The word Discipleship does not appear in the Bible, yet it is often used to mean a follower of Christ. Nearly two-dozen high school teens began their journey on the road to discipleship during a weeklong program of education and self-discovery.
Picture Dorothy on the yellow brick road off to see the wizard of Oz. She tells everyone she encounters about the wonderful wizard and invites them to join her. The appropriately named "On the Road" program, sponsored by the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, can best be described as that spiral in Munchkinland where Dorothy receives her instructions and then the journey begins. Perhaps that oversimplifies things. The program keeps the teens busy.
Through a series of large group sessions and small group peer talks, this program offers some learning experiences to deepen one's understanding of Jesus, as well as explain how to share one's personal story of faith. Participants learned how to write and deliver a witness talk, and learned how to pray with and for others.
A standard day begins with Liturgy of the Hours - the daily prayer of the Church. It's 15 minutes of thanking God. After breakfast, the participants have two learning sessions: Theology, where they learn about God and how He works through people; and Discipleship, where they learn about themselves and how to spread God's word.
"We're learning a lot about how theology relates with being disciples in our faith and how theology works with actually living it," said Lucas Robertson, 16, from St. Christopher Parish, Tonawanda.
After lunch they learn about themselves and how they can better the world through faith in a Human Skills session.
"There were a lot of parts of the sessions where we got to learn more about ourselves and got to learn about the gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to us," said Carolyn Frawley, 14, who attends the UB Newman Center, about her favorite part of the day.
The last learning session deals with spirituality, where the teens learn about faith and examine their own spiritual lives.
The participants also workshop witness talks, learning how to write and deliver personal messages about their journey in faith. Prayer and conversation is sprinkled in throughout the day.
At the end of the evening, the kids use the seminary's chapels and lounges for Cabin Time when they can reflect on what has been discussed throughout the day. It offers supportive small group discussions with peers and a mentor.
"It's nice because we're basically still using faith as a compass, but we were basically able to just talk," explained Robertson. "I think a lot of people think that you can't really sit down and have a good conversation about life and all the things that you're feeling every day, especially as teenagers, using faith with that. That's what Cabin Time is, and it's a really good part of the day."
One topic included an examination of how morals come from faith. They discussed choices that teenagers deal with and how to use faith in making those choices.
"Yesterday, I specifically realized that I used my faith a lot more than I thought I did when I made decisions," said Robertson. "I didn't think specifically, 'Is this a sin? Is this something I should be doing pertaining to faith?' But I use morals that come from faith to make decisions. We realized that in Cabin Time from talking."
This helps prepare the teens for future opportunities to share their faith and give public witness talks.
Kathryn Mills, 14, from St. Michael Parish in Buffalo, does not describe herself as an extrovert, but Cabin Time helped her open up. "Especially being in smaller groups. You don't have to worry about all these people staring at you. It's only a few people. It's more like having a conversation with friends as opposed to talking to an entire group," she said.
What's interesting is learning why teenagers, who finally have a couple months off from school, would actively want more education. Instead of pursuing money, movies or madness, they seek to learn more and be closer to Jesus.
"I struggle with my faith sometimes, so being able to come here and hear all these people who sound so rooted in what they know and what they learned, just being able to learn and grow with them is one of the things I have gotten out of it," said Frawley.
"I came to discover my purpose," answered Christina Dingeldey, 16, from Most Precious Blood Parish in Angola. She took part in the Christian Leadership Institute a few weeks earlier. "CLI really opened me up, so I thought this would really help me get out there more within my faith."
This was the debut of "On the Road," held July 15-21 at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. The Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministry plans to make it an annual event and hopes to see how participants live out their missionary discipleship call.