How Suzanne Ócsai Accessed and Published GYC's Story


(Spectrumbot) #1

At 25 years old, Suzanne Ócsai, author of the newly-published book "Something’s Happening: The Behind the Scenes Story of the GYC," is a young writer. Fittingly, "Something's Happening" describes her journey researching, writing, and publishing a book about the most prominent independent youth movement in the Adventist Church, the Generation of Youth for Christ.

While Ócsai started the project with the full support of GYC leaders, differing visions for the organization's portrayal led some leaders to withdraw their support and distance themselves from the book.

Ever since she was a little girl Ócsai dreamed of publishing a book, but she never imagined writing about a subject quite like the complex world of the GYC. The Generation of Youth for Christ (originally named the General Youth Conference) started in 2001 when a group of young Adventists felt called to create a Bible conference for youth founded on unapologetially conservative beliefs.

The idea of writing a book about the history of the GYC came to Ócsai while she was enrolled in a literary journalism course at Southern Adventist University during the winter of 2011. The class required students to research and produce twenty pages for a book or long-form article, with the expectation and hope they would continue their projects toward eventual publication. Mulling over what she would write about, it occurred to her that the GYC would be a perfect subject. The organization would celebrate its 10th anniversary the following year, and it seemed like the perfect time to write a book chronicling its beginning through its present accomplishments.

Ócsai was familiar with the GYC–-she had attended its annual conferences in 2007, 2009, and 2010. In addition, Ócsai participated in the Southeast Youth Conference, a club on SAU’s campus inspired by the GYC. Time spent with the offshoot raised questions and concerns about some of the club's actions in her mind. The longer she spent with the group, the greater grew her desire to learn more and to write a book about what she discovered.

While attending the 2010 GYC conference in Baltimore, Maryland, Ócsai saw Israel Ramos, one of GYC’s former presidents and founders. She decided she would need to get in touch with Ramos if she truly wanted to pursue a book about the GYC. Using connections she had made at a previous conference, Ócsai obtained Ramos’ phone number and called him.

Ramos had also been thinking about writing a book about the GYC. He invited Ócsai to Camp Au Sable to meet him along with executive secretary Amy Sheppard, and mentor Samuel Koranteng-Pipim in February of 2011. There, Ócsai began the first interviews for "Something’s Happening."

From that moment, the GYC was completely on board with Ócsai's project. They agreed to provide her with all the information she would need to write the book from a third-party perspective. She received access to emails, pored over mission statements, and meticulously interviewed key GYC members, past and present. The only person who refused to speak with Ócsai was Andrea Oliver, the first GYC president. Although Ócsai never learned why Oliver did not want to be involved, Ócsai knew that Oliver had distanced herself from the organization since stepping down from GYC leadership in 2007.

Many at the North American Division Youth Department and General Conference did not understand the purpose of GYC, nor did they appreciate the organization’s connection to Samuel Koranteng-Pipim. Some believed the GYC set itself up to intentionally draw youth out of the established Youth Department ministries. Others felt that GYC leaders had no desire to work with the youth ministries department.

Out of her desire to truly understand the GYC, not only to practice good journalism, but also for her own knowledge, Ócsai made the decision to interview people from the “other side” of the GYC conflict: General Conference leaders, youth directors, and pastors who'd had both positive and negative experiences with the GYC. She felt it was important to gain a complete picture of both sides, and that without it, she would not be able to honestly report how the GYC began and grew.

“And that’s when they [GYC] decided to pull the cord,” Ócsai said in an interview for this article.

Rumors floated that Pacific Press was poised to publish the book, but became uninterested when GYC leaders stepped away from the project. While Ócsai did initially work with an acquisition editor at Pacific Press in the early stages, Pacific Press president Dale Galusha indicated that no one in management ever saw a manuscript. The book never left the ground there.

Even without GYC’s support, Ócsai decided to continue working. She informed GYC leaders that she still intended to move toward publication independent of GYC and denominational publishers. She spent the entire summer of 2011 writing.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” she said of the project.

Ócsai set herself a daily writing quota, often pulling all-nighters to stay on schedule. It was during that summer that news of Pipim’s “moral fall” came to light.

“I felt like I had this curtain pulled back where I saw all the politics of the church and all the reasons people leave the church,” said Ócsai. “I swallowed it all that summer. I felt like I had taken in so many Adventist politics that my head was spinning.”

When Ócsai finished writing the book she was completely spent and confused.

“I remember standing in my room by my dresser and my mom was standing in the doorway. I remember saying, ‘Mom, I love Jesus, but I don’t want to be an Adventist anymore.’”

She was upset over everything she had seen.

I’m done, she thought. What’s the point of all of it?

Ócsai struggled with the lines drawn between conservative and liberal Adventists. She felt many young Adventists were getting lost in the middle and she blamed church politics.

She was so overwhelmed with anger that when she finished the book, she stepped away from it for over a year. She did not believe she could continue until she found a way to let go of her anger.

“I was always looking for a way to move forward with [the book]. But I knew it couldn’t happen until I got rid of my anger.”

Ócsai attributes her spiritual reconciliation to the support she found from her family and those around her. She stayed up late one night venting her struggles to her chaplain at Southern. She also found solace explaining her frustrations to Seventh-day Adventist World Youth Director Gilbert Cangy, and to James Black, the Director of Youth Ministries for the North American Division.

In the summer of 2012, Ócsai decided it was time to get back to work. She contacted the GYC leaders she had quoted in her book and offered them the opportunity to fact check places they were mentioned. Some responded to her request and others did not.

After her work that summer, Ócsai realized she still had some frustrations to work through. She put the book away again.

At the end of 2013 she hired an editor to help her tighten up the book with an eye on publishing. In 2014, she released her “Epilogue,” in which she describes the emotional journey she traveled while researching and writing her unpublished book. Her blog post was picked up by Spectrum (see: "The Self-murdering Church") and attracted the attention of the Adventist Today Foundation, who soon after offered Ócsai a book deal.

Monte Sahlin, Executive Director of the Adventist Today Foundation, explained why AToday felt it was important to publish Ócsai's book. “We decided to publish the book to give voice to a new generation of young Adventist writers,” he wrote in an email to Spectrum. “Suzanne is a fine journalist and she examines at least two topics vital to the future of the Adventist faith; the spiritual journey of young adults from Adventist families and the GYC movement, which are both influential and controversial.”

On December 31, 2014, almost four years to the day after Suzanne Ócsai started her work on "Something’s Happening," the book was published. The publication coincided with the first day of the GYC conference in Phoenix, Arizona and sold over 100 copies online in the first 48 hours.

About two weeks later, she was contacted by a prominent GYC member whom Ócsai wishes to keep nameless. In the email, the individual revealed that the GYC could not support the book because “it felt that the proper professional standards had not been reached. However we were hoping to be supportive of you as an individual and were hoping that some of the challenges would be solved through rational means.”

Up to this point Ócsai had never been given a clear reason why GYC had withdrawn its support from the project. Back in 2012 when she had contacted GYC executive members to fact check their sections of the book, GYC president Justin McNeilus warned her that she should not expect an official response for months, as GYC resources were “exhausted” as they planned for GYC Europe. An official response never came.

Despite their vagueness, Ócsai was not offended or upset. She realized the GYC had their beliefs and she had hers.

Following the initial email, many GYC executive members sent words of encouragement after reading the book.

While she descibes the writing process as "difficult," Ócsai says she is proud and relieved to have the book completed and published.

“I learned that you can’t judge somebody else any harder than you are willing to judge yourself. And that was what I had to learn through this process,” she said. “People are appointed by God, but because they are humans, they fall short of that. We need a Savior because we are completely incapable of being good without God.”

Today, after three internships, Ócsai works as a full-time graphic designer for the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

"Something's Happening" is available online as an e-Book, and at least one Adventist Book Center plans to carry a paperback edition.

Read Rachel Logan's Review, "'Something's Happening' Provides Inside Look at GYC's Founding Story."

Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum Magazine.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6608

(Kevin Paulson) #2

Moments ago I completed a conversation with one of the original founders of GYC. He explained to me how, as the anonymous observer quoted by Rachel Logan indicated, the principal reason GYC withdrew from the project was not because of the author’s biases, but because of the poor literary and journalistic quality of the book as the GYC leaders encountered it.

One significant error in Rachel’s report here is the timing of Andrea Oliver’s departure from the GYC presidency and Israel Ramos’s taking it up. Rachel claims Andrea stepped down from the presidency in 2007. In fact, Andrea served as president only for a few months in advance of the initial GYC gathering at Pine Springs Ranch in 2002. Israel assumed the presidency that year, and it was he—not Andrea—who served till 2007.

Justin McNeilus succeeded Israel in 2007, and in 2014 Natasha Neblett succeeded Justin.

As I noted on the earlier blog addressing this book, reformatory movements of all kinds—good and bad—invariably clash with established authority. The fact that GYC has done so is hardly newsworthy. GYC’s pronounced agenda of returning to Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy so far as doctrine, worship, and lifestyle are concerned, obviously clashes with any number of trends in youth ministry and throughout First World Adventism during the past several decades.

No one should thus be surprised that conflict has been the result.

I well remember Suzanne’s article on this site, titled “The Self-Murdering Church.” It broke my heart, because it was clear to me its author had not considered or made her own the robust faith and eschatological perspective that would have prepared her to experience and observe Adventism’s present struggle. Ellen White’s prophecies of the end-time shaking and the “terrible ordeal” that will mark its crescendo (2SM 380), can and will fortify any trembling or confused heart as the church navigates the rough waters before her.

The author’s anger—past or present—at her observation of the accelerating divide in Adventism prompts me to ask, How much of the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy has she read and studied for herself? Is this her daily spiritual meat and drink? Why is she so surprised at what’s going on? Those immersed in the worldview of inspired counsel are equipped to address what the church is now going through. They don’t indulge the Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” illusion. I fear too many, and not only of the young, suffer from the inevitable discernment and awareness deficit which results from consuming the wrong spiritual food and being exposed to everything in the spiritual realm but the distinctive and never-more-relevant message that God gave so long ago to the founders of the great Advent movement.

I guess I have a hard time figuring out why Suzanne responded to the Sam Pipim fall as if it was all about “church politics” rather than simply one man’s tragic failing. The same holds true regarding the liberal/conservative split in the contemporary church. It isn’t about “politics”—that noxious umbrella word some love to use when dismissing denominational issues. Rather, it’s about the great controversy between Christ and Satan, of which the taking of sides and the hoisting of opposing banners has been its mark since the original rebellion, and will continue to be till the final executive judgment at the close of the millennium, when the recalcitrant wicked are finally destroyed and earth given back its eternal, never-fading glory.

GYC is but one episode—perhaps one of the last—in that titanic conflict. There is nothing “complex” about it; why Rachel uses this word I cannot understand. I would recommend she and Suzanne take some serious time in reading from cover to cover the Conflict of the Ages series, and then permit that worldview to sit in judgment over all the spiritual premises and presuppositions that have thus far guided their lives.

And Rachel, I would love to meet you at the next GYC in Louisville, Kentucky. If you haven’t attended one yet, it’s high time you did. The investigative reporter’s instinct, if no other, should persuade you this is necessary. If Seymour Hersh or Bob Woodward were in your place, I think we both know what they would do.


(Kim Green) #3

You have heard it, Rachel and Suzanne…all of your misunderstandings, potential lack of spiritual insight, etc., is perhaps due to the fact that Kevin P. believes that you are unfamiliar with the “Conflict of Ages” series! And all of this comes as he sits in judgement over what has been the cause(s) of your wayward “spiritual premises and presuppositions” sounding more arrogant than usual.

Well done, Kevin…let us know what the REAL truth is and what our perspectives should be. You are a true “apologist” and PR person for the GYC. Don’t know if you get paid- but you should for all the tireless amount of promoting and defending that you do.


(Kevin Paulson) #4

Not a dime, Kim. My purpose is simply to point people to the written counsel of God, where all the answers can be found. I hope to have the opportunity one day to interact at length with Rachel and Suzanne concerning these topics. From my experience with the current generation of young Adventists, I find their minds are generally open to their church’s Biblical heritage of faith, much of which they haven’t yet had—or taken—the opportunity to sample and evaluate for themselves.


(Kim Green) #5

So…you are the “True Believer” after all, Kevin. That is not a surprise.


(Steve Mga) #6

Being an investigative reporter is not easy.
Apparently when attending GYC in 2007, 2009, 2010 she enjoyed the experience, and apparently was impressed with what she learned and experienced, and by what she saw happening in the experiences of others who attended.
As mentioned, going to a yearly Convention, and being involved with a local group is not always the same, and seeing some differences intrigued her questioning mind. She could investigate answers and at the same time prepare a paper for a class grade.
Kevin states — the GYC withdrew "because of the poor literary and journalistic quality of the book as the GYC leaders encountered it."
From the article, Suzanne had contacted the leaders for fact checking and they refused to talk to her. If they were so concerned about her book being of "poor literary and journalistic quality’ WHY did some of the intelligent and capable staff NOT provide suggestions on how she could make it a “great literary and journalistic quality”? Something apparently was NOT RIGHT in the organization, otherwise they would have wanted to use this material to promote the GYC programs. Suzanne would have had another opportunity for investigative Questions and would have required Answers they were NOT prepared to share with the public.
It is too bad there were so many Shadows as well as Light in GYC, and that the GYC staff could not have assisted Suzanne as she experienced the Dark Side of the organization [1] through the eyes of Pipim, [2] the organized church responses, and [3] the sudden dumping of her by the GYC.

One of the huge pitfalls of trying to do Journalistic work about your OWN religious group is that one can get “Religious Breakdown”. Probably much worse than just a “mental breakdown”. Fortunately Suzanne had “therapists” at her disposal — family, a concerned Chaplain at Southern, and probably others.

The GYC Headship can complain all they want about Suzanne’s work, but they refused to assist with making it something THEY could be proud. And something that would be sold at ABCs as a propaganda sheet for GYC.

Thank you Suzanne.


(Kevin Paulson) #7

You can be too, Kim. God’s Word is for everyone. We just need to surrender our intellect as well as our emotions to its claims. I pray you and I will both be found among God’s faithful at last.


(Kevin Paulson) #8

What “shadows” and “dark side” are you talking about, Steve? Aside from Sam Pipim’s fall, which has certainly not stayed in the shadows.


(k_Lutz) #9

It is so exciting to see 6000 people, most of them chaperones and looky-loos, campaigning to become the reason the Lord can finally return. What a disgraceful denigration of your Adventist forbearers, that they couldn’t get it together enough! No wonder the GC/NAD is hesitant to endorse the sham. That it has not distanced itself from the hard-core polemic used to disguise a life of sin is another sticking point. Then, to complete the trifecta, it endorses an ignorant fear-based version of God which can only produce ignorant fearful outcomes. This is not a hill upon which to die.

(Dial it back! - website editor)
Trust the Process.


(Kim Green) #10

Oh, Kevin…the “True Believer” is a reference to a book:

which explains what constitutes belief and faith and how many people are willing to give up their lives for a “cause”. I think that LGT fits very nicely within the paradigm in the book.

And I pray that you are “led into all truth” as well, Kevin…for I have complete assurance of my salvation and I want that for you as well.


(Kevin Paulson) #11

Kenn, you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Have you been to a GYC? I can guarantee the vast majority there are under-40—a youthful dynamic not by any means the dominant one at Adventist Forum or One Project meetings.

And believe me, the young will far more likely be drawn to the destined glory of complete victory over sin through God’s power, than to the cynical, doubt-obsessed, self-accommodation they read so often on this site.

I do indeed “trust the process.” At least the one the Bible talks about. It’s called sanctification.


(Kevin Paulson) #12

“Complete assurance.” . . . Why do I suddenly think of an event that occurred on April 12, 1912? Think the North Atlantic.


(Kim Green) #13

I can see by your reply that you DON’T have “complete assurance”, Kevin…
But thanks anyway for your “history lesson” :smile:


(Kim Green) #14

No, we shouldn’t be “believing you”…your “theology” is attempting to create a whole generation of self-focused “navel-gazers”.


(k_Lutz) #15

Actually, Kevin, the problem is that you don’t know what I am talking about. Is this caused by myopia? The dark glasses of ignorance cannot be cast off by belief, but by the constant infusion of God’s Holy Spirit. Can this happen while one is enamored with their own conclusions?

Yes, the idealism of the young is easily captivated by utopian visions. But once the reality of dirty diapers and alarm clocks sets in the luster dissipates. It is noted that this reality is glaringly absent from your experience, yet perhaps it is time to grow up and put away such childish notions.

Trust God.


(Frankmer7) #16

You’re comparing Christ and the assurance of his ability to save… to The Titanic?? Kim’s trust is in him…not in a man made boat. If you’re relying on being perfect enough, Kevin, then in some measure, no matter how you try to theologically spin it, you are relying on you. That’s the boat that will sink.

Christ will not. What he does in me is based on what he has already achieved for me. Justification, like sanctification, is not only the work of a moment, it is also the work of a lifetime. It is all found in Christ, who is eternal, and who will safely usher all who trust in him, into eternity.

Btw, when will we ever outgrow the part of the Lord’s prayer in this life that asks, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors?” Let us know when you do. I guess perfect people never need forgiveness, or need to forgive one another.

Never met one yet on this earth.

Thanks…

Frank


(Kevin Paulson) #17

Kim, if you took the time to come to GYC and actually mingle with the young people who attend there, you would find very few who could be objectively described as “navel-gazers” or “self-focused.” These are stereotypes you have nurtured, but without actually mingling with the people you’re talking about, and letting them speak for themselves, your comments truly qualify as prejudicial.

Regarding my personal assurance of salvation, it is based on two inspired statements—among many others—which I believe say it best:

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

“The angels never leave the tempted one a prey to the enemy who would destroy the souls of men if permitted to do so. As long as there is hope, until they resist the Holy Spirit to their eternal ruin, men are guarded by heavenly intelligences” (OHC 23).


(Kevin Paulson) #18

Kenn, it is the lingering luster of God’s promised destiny for His people which enables them to endure and have their character developed by the dirty diapers and alarm clocks of which you speak. Without that promise, cynicism and doubt and self-accommodation take over fast.


(Kevin Paulson) #19

Frank, the anti-perfection gospel is indeed a spiritual Titanic. Those who believe God’s forgiveness will always be there to cover presumably persistent shortcomings, will sink into the abyss like the ill-fated White Star ocean liner.

Neither the Lord’s Prayer nor anything in Christ’s teachings insists that sin is inevitable so long as this life lasts. As always, we compare Scripture with Scripture. The apostle John writes, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

Notice that forgiveness is available IF we sin, not when. And when probation closes, those faithful still alive on this earth will by God’s grace be ready for the divine pronouncement, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still, and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Rev. 22:11).

I pray that by His grace I will be found among the righteous and holy, for only they will be fit to inhabit the divine presence for eternity.


(k_Lutz) #20

Yes, as has been well illustrated here, living in a fantasy world can cause one to be disgusted with one’s environment, in this case their religious environment, decrying it’s inability to hold to the course one’s magical thinking has outlined for it.

Again, Kevin, the challenge is to discard this self, with all it’s self-accommodating beliefs, denials, and justifications, that the Spirit of God may find a pristine environment where the sanctification of God may be worked. In other words …

Trust the Process.