By TIM BULLARD
CONWAY— The National Evangelization Team (NET) recently visited nine parishes across South Carolina. They met with youth groups to share skits, fun and a religious message designed to engage teens to take control of their faith lives.
NET is comprised of young people ages 18 to 30. They spend a year of their lives serving the Lord and spreading the word of God to help youth embrace the life of the church.
The team conducts several types of retreats. The “Open the Doors to Christ” retreat helps the youth understand opening the doors to Christ, giving Jesus a chance in their lives. There are also retreats for confirmation candidates, helping them understand and go through the process so it will be a little bit easier for them.
“A lot of the youth feel that they are too young sometimes and it is not their time right now to follow the word of God; so we have a retreat specifically for that,” said team member Carlos Escobar, a 20-year-old from Los Angeles.
At 24, Gary Manzano is the oldest member on the team. He said youth today face a lot of challenges, citing drugs, alcohol, and peer pressure.
“[They think] ‘I’ve got to talk like this; I’ve got to have a certain style of how I dress.’ The media, their friends, television and music says this is the standard and you’ve got to be like this to be cool,” he explained. “But what’s cool is just being yourself and knowing how you have been raised and bringing that into daily life and into the community in how you present yourself.”
Manzano said when he graduated from high school in 1995 he was ashamed of how he had led his life by making wrong decisions. Now he shares those times with youth through this ministry.
He finds that by sharing his experiences he’s able to let others know that they are not alone in what they’re going through.
At a vocation’s night sponsored by her parish’s Life Teen group, Corienna Kindermann picked up some information on NET. A few weeks went by until the pamphlet resurfaced.
She said, “When I picked it up again I said, ‘Oh my goodness, this is what I want to do.'”
The 19-year-old from Washington state said that across the United States most teens are pretty much dealing with the same issues in their lives.
“I think it’s mainly trying to stand up for God, not knowing how or not knowing who he really is in their life. We try to show them that God loves them and that any issues that they have — drugs, alcohol, and sex or peer pressure — God wants to help them through it. It doesn’t matter where they are. God loves them no matter what. We’re just trying to tell them that.”
Kindermann said one of the most rewarding things for group members is meeting youth who come to the retreat saying they don’t believe in God and hearing from them afterward that they changed their view.
Ross Rouyer found NET his junior year in high school.
“I had been looking at other ministries and other ideas. I was born and raised Catholic, but it was around that time when I started making my Catholic faith my own and started embracing it for myself. I decided that this [NET] would be good for me,” said the 20-year-old from New Orleans.
Bill Taaffe, a parent from Myrtle Beach, attended the NET retreat.
“I think the NET group is a wonderful experience for our young people, to see these kids who have given up their time for God to travel the country and evangelize their beliefs and religion to other young youths throughout the country is just wonderful,” he said.
Megan White, 17, a parishioner at St. James in Conway, said, “I thought they were really cool. I really liked all their testimonies and stories.”
The 12 NET members conducted retreats at Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, St. Anne School and St. Francis Xavier High School in Sumter, St. Theresa the Little Flower in Summerville, St. Peter’s in Beaufort, St. Mary’s in Greenville, and St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville.