Article and photo by Sarah Thompson, Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization
Eight years ago, two pastors had a vision to inspire teens to live boldly in their faith. The result? A growing movement of hundreds of youth experiencing God in new and unexpected ways.
The key players behind YX Movement, which consists of ongoing youth-led worship services and a yearly retreat, are Pastors Joel and Karla Cruz, from House of Praise and Worship in Hartford.
"The YX Movement creates opportunities for youth to have the freedom to express their love for Christ," shared Joel Cruz. "It is a fellowship that provides an intentional atmosphere for youth leaders and youth from different churches to come together and share their faith."
And for many, it's been life-changing.
Grace Serrano was no stranger to the church the first time she attended a YX Movement worship service. In fact, her church, where her parents are pastors, hosted the first ever YX Movement service. She even sang and played guitar for the service. Yet, something changed for her that day.
"I remember being fourteen and shy and having all kinds of questions about church, God and friends," she shared. "I wasn't quite sure what it was to have an encounter with God, let alone have a relationship with Him like my youth pastors kept insisting that I seek out. My older friends and cousins in my youth group were always talking about having a relationship with God and I wondered what they meant, but I was too shy to really ask."
She added, "It wasn't until I attended the very first YX service that I understood. I remember seeing people around my age giving their all during the worship. I was both awestruck and confused. I wondered if I could be like that and what it would take to get me there. I didn't have to wonder for very long. That night, I was able to really experience God for the first time, to have communion with Him and to be in His presence. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I can say that since that night, I have not been the same."
For the Cruz's, nourishing, encouraging and guiding youth to use the gifts that God has given them to their full potential is central to their mission. And sometimes, the steps to getting to that point are astounding.
"At our 'Fire Pit Let Go and Let God' testimonial time during our recent retreat, youth had an opportunity to 'throw in the fire' what they wanted to let go of. One youth said that he was a proclaimed atheist and that before coming to the retreat he questioned God's existence and didn't believe in God throughout the retreat. But, he had seen God move and knows that there is a God. He said that he was no longer an atheist and he knows God truly exists," shared Karla Cruz.
Lishmarie Cruz also recalled her experience during the retreat, where 92 youth from 10 churches gathered for the weekend. "I will never forget the Saturday night service. I have never felt the Holy Spirit as much as I did that night and it was just an amazing thing to feel," she said. "To me, being able to feel the Holy Spirit is such a privilege and that night I felt so honored."
Youth Genesis Cordero agreed. "The retreat this year was one of the best and most unexpected experiences I've ever been a part of. I didn't think that God was listening to a lot of my prayers and this year's retreat showed me that God is faithful when He says that He will answer us when we call unto Him. For the first time in my life, I felt the Holy Spirit and the weight of God's presence. It definitely changed my life entirely. It was mind-blowing."
LeAndra Reid, who has attended YX Movement for eight years, has experienced growth both spiritually and in her relationships with other teens and leaders.
"I learned what it meant to be a believer and surrender my life for Him," she shared. "As for my relationships with other youth and leaders, they've all become family. I believe we have been stronger together because of the YX Movement and the relationships we've built."
Serrano agreed. "Thanks to YX, I've made so many amazing friends from other churches, towns and cultural backgrounds."
One of the goals of YX Movement is to bring youth together from the wider community by cultivating connections between several churches. Through Urban Alliance's Next Generation initiative, YX Movement has received support to make those connections and help teens participate in retreats.
"Urban Alliance has been an integral part of our growth as a movement," shared Joel Cruz. "Most importantly, Urban Alliance has helped us establish a mission and vision. They have guided us through strategic planning and ideas for improving and maximizing our reach to youth and churches. Urban Alliance has served as a catalyst in helping us share our story and express our purpose to an entire network of churches we would not have been able to reach otherwise. Financial support from UA has also helped us provide transportation for youth to attend the annual retreats."
He added, "UA has helped YX connect with many talented, anointed, passionate, like-minded youth leaders, that in return has allowed YX to build a strong foundation of resources and support systems helping reach our youth in deeper ways. Urban Alliance's ability to connect us with other youth leaders has created a network that provides meaningful experiences for our youth on every level. Each youth leader brings a unique perspective and life experience that demonstrates to our youth that they're not alone in everyday sufferings. The faith of our youth has grown so much, and we can honestly tie some of the growth to the connections that began with Urban Alliance and YX."
With each season, more youth are experiencing God in new and encouraging ways thanks to YX Movement. It's platform of encouragement, connection, fellowship and empowerment that is breaking down walls of doubt and confusion, and building up a generation of believers.
"Being part of YX has drastically changed my life for the better and I can't wait to see what God has in store for me in the coming years," explained Serrano.
It's more than a movement. It's changing lives in the most beautiful ways possible.
For more information about Next Generation, contact Rosaicela Rodriguez, Urban Alliance's Director of Implementation, Children & Youth Initiatives.
Click here to learn more about YX Movement.
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Pictured (left to right): Grace Serrano, Pastor Joel Cruz, Pastor Karla Cruz, Lishamarie Cruz.