A purpose-driven faith

Xtreme looks at how teens celebrate their faith at Christian Heritage Church in Graniteville.
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At a recent church retreat, 17-year-old Robin Goff was struggling with an addiction to cutting herself.

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Teens sing and pray during the Youth Aflame youth group  service at Christian Heritage Church in Graniteville Wednesday evening February 12, 2008.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Teens sing and pray during the Youth Aflame youth group service at Christian Heritage Church in Graniteville Wednesday evening February 12, 2008.

"I've been trying to deal with it on my own, and I realized I couldn't," Robin said.

The senior at Midland Valley High School said she let God take over. Since then, she has tried to tell others her story, in hopes that they'll share her faith.

"I don't want to leave anyone behind," she said.

Robin attends Youth Aflame, a Wednesday-night event at Christian Heritage Church in Graniteville. Average attendance is 70 teenagers.

The youth group is one of the many places where area teens express and grow in their faith.

This is a spiritually active generation, according to a recent survey by The Barna Group. Teens are more likely than adults to express faith through organized events and to attend corporate worship services, according to the survey.

Each Wednesday night at Christian Heritage, hands shoot up in the air as youth pastor Jody Padgett asks for prayer requests.

"The teens in our society are looking for truth," he said. "I think many are testing the church, and there is a genuine hunger for what is real and true."

Josh Kucela found Christian Heritage Church through friends. The 18-year-old Midland Valley High School senior brought his parents to the church. He liked the church for its strong leaders, the worship style and the nonjudgmental members.

It was also something about the atmosphere, he said. "I guess that God's there."

IN AUGUSTA's Jewish community, about nine youths ranging from 12 to 15 years old. participate in Machon. The Wednesday-night event usually involves a guest speaker, and the rabbi brings the Judaic perspective to the issue.

Machon has had speakers from nonprofit organizations, health organizations and even other religions. Leader Jeanne Hutchison said they also learn how to deal with ignorance about their faith.

Jewish teens experience an important milestone when they turn 13 -- they become adults in the Judaic faith. Boys celebrate their bar mitzvah, and girls, their bat mitzvah. They profess their faith to the congregation, sing prayers and read from the Torah. They also must participate in some type of community service.

Sarah Hutchison, 15, a sophomore at Greenbrier High School, had her bat mitzvah two years ago, and says her faith is a foundation of her life.

"It's kind of like a family to me," she said.

An important aspect of her faith is the Jewish tenet of "repairing the world," and community service is how she expresses her faith.

Because she's part of a religious minority in the area, questions about her faith inspire her to research the answer. It's made her more aware and open to others' faiths, she said.

UMARAH ALI, A JUNIOR at Evans High School, and Saba Gill, a junior at Lakeside High School, both 16, said wearing the hijab -- head covering -- is an outer expression of being Muslim.

"It's not supposed to be a burden," Umarah said.

There's a common misconception that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab, Umarah said, but to her it's liberating and upholds the Muslim values of modesty and respect.

"It's more of a way of life than a religion," Umarah said.

Adnan Ghauri lives his faith each day by associating with people who share the same values.

"All my friends haven't taken a drink (of alcohol)," said Adnan, 18, a Lakeside senior.

Adnan, Umarah and Saba attend Islamic School, a program that holds classes every Friday and Sunday. Friday is for text analysis, and Sunday is for learning how to apply it to life. Adnan said memorization of the Koran is emphasized, so he'll often try to do so before the lesson. Umarah said delving into the text on your own is key to application.

In the teen years, you're becoming the person you're going to be, she said: "If you have the strong Muslim faith, it helps carry you on later in life."

AT YOUTH AFLAME, teen worship leader Ashley-Morgan Alexander, 17, a senior at Midland Valley, said that leadership helps her to live according to her faith.

"You have to live your life off the stage like you would onstage," she said.

Singing and leading worship is a gift that she has been called to use, Ashley-Morgan said.

"Some people see Christ as a set of rules, but I see it as 'Jesus did this for me,' " she said.

For Saba, pleasing God is her purpose in life.

Adnan agreed: "It's paramount to who I am."

Teen Board members John Klement, Rebekah Bryant and Mandy Whatley contributed to this article.

Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or sarah.owen@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS


72% - of teens pray in a typical week


31% - read the Bible in an average week


48% - attend church


35% - attend Sunday school


33% - attend a youth group


32% - participate in a small group


SPIRITUAL GOALS


Why do teens attend church?


45% - to worship or make a connection with God


42% - to better understand beliefs


34% - to spend time with friends


34% - to be encouraged or inspired


30% - to volunteer to help others


26% - to learn about prayer


26% - to listen to religious teaching


23% - to participate in religious discussion


21% - to be coached spiritually


20% - to learn faith traditions


19% - to participate in a faith study class


18% - for Bible study

Source: The Barna Group


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