Kait Kelsey grew up in Berne, Indiana, where she first joined the Mennonite Church. She now lives in South Bend and attends Kern Road Mennonite Church. She participates on her school’s Robotics and Lacrosse team and is active in her youth group. In her free time she likes to ski and go to the beach and her favorite place in the world is Camp Friedenswald.
At 17 years old, Orlando 2017 is my first Mennonite Church USA convention.
Neither of my parents grew up Mennonite. Our family joined the church after moving to Berne, Indiana, a small country town, where the people welcomed us wholeheartedly. At First Mennonite Church we were treated like family. In fact, they were so suspiciously friendly, my mom thought it was some kind of cult or something. But I guess we drank the Kool-Aid too, because over the years, after many moves and many churches, we’re still going to church with those crazy Mennonites.
Being a Mennonite has had a profound impact on my life. It’s changed my perspective on the world and introduced me to many amazing people. No matter where I live, I can find a small community of people who share the same values with me: my elementary Sunday school teacher, my youth mentor, my camp counselor, my friends and family. There was always someone. But as a Mennonite in the public school system of a big city, I sometimes feel distant from my peers, because I don’t have the reassurance of being surrounded by people like me.
Convention is different. Convention is a place where people of all different ages, races and walks of life come together to celebrate the one thing they all have in common. Orlando 2017 is my first convention and it has changed me in more ways than one. Before coming, my youth group leader explained how special convention was. He taught us how to appreciate the massive amount of people who would be coming together to worship and discuss important issues. It was the church coming together as one. It was decision-making and the making of history. It was family. Our family.
I was excited to come and see all convention had in store. I was excited to see friends from my old school and summer camp. Before convention even started, I recognized people on my flight to Orlando. Within minutes of stepping into the convention center I ran into and old camp roommate of mine. These were my people.
As the week went on I became closer and closer with my youth group. We became brothers and sisters to each other (and acted like it too). We joked around and called our leaders “mom” and “dad” because of the parental qualities they’d taken on while taking care of us. And if any of us were ever lost, you could hear us yelling “Daaaaad?” Like a lost child in the grocery store. These were my people.
I went to a seminar presented by a man from Israel. He was talking about Mennonites and convention when he said, “It’s like a big family reunion.”
One thing I’ve enjoyed most about conference, is being able to enjoy it with my family. All of the amazing seminars, worship services and conversations are better with my brothers and sisters by my side. Whether it be my past Sunday school students or the people I came with, we can enjoy each other’s presence and praise God together.
As the week comes to an end, and convention is almost over, I can look back and call it a success. Not only did I grow as a follower of Jesus, I met thousands of family members I never knew I had.
So until next time, see ya fam!