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