If you are a young adult considering going to the Global Youth Summit that will immediately precede the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) assembly in July, Kristina Toews thinks you should do it.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because who knows when it will come back to North America?” says Toews, who is a consultant on the Young Anabaptists (YABs) Committee, the group of young adults who are planning the event. “People from all around the world are getting excited to come and see how our [North American] churches are in real life—not how we are in movies or stereotyped in the news. It’s really important for us to show up and be real.”

At the same time, anyone who attends will have the opportunity to hear from their Anabaptist brothers and sisters from around the world. “We have so much to learn from them,” the 28-year-old says. “The mutual learning is so huge.”

The YABs Committee is hoping the Summit will draw between 600 and 1,000 participants. The event, which takes place from July 15 to 19 on campus at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., is for young Anabaptists from around the world aged 18 and older. The Summit will feature a mix of worship, discussions, workshops, fellowship, games, concerts, late-evening activities, sports and free time. The MWC assembly takes place in nearby Harrisburg at the Farm Show Complex from July 21 to 26.

The first Summit was held in Zimbabwe in 2003, when more than 220 young adults from 28 countries gathered. More than 700 from around 34 countries attended the second Summit, held in Paraguay in 2009.

Toews is originally from Abbotsford, B.C., where she is a member at Eben-Ezer Mennonite Church. She attended the Summit in Paraguay as the youth delegate from Mennonite Church Canada. The best part, she says, was meeting many new people.

“I met young Anabaptist leaders from around the world, and just to see how passionate they were about the church was really exciting,” Toews says, noting that often in North America the mainstream media highlight the things people in other countries are lacking. Meeting young Anabaptists from around the world led her to re-evaluate some of the stereotypes she had as a result. “To hear these young leaders talk about the blessings and the strengths they have really changed the way I see the world,” she says.

In Paraguay, one delegate from each continental region was chosen to sit on a youth task force that created a blueprint for the YABs Committee. Toews was selected to be the North American representative. MWC approved the blueprint in 2010 and the YABs Committee was fully formed in 2011. Toews served as the committee’s chair until mid-2013, when she took on a new role as an MWC web communications worker in Bogotá, Colombia.

The YABs Committee works to build and strengthen connections and relationships in the global Anabaptist family, and has focussed its work during the last two years on preparing for the upcoming Summit.

Toews describes her involvement with the committee as challenging at times, but ultimately a blessing: “I got to know people from around the world, and I am really thankful to count them as my friends now and to have their insights.”

Working with the YABs Committee has also fuelled Toews’ passion for the global church. “It’s been really life-changing for me and just opened my eyes,” she says. “There’s so much more to church than what I’d seen before, and to what it means to be a Mennonite and an Anabaptist. The way we are Mennonite and Anabaptist in Canada is good, but just to be open to having an even bigger vision than that is really powerful.”

For more information about the Summit and how to register, visit www.mwc-cmm.org/gys.

—Posted Jan. 14, 2015