“Hopefully it’s not too early for you,” says Akash Raj. He is one of five young adults in Bahrain who greet me as I call into their Zoom meeting. They are the core team of leaders for a youth group that started meeting digitally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite any grogginess I’m cutting through with a strong cup of coffee, the vibrant energy of these young adults is evident as they talk and I listen. And it’s not just because it is 3:00 p.m. where they are, seven hours ahead of my local time of 8:00 a.m. They certainly have “a spirit of joy and enthusiasm to serve the Lord and to give,” as their facilitator, Victoria Peter, says.
T ime zones and oceans are no barrier for this group of young adults. Every other Saturday, the five core team members are joined by 15–20 of their peers. From the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, the U.K., India, and Bahrain, 18- to 25-year-olds sign in to this virtual Zoom space. They’ve been meeting together since August.
“It’s going well. Praise God for that,” says Victoria Peter, who started the group. “We didn’t expect it to come this far. We initially thought of maybe three or four sessions.”
As was the case for many Bahraini young adults, the COVID-19 pandemic affected Victoria’s travel plans. During the lockdown, she was unable to make her annual trip home to India. Her church in Bahrain, the English Language Congregation of the National Evangelical Church (an RCA Global Mission partner), was not able to meet during this time either. While talking with other members of the church, Victoria discovered that many of the parents were worried about their children, young adults studying and pursuing degrees in different parts of the world. Many of them were unable to return home to Bahrain.
“I was praying about a group that would meet together and just build each other up in the Word and in fellowship together. … Back in the places where they’re studying, I don’t know if they actually go to church, so I wanted a good place for them to connect,” Victoria says. “First Peter 2:9 kept coming back to me as I was thinking of different names and thinking about what God was wanting. That’s how Eklektos was born; it’s a Greek word that means ‘chosen’ or ‘picked out.’
“Young adults should know their identity in Christ. That’s such an important thing for them, especially when they’re challenged with so many things out in the world. They have to be sure of who they are in Christ. I keep emphasizing to them that we are the light of the world; the reason we are here is so that people in the darkness come to know the Light.”
At the beginning of each meeting, one of the core team members explains what Eklektos, both the group and the word, is all about—each individual being specifically chosen by God. Then, there’s an icebreaker game, time for worship, and a guest speaker who talks about a topic the young adults have expressed interest in, such as relationships, racism, and time management. Victoria notes that, so far, no speaker has turned down the invitation to speak with the group.
“I tell the young adults, if people are doing this—if they’re willing to speak with you even if time zones are different—they care for you. It’s really nice to see that the body of Christ is willing to do that.”
The guest speakers are not the only ones who have responded positively to invitations to lead this group. The five core group members—though initially hesitant, says Victoria—have all stepped up into leadership and taken on new tasks with great success.
“Going up in front of 20 people online and speaking, never having met them—I’ve never done that before,” says Naomi Thomas. “It’s given me confidence to speak more and pushed me to take my faith to the next level and connect with God more. [Eklektos] is a reminder to stay in touch with Christ and to encourage each other.”
“Joining the group has taught us all a lot in each aspect—the tasks as emcees, doing announcements, making flyers for the church,” says Joash John. “Joining the group has also made us see that we’re not alone in this; that’s a nice feeling.”
“This is a way for us to connect with each other and stay in our faith,” adds Jennifer Indrupati. “Most churches have young adult ministry, but ours is for young adults all around the world. I think that makes us unique. … And we try to bring up topics like racism and mental health that you don’t generally get to hear in church. That’s something you’re not able to do in face-to-face conversations with adults.”
Beyond the connectivity with others their own age, those unique angles—accessibility and the topics—are, in part, what prompted two of the core group members to say yes to being part of Eklektos.
“Victoria said, ‘This is how you can grow in your faith.’ So I saw this as an opportunity for me, having never been part of youth group during my school days,” says Akash Raj. “So I said, ‘Yes, why not?’ We’ll reach out to a lot of people; our group is open to anyone across the world. That’s what the Word is about.”
For Praharsh Ravindra, it’s a little more personal. “Normally we get messages for kids or the general church, but a Bible study for 18- to 25-year-olds? That’s the type of message I’ve never heard, so I wanted to get involved,” he says. “We all face difficulties during that period. I wanted to hear those messages and hoped for resolution [in my own life].”
After a few months of meeting together, it’s clear that Eklektos is having profound impact as a place of community and blessing.
“In the pandemic, we tend to see all the negativity. But it’s then that this group was started, and I see it as a great blessing that we can connect with people all around the world,” says Naomi. “I see God’s hand in each aspect of the group. Even when there are [internet] connectivity issues or plans are derailed, people still want to be there and continue the fellowship. It’s been a weird year, but instead of focusing on negative things, I’ve been forced to see positive things.”
“Throughout the ministry of this group, I’ve learned a lot and grown in faith,” adds Jennifer. “Everything I see now, I can see God and his calling for me. I’m able to focus on the things that are thrown at me and see God challenging me and blessing me. I’ve started seeing what’s happening in my life as God’s work. … God picks me like he picked people in the Bible.”
For other members of the group, Eklektos has helped bring about personal growth and a deeper development of faith.
“The key verse from 1 Peter 2:9 says we are chosen and God has removed us from darkness into light. We are very special,” says Akash. “My parents always said I was special in God’s eyes, but I never took it personally. But being in this group, I feel that.”
“We kind of forget that God wants to connect heaven to earth,” adds Praharsh. “We’re chosen to be part of that mission of bringing the kingdom of heaven down to earth. We have to do whatever we can to make that possible.”
For now, it seems as though Eklektos is doing just that: giving a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven to young adults in various pockets of the earth as they fellowship with one another and connect with God.
“We’ve been getting messages from a lot of [people in the group]. With technology, we’ve been able to keep getting responses throughout the week and anyone can talk with us,” says Akash. “We stay connected with each other and stay faithful during these uncertain times. People feel blessed after each session.”
I can attest to this, even after an informal session. Rarely has getting up early on a Saturday morning been so worth it.