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I successfully made it through my first youth camp in Italy. I’ve co-led dozens of youth camps and outreaches but this one was different. First of all, I was the only foreigner and only English speaker. It’s stretching enough to do youth ministry in your native tongue, but to do it all in your fourth language adds a major element of difficulty. I wasn’t sure what to expect during my time there and I was a bit nervous, but God showed up and it turned out to be better than I could have hoped.

It was such a honour to be a small part of what God is doing here in Italy to reach the youth. There were 116 youth that came to the camp from all over Italy. They ranged from the age 14-20 and collectively they represented about 50 churches. This was something that was mind-blowing for me. It means that only an average of about 2 students came from each church. Why is that significant? Because more than likely there were only about 2 youth who came from each church because only an average of 2 youth exist in each church. This is something that I had never imagined. WOW.

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I was invited to the camp to help lead artistic workshops and found that time to be such a blessing. I taught one workshop on Logo Design and another on Photography – all in Italian. God definitely gave me the words to speak when I needed them. It was about 20 hours of teaching by the end of the week and I can tell you that my Italian definitely got better. I had a group of 22 students there for the workshops. I have never seen so many creative young people in one place. I would say about half of them were visual artists and gifted in it.

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The highlight of my time with them was when I was able to share about how God has created all things, including each of them, and how since they are made in the image of God they are only capable of reflecting him in what they create as artists. We discussed how as artists we long for something more, something bigger, and that is why we create. We are looking for the perfect world, but unfortunately we cannot find it here in this world because it is fallen. But God. I was able to share the gospel with all of them with a language that they understood: the arts. It was such a great joy to be able to serve Christ this week through teaching art.

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Our workshop time together culminated with an exhibition of their work. I created a gallery of their logos and photos which you can tour yourself by watching this video.

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The other main role I had at the camp was as a room leader for 5 of the boys at the camp. It was an amazing opportunity. One of the best parts of my time with them was morning devotions which I led them in each day. We had some really good conversations during this time each morning. I never thought I would be able to do this at this point in my language ability, but God did it through me.

Four of the five boys I had were from one youth group. Two are brothers and together they ARE their youth group. They all live about an hour away from one another so they only saw each other once a week for church and loved spending time together in the camp setting. Coming from leading large youth groups in the States, it’s crazy for me to imagine, but this is a reality of the youth here in Italy.

God really used this time to open my eyes to what it is like for young people in Italy who follow Christ. He also used it to confirm that He has made me for this- to help the young creative people see Jesus and become passionate about knowing Him and serving Him. I am convinced now more than ever that God can and is truly going to transform this generation of young people here in Italy through the arts!

I am looking forward to being part of this camp next year and other arts ministry opportunities along the way!

-Jon Tello