safe and caring environment that recognizes and celebrates youth.