Teens hear from refugees at youth gathering

High school students, from left, Nathan Fieldhouse, Ashlynn Tucker, Emma Market and Ashlyn Vale accompanied musician Greg Walton with hand motions during a song at the Quest 2016 youth gathering on the St. Michael Church campus Nov. 19. They were among 300 teenagers who took part in the event, which focused on the theme “Welcome the Stranger.” (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)
High school students, from left, Nathan Fieldhouse, Ashlynn Tucker, Emma Market and Ashlyn Vale accompanied musician Greg Walton with hand motions during a song at the Quest 2016 youth gathering on the St. Michael Church campus Nov. 19. They were among 300 teenagers who took part in the event, which focused on the theme “Welcome the Stranger.” (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Gabriel Kwai told 300 teens that faith sustained him when, as a 7-year-old boy, he fled his native South Sudan and walked thousands of miles to escape a civil war.

Kwai, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” delivered the first of two keynote addresses on the theme “Welcome the Stranger” during the Quest 2016 youth gathering held Nov. 19 on the St. Michael Church campus, 3705 Stone Lakes Drive.

The day-long event, which takes place every two years, was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville Youth and Young Adult Ministry. It was planned by members of the archdiocesan Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and the archdiocese’s youth ministry staff, including Dr. Carole Goodwin and Karl Dolson.

The hundreds of high-school students sat quietly and attentively as Kwai shared how his happy childhood was lost to war and turmoil. In 1986, Kwai’s father — “a good man” who’d served as a teacher and mayor of their town — was killed.

“Life was changed forever,” Kwai told the teens. “My village was attacked and I ran.”

He joined about 30,000 other boys and walked to Ethiopia — a distance “from where you’re sitting to the state of Michigan,” Kwai explained. “I had no idea where I was going. We walked at night with no water and no food.”

Kwai told his young listeners that he witnessed other boys dying “every single day,” but was convinced that God would protect them. Faith, he said, sustained him then as it does now.

Kwai — who now lives with his wife and three daughters in Louisville — told the group that he’s learned three lessons in life.

The first is: Never give up hope. Secondly, he said, is the importance of working hard and doing one’s best. Finally, he said, it’s important to give back to one’s community.

Kwai’s message was “incredible,” said Anna Disselkamp following the presentation.

The Mercy Academy sophomore said, “It makes you look at things differently. The three lessons apply to everyone and you can take that with you everywhere you go.”

T.J. Miles, a senior at Seneca High School who attends Mary Queen of Peace Church, said after the keynote address, “the message of strength through faith was what really struck me.”

The two young people, who were among those who helped plan the gathering, said the theme “Welcome the Stranger” resonated with them. “Meeting someone new gives you the chance to see your life from a different point of view,” said Disselkamp. Miles said that welcoming strangers is “our responsibility as Catholics.”
“Strangers are brothers and sisters in God,” he said.

The youth also had the opportunity to hear from Catholic speaker and musician Greg Walton, whose music pulled the teens out of their seats, singing the song “Make of Us.” Walton wrote the song after a 2013 trip he made to Ghana in West Africa, according to www.gregwalton.com.

Walton discussed his 2013 trip to Ghana, telling the youth, “it was a beautiful time and experience.” He traveled to the West African country with Catholic Relief Services. He performed at a benefit concert there to raise money for a food pantry and soup kitchen at a local clinic that serves individuals suffering from AIDS. He shared some video footage, showing how the Ghanaian people welcomed him and his group.

“I was a stranger,” he said. “They offered us their best.”

The event included seven breakout sessions where the teens heard from refugees, who told the teens about their journeys. The day also included Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and wrapped up with a “fiesta,” featuring dancing and games.

The Record
Written By
The Record
More from The Record
Memorable Moments
8th Grade Graduates Share Reflections Related To Faith, Service And Learning Natalia...
Read More
0 replies on “Teens hear from refugees at youth gathering”