“Lighthouses in a Dark Place”: An Interview with GYC Europe President Craig Gooden

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“Lighthouses in a Dark Place”: An Interview with GYC Europe President Craig Gooden

The Compass Magazine team (Michael Younker with Rebeca Ene) had the chance to catch up with GYC Europe President Craig Gooden recently. We enjoyed the opportunity to hear Craig share about his passion for GYC and all things ministry-related in the European region. GYC Europe is having a very busy year, and we thank Craig for sitting down with us in Romania at GYC FOCUS – Stupini.

Besides serving as the president of GYC Europe, Craig (pictured at left in the photo above) also works as an outreach coordinator at PEACE, an evangelistic training center in northern England sponsored by the North England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Craig’s entry into GYC Europe–a brief history

Craig, who has attended various GYC events in the U.S. in recent years, shared a little with us about how GYC Europe came into existence. He told us that “over several years more people from Europe started to attend” GYC in the U.S., and so in 2011 a number of them wanted to have “the same type of event in Europe.” Shortly thereafter, Craig recalled, “we decided that we’d start GYC Europe” officially. A small team was soon formed later in 2011 and organized the first European conference in Linz, Austria. “A good amount of young people attended,” Craig told us, which was very exciting for the other leaders in Europe. It was so successful that they organized another event in 2014.

We always appreciate hearing how individuals get involved in ministries like GYC, so we asked Craig about his personal story. Craig told us that after attending GYC conferences in Baltimore and Orlando, he was naturally drawn to work with the new GYC Europe team around 2012. GYC Europe has been for him “just an amazing experience” where “you see all of these young people coming together wanting to volunteer their time.” Most important was seeing “people change,” including those close to him, as he could see the “effects it had on my own brother.”

Overall, Craig said that GYC “was powerful” as an instrument through which God could change lives. Craig couldn’t resist becoming involved with a ministry like GYC, and to be able to do so near his own homeland was exciting.

The context of GYC Europe–Is there such a thing as too many cultures?

One of the more pressing stories around the world today continues to be the challenge of “culture clash,” where two or more cultures meet and some of the results appear unpleasant. Whether the divides are religious, linguistic, ethnic, or nationalistic, bringing different cultures together remains a pressing challenge, not just for the world (where it may be expected), but also in its own ways for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We asked Craig what he thought about the challenge of organizing GYC in Europe in contrast to the U.S., with Europe’s many subcultures and languages barriers.

Craig agreed that it is a significant issue to keep in mind. “Just a few weeks ago I was at another youth conference (GAM) in Portugal ,” he observed, which was the “same type of idea, but a different culture.” Craig noted that “I’m from the UK, a different culture, and as we were putting this program [for Stupini] together, we’re working with many youth from Romania, and we found that the cultures are totally different.” So even though “we call ourselves Europe, there’s so many diverse cultures, different ways of looking at things, and how we adapt to that is something I’ve found to be quite interesting.”


Attendees at GYC FOCUS: Stupini

Craig and the rest of GYC Europe have decided one of the best ways to approach the different cultures is to create special meetings that are focused on a single country or culture, called GYC FOCUS–(place name). “What we do with the FOCUS idea is we have a local team that works with the GYC Europe team, and that way communication happens both ways: we’re allowing the local team to help guide us regarding how the event should be put together, and we give guidance in regards to what we want to see.” However, it is “the local team that are learning and putting the event together, and over the years we’ll hope to see growth and flourishing” between the local leaders and the central GYC organizers.

Craig explained that there is a rationale behind the FOCUS events around Europe that addresses more than just differing cultures. Initially, the idea was that they run several “rallies” around Europe. But the GYC Europe team “wanted to give it more meaning” than simply a rally. “We said, look, we want to focus in a specific area of Europe at several times throughout the same year, so we said, let’s call it FOCUS, because we’re focusing the events for a group of people from that territory, but we won’t discourage people from coming” from outside that territory. “Anybody who wants to attend can come even if we know that the majority will come from the country in which it was promoted.”

The challenge of Europe—ministering in secular cultures

Since we are especially interested in how Adventism can thrive within a context like Europe that is highly secular, is skeptical of organized religion in general, and contains so many different cultures, we asked Craig to further elaborate on some of the special challenges and opportunities Europe faces. For example, Romania is a stronghold for Seventh-day Adventist membership numbers, but other places may not be. We wondered what Craig thought about these kinds of differences, and how GYC Europe could educate and empower the youth when it comes to ministry, learning to approach ministry according to each culture although the leaders may not be part of a given culture. Any thoughts about missional contextualization?

“I’d say yes [there is room for some], as long as such approaches to ministry remain connected to our biblical foundation,” Craig told us. “Because there are many who are saying we need to do ministry in a certain way, and consequently change what we believe.” But Craig believes that it is possible to “hold on to our principles for the sake of not offending those who need to come in,” and, likewise, “if we believe that this gospel is powerful, then it will change people; the gospel itself doesn’t need to change to reach them.” He added that “understanding the culture in how I reach out to that culture still needs to be done within certain boundaries, specifically the guidelines of His Word, so I’d say that there is a challenge here, and yes, understanding a local culture helps.”

We asked Craig for specific examples of how he would help someone—a young person—to understand a culture that they’re not part of.

First, he observed, “you need to know people in that culture who can help educate you, or find a way to educate yourself through your own experiences there. For instance, I know here in parts of Romania I probably wouldn’t go walking at night time because of the wild dogs that are around all the time, you know, you can hear them. Strangely enough, on Sabbath they were quiet, but then last night they started up again, so I wouldn’t go telling one to go knocking on doors after dark over here!” (Our native Romanian, Rebeca, laughed).

Craig added, more seriously, “With the culture here in Romania, people like to impress visitors with their food. For example, I know that they love soups. So, for me, I know food would be a way that you could look at how could we use our health message to reach out to people here.”

Craig shared an incident that happened to him in the Ukraine to highlight the differences with his home culture in the UK. “You know what it’s like being on a busy bus in a place like the UK,” he said to Rebeca, who is studying in Colchester, near London. “If the bus was full, and you’re at the back, and the bus driver needed money from you, would you give him the money by passing it to some stranger on the bus, for it to be passed up front?”

No, was Rebeca’s response; people don’t often collaborate with strangers in the UK.

But Craig’s experience on a packed bus in the Ukraine was totally different. “The bus driver asked me for the money, and the stranger next to me pulls out their hand toward me, and they take the notes, and they pass it all the way down the bus! Then they get the change, and the change gets back to me!”

Craig explained, “That showed me that there’s a level of trust amongst the people, and understanding those little things helps.”

GYC Europe’s reception—overcoming skepticism

Another thing we wanted to hear about from Craig is what types of obstacles GYC Europe is facing, beyond the differing cultures and languages. Craig told us that the biggest challenge GYC Europe faces is from people who harbor “skepticism about what GYC is.”

Craig offered us an example. Recently, “I was sitting at a table, with a lovely guy, and he said, ‘GYC is another religion.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. And he replied he didn’t really know all that much about GYC. I actually had to explain to him that we’re a movement of young people who are working for and volunteering their services within the Seventh-day Adventist Church to help support the church, and for it to grow. He was just skeptical; he had some ideas about it [GYC], but he didn’t really know much about it, so having the time to speak to him and address his skepticism was important, and then he was fine.” Craig continued, “I think many people hear about it but they don’t take time to read about it, to look at what the experiences have been in the past, [to hear] how it has changed people’s lives.”

GYC Europe’s goal—encouraging active missions

We asked Craig if GYC was really just another branch of ministry in Europe, and he agreed. He shared that what it was really about was empowering local churches “through active missions.” The GYC organizers hope attendees will become active in evangelism at home. “We want to see them go back to their churches and make those churches lighthouses, lighthouses in a dark place, to call the people to come and worship.” So one of the primary aims of GYC Europe is to “make a difference in the local church.”

Participants enjoy lively conversation at GYC FOCUS - Stupini

Participants enjoy lively conversation at GYC FOCUS – Stupini

Craig made it clear that the special FOCUS events that GYC Europe wants to promote around different European territories are not meant to replace a general GYC Europe gathering, and that having both kinds of events plays into a larger strategy that GYC is hoping to implement. “By having the FOCUS rallies we’re able to build confidence around Europe, so that when the conference comes, we have hopefully thousands of young people who will come to the conference to be encouraged by seeing that, look, I’m doing the work in my country, you’re doing the work in your country, and so really we are not alone.”

Craig is passionate about addressing the challenge of living as an Adventist in Europe, where one can find more members in some locations than others, and so sometimes Adventists from certain regions can feel a bit isolated. Craig believes that “trying to encourage each person to be active individually, to be that movement that’s encouraging people to make the Seventh-day Adventist Church grow,” is essential. He believes in what Ellen White shared, namely, that “‘evangelism is the lifeblood of the church,’ so active missions are essential.”

In fact, the FOCUS rallies and general GYC Europe gatherings are only two of the three types of activities GYC is hoping to develop. Craig told us about the third area that GYC Europe is focusing on:

“At the end of this FOCUS you heard me talk about the evangelism spiral, and that falls into a grid that we’re calling active mission. After every FOCUS event that we run, we’re encouraging all of the people that attended to be active in mission when they go back to their churches, and to support their pastors, in their homes, everywhere else, so they can be active.”

Theological motives or agendas?

For all its desire to encourage evangelism, GYC Europe is also interested in educating its young people about Adventism and what it means to be an Adventist. Although it may be one of the issues that generates some of the skepticism, Craig was happy to share what GYC Europe is about when it comes to theological education.

“I see the event as a place where young people can come together and just feel open to share their understandings of the Bible, to learn more truth, and also to share that truth with people,” Craig said. “It’s about having a deeper understanding of who we are, understanding our distinctive message, the depths of who we are as a people, including our pillars of the faith—the sanctuary, the three angels’ messages, etc. I think it’s a great opportunity for them to learn and share, so we’ve mixed both points together: evangelism and the teaching.”

Having attended the conference at Stupini, Rebeca and I can share that what was presented was very faithful to our mainstream denominational beliefs. Some of the skepticism I’ve heard about is related to whether GYC is emphasizing beliefs not embraced by the official church, that are on the more conservative side, and none of that was present at Stupini. It was both passionate and mainstream—supportive of the Adventist Church’s official doctrines.

Craig was aware of and sensitive to the issue of how GYC Europe should be described relative to terms like “conservative” and “liberal” that are bandied about so much. Craig shared that “just a few weeks ago I was actually preaching on the same topic—conservative, liberal—and I’ve said, ‘Why don’t we just be Seventh-day Adventists?’ If I’m a Seventh-day Adventist, Bible-believing Christian, and I don’t hold to any labels like, ‘I’m a conservative,’ ‘I’m a liberal,’ or anything else, if I’m an Adventist, I’ll just do what God has called me to do.”

Craig is aware that sometimes “people may label me and say, ‘Well, you’re a conservative,’ and that’s fine, but I’m saying I’m a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, and I’m aiming to be, by faith, obedient to the commandments of the Lord and I’m looking for His second return. My faith is based on the Bible, so you can understand that through GYC, we as a movement are centered on the Bible and committed to upholding the Spirit of Prophecy.” Craig therefore has no desire for GYC to be seen as a divisive ministry within the church, given that GYC Europe’s mission is compatible with the church’s teachings.

Reflections on the GYC FOCUS at Stupini and GYC’s plans for the future

We at Compass were also curious how the GYC leaders were evaluating their FOCUS meeting at Stupini in Romania (where we caught up with Craig). Did he or the other GYC team members present have any special reflections after their first official FOCUS meeting? What should we expect in the future for GYC FOCUS meetings? (GYC Europe has another FOCUS meeting planned in England later this year).

Craig shared the story of one young person who asked to speak with him during the weekend. “They said they had been struggling with their Christian walk, and now they were feeling much better and inspired,” Craig told us. “And for me that was a highlight for the event, in that our theme this year is ‘Coming to Christ.’”

Craig went on to inform us about GYC Europe’s future plans. “We have set three themes, so this year is ‘Coming to Christ,’ next year is ‘Searching the Scriptures,’ and the year after that will be ‘Moving into Mission.’ I’m hoping to see the people we’ve met this year again next year, and we’re searching the Scriptures together and we’re having a deeper walk. For me that has been one of the main highlights: seeing the changes in people we meet.”

Craig is excited to see how GYC can encourage people: “We’re hoping to see personal growth and new people joining the church, and we’re also hoping to see them going back to their home churches and helping their pastors, and encouraging the leadership of the divisions, the unions, the conferences, and local members near them.”

Craig shared that GYC Europe continues to seek to branch out across Europe and to be inclusive in its leadership of people from every country possible. He hopes to see GYC Europe as a positive example of a healthy unity in diversity, including having GYC Europe continue to “work very closely with GYC in the USA.”

Closing comments

When we asked Craig if he had any closing thoughts, he gave a stirring appeal:

“Let’s go forward and preach this gospel! I’m hoping that we can reach out to university students, that we can get those people who are studying, those who are working, those who are just trying to live a spiritual life, encouraged and motivated. Let’s find those Nehemiahs, those Daniels, those Pauls, those Marys, and let’s seek to live like Christ every day!”

Amen! Thank you, Craig Gooden, current president of GYC Europe!

(Photos from GYC Europe Facebook page)

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About the author


Michael Younker is a consulting editor for The Compass Magazine. He is completing a doctoral degree in philosophical theology (2019) at Andrews University.