We are less than a year away from the next Nazarene Youth Conference, which means that the most important part of the preparation process is being done right now — the selection of the district t-shirt designs.
At which NYC did students begin to trade their district t-shirts? When I attended NYC in Orlando as a student back in 1991, I definitely don’t remember exchanging my shirt with anyone. However, at the last NYC in Phoenix, the underground shirt exchange had become so commercialized that a section of the exhibit hall was being used exclusively to exchange and purchase district t-shirts. Much to my amusement, there wasn’t a set price for all shirts being offered. Here the shirts were being offered for purchase with varying prices depended on how “rare” and “in demand” a shirt was! NYC shirts that come from Canada are always the most valuable, by the way.
There’s something amazing about knowing that you’re a part of a much larger movement. The t-shirt exchange at Nazarene Youth Conference helps teenagers understand that. In fact, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the t-shirt exchange reveals a deeper truth of the Kingdom Jesus spent His life revealing and teaching.
There’s something amazing about knowing that you’re a part of a much larger movement.Tim Olson
Back in 2015, the theme for Nazarene Youth Conference was “Thy Kingdom Come.” What follows are six sentences from the notes I took during the main sessions:
The kingdom is the entire world, as God originally intended, breaking through our reality.
The kingdom as God intended it to be is not a respecter of the divisions of nationalities. This kingdom is in opposition to all the other kingdoms designed by man yet can only come about through man’s cooperation with one another in partnership and union with Jesus Christ. The kingdom is God’s revelation to us that we are all family!
God’s kingdom is not an escape from this world. Instead, it is breaking into our world and we can repent when we decide to live into this new way of being human.
One of the many things teenagers have taught me over my last 23 years in ministry is that they don’t just want to believe in a spiritual idea or creed. No, more than anything, they desire to live into something that looks completely different than anything this world can promise.
So what does this have to do with the district t-shirts at NYC? When we show up at the host city, each district is unified in its identity. And that identity is all wrapped up in where they are coming from. “We’re Los Angeles!” “We’re Kansas City!” “We’re Saskatchewan!”
We have our shirts, our signs, our places to sit together. We ARE the representation of our district, and we carry pride in our location and traditions. Our shirts say as much. But what happens by the end of our week together at NYC? We all trade our identities for something bigger than where we come from.
Our shirts say as much. But what happens by the end of our week together at NYC? We all trade our identities for something bigger than where we come from.Tim Olson
We may be sitting in the Washington Pacific section, but everyone there is wearing shirts from Missouri, Oklahoma, Florida, Southern California, Toronto, etc.
In the Old Testament, the understanding was that the Israelites were THE chosen ones and God would eventually return to make their promised land (Israel) into the Kingdom that He had in mind from the beginning. The Israelites of Old Testament times symbolically were always saying, “Look at my tribe of Israel shirt!” I wear this tribal shirt of Israel proudly because this shirt represents, not just my location in the world, but also how our God interacts and shows favor to us.” History reveals to us that lots of blood gets spilled when people become tribal about their shirts.
Jesus enters into this fray and says, “No, the Kingdom my Father has in mind is EVERYWHERE. There are no borders. It’s bigger than you’ve imagined. And this Kingdom is not just for you.”
This is one of the reasons that Nazarene Youth Conference just…works. The good news becomes more tangible when we come to understand that His kingdom is more than just our own little kingdoms that we work so hard to protect and expand. When participants head home from NYC wearing shirts from other locations, it proves that we recognize this Kingdom cannot be contained to just one tribe and is breaking out all across the world.