It’s a Friday night and the place is packed with teenagers (and teenagers at heart) rocking the place. Lights danced, speakers boomed, and most importantly, the place just reeked of joy. On the stage, a young blonde Caucasian who was reminiscent of hipsters in Brooklyn was speaking enthusiastically and the entire crowd was listening, engrossed with every word.
On paper, it seems like I have just entered just about any club extremely prevalent today. I mean where else would one spend Friday night right? But this is not the club that our culture has gotten used to. In fact, you might be surprised to think that the most happening place in the South of Metro Manila is not a bar or a club, but inside New Life Christian Church, Alabang, one of the strongest and biggest congregations in the country.
Having attended New Life since 2005, it never spoke about the perils of religion but rather always boasted of being a place that welcomed just about anyone from any walk of life. It always felt like home to me and today; it is home to over 300 teenagers who are looking for the very same things we look for: love and somewhere to belong. Friday nights have been labeled as “Friday Night Live” and this is a place where “anyone can belong and be part of a community that welcomes you no matter what your background.”
In the heart of this is Steven Chase, the hip and anti-thesis of the church that we have grown up in. But more than his appearance, it’s his welcoming aura that sets him apart, “FNL is something to look forward to. We have food trucks, great music, and the atmosphere is super chill. When you walk through our doors you don’t have to change anything about yourself. You don’t have to put up a front and act like someone you’re not. We want you, the real you.”
For Steven and his team of passionate and quirky individuals the message is simple, “It's a place where anyone can belong and be part of a community that welcomes you no matter what your background. We want to show people the Jesus that we know, cause we're convinced that if people can just see who Jesus really is, he's simply irresistible.”
And teenagers, who deal with growing up, some sort of dysfunction, and just a general feeling of emptiness from all the hormones that rise on the inside, find it comforting to sing, shout, and hear the word every week in a safe environment where they are not judged by what they do or don’t do.
It’s a culture that is slowly creating a niche and becoming a light in a sometimes dark world and Steven believes that this is only the beginning, “I love what God is doing in our community. But we have by no means reached the mountaintop, not by a long shot. Don’t get me wrong; I’m blown away every month at the idea that God would trust my team and I to lead anyone. If you consider how important just one young person is to God, it’s incredibly humbling. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done and a lot of growing for all of us to do. I can’t want to see what’s down the road.”
And it’s work that I’m glad someone is doing because everyone needs to know that they are loved, regardless of what they’ve done or what they haven’t done. Someone needs to stand up and stop throwing stones, someone has to be brave enough to love without restrictions, and someone has to be big enough to let the outcasts in.
And I’m glad that there are people like Steven who are finally letting those outsiders in because at the end of the day, all we want to do is belong.