Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Friday, 14 July 2000  

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Gen. Colin Powell shares private faith with Episcopal youth

Gen. Colin Powell at Y2K4JC


General Colin L. Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed a private, yet passionate, side of himself as he spoke July 12 at the closing session of the international Episcopal youth event, Y2K4JC. Powell, who served under both Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, was greeted enthusiastically by the more than 1,400 youth who attended the week-long event on the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Powell was roundly applauded several times, but perhaps most enthusiastically when he said that the problem of poverty and race distinction are among the nation's greatest challenges.

"This is the time to fix it," Powell said. "You people are in a unique position to enter adulthood," he told the youth. "It is time to give your time, talent and treasure to others. I need each one of you as part of my army."

Fulfilling a dream

Y2K4JC culminated a dream first conceived at an Episcopal gathering in Dallas. Sponsor of the event, American Anglican Council (AAC), recruited some 150 volunteers to make the event happen, including 50 college-aged members of the "Jesus Crew," who did everything from "grunt work" to intercessory prayer.

The Diocese of Colorado provided logistical support as well as oversight of worship. Other participating dioceses include South Carolina, Quincy, Fort Worth, Pennsylvania, Texas, Pittsburgh and Rio Grande.

The Y2K4JC event combined music, drama, personal testimony, workshops and worship. Each day began with up-tempo praise and worship led by bands like Undone, Ascension and Barefoot. Top Christian rock groups SONICFLOOD and ThirdDay performed in concert on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

"This week was reassuring," said Collin Benyo, 16, a soft-spoken young man who attends St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Tampa, Florida. "It's good to come together and see I'm not the only one believing in Christ."

At the stroke of 7 p.m., July 7, when the doors opened, hundreds of excited teenagers were greeted by a stage bathed in fuschia and purple lights, smoking with dry ice clouds, set for the worship band Barefoot. Accented by the heavy percussion beat of two drum sets, Barefoot quickly got the crowd rocking.

What seemed deceptively simple to attendees took two years to prepare.

"We're doing a little bit of everything," said Sally Griswold, a crew member and a college student from Palatka, Florida. "We're greeting, parking, carrying bags, helping with security—all the grunt work." But the crew does more than just menial, but necessary, tasks.

"Hey Sally!" said an unidentified young man, popping his head in during the interview. "I want to pray with you." Griswold explained that the two of them were working as intercessors that evening, praying earnestly for the Holy Spirit to work freely and powerfully in the lives of all participants.

Each day of the week-long event, participants chose from a variety of workshops including persecuted Christians, Taize, true beauty (for girls only), dating in a sex-crazed society, healing family relationships and developing a drama team.

Drama offerings alternated with personal testimonies and teaching throughout the week. Youth welcomed Bishop James Tengatenga (Southern Malawi), and Bishop Henry Orombi (Nebbi, Uganda),who told stories of imprisonment, persecution and the saving power of Jesus Christ.

On Sunday, July 9, Y2K4JC attendees made up about onethird of the congregation at convention's Festival Eucharist. Twenty-five bishops visited the Boulder event on Sunday afternoon.

Powell a key event

But for 15-year-old Ruth Whilley, who attended the week-long event, the best part was seeing Powell. Sitting in the bleachers at the Coors Event Center, waiting for Powell to speak, Whilley clutched a copy of his 1995 autobiography, My American Journey and couldn't stop smiling.

"I've seen God move in such an incredible way -- it's amazing," said Whilley, who lives in Colorado Springs. "I can't wait to go home and share this with my friends."

A lifelong Episcopalian, Powell was raised in the tough Fort Apache neighborhood of the South Bronx. His parents emigrated to the United States from Jamaica.

"I knew I was considered a tenth-class citizen because I was black," he said. "But my parents convinced me that this wasn't my problem—it was the country's problem."

Raising children, he said, was a community project. "You know all this talk about the speed of the Internet? Well, it's nothing compared to the speed of the Auntie-net in the Bronx," Powell joked, referring to the many family friends and aunts who made it their business to watch him after school and during the summers.

A self-described "C" student in college, Powell graduated from the City College of New York and told his audience that his participation in the ROTC in college was where he "found himself."

Founding America's Promise

Following his retirement from the military—and his decision not to run for President of the United States—Powell founded "America's Promise, An Alliance for Youth," which seeks to create partnerships between faith-based organizations, communities and corporate America. Powell recognized having the support system of family, church and community made the difference in his life and wanted to extend that system to at-risk youth.

Another vital element in Powell's support community was the church. For Powell, his extended family was found at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in the Bronx, where his father was senior warden, his mother director of the altar guild and he ("of course," he joked) was an acolyte.

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