Going Bananas for Jesus (GBFJ) and Banana Splits offers the youth of the Grand Island Diocese a dynamic and healthy social atmosphere for learning about Jesus as friend and God. This experience is enabled by:
We affirm that Jesus is the central figure in this evangelical process of building community as Catholics.
In the Beginning… The History of Going Bananas For Jesus
as told by Louise Kent
It was the summer of 1985. As youth director for St. Agnes Church, I rounded up a van-load of kids and headed to Estes Park, Colorado and the YMCA Camp of the Rockies, where we connected with 1,000 other youth and adults at a three-day, three-state retreat called AWAKENING. It was to become Going Bananas for Jesus. The St. Agnes youth who had attended the AWAKENING weekend were to become the leaders for the first Bananas youth team. We wanted to gather youth from the Grand Island Diocese together, and we wanted them to experience their faith through each other. We wanted to give them a high-energy weekend that would be Jesus-centered. We began to think and to pray.
The Going Bananas for Jesus weekend, its theme, and its format came to me literally in the middle of the night with a flash of inspiration. Yes, I am convinced that I was the Holy Spirit working. Within hours, and before dawn, the weekend was revealed to me, complete with banana splits, sack lunches, mini-sessions and host families. I couldn’t write it down fast enough. What an exhilarating and humbling experience!
I shared the vision, gathered the planning committee together, and we started to work. Nine months later, Going Bananas for Jesus was born. We selected a March date, working between basketball and wrestling tournaments, sent out our registration forms, and waited. The fee was $15.00 and included a t-shirt with our Going Bananas for Jesus logo. We hoped for 250 to attend and were surprised and thrilled when 500 youth and adults responded. Little did we know that this would be remembered as the first Going Bananas for Jesus.
Before the closing the liturgy, which included a living gospel (the woman at the well), the delegations from St. James in Kearney expressed the views and desires of the rest… “We want to keep Bananas going. We are willing to be hosts next year. Will you come?” With a cheer, the Going Bananas for Jesus tradition began… a tradition of enthusiastic faith-sharing, excellent up-lifting liturgies and thousands of young hearts touched by the sheer joy of Jesus working in their midst.
Each host community has come forward with creativity and organization, adding their best ideas to keep Bananas fresh and alive. Thus, there is a tremendous spirit of ownership around the event. Going Bananas for Jesus is truly a Diocesan experience, not only because of the support it receives from the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and from the Bishop, but because of the hundreds of opportunities it gives for parishioners and community members to share their gifts, talents, and resources.
Then came Banana Splits
In 1993, after North Platte had hosted Going Bananas for Jesus for the second time, it was time for the Grand Island community to begin to plan for the 1994 Bananas weekend. By autumn, Grand Island had decided that it would not be ready to host Bananas in 1994, and offered to host the event in 1995. At a Youth Ministry Commission meeting, a young person form Pleasanton named Paul Schulte suggested that smaller youth rallies called “Banana Splits” be held throughout the diocese every other year. This would give the four hosting communities (Scottsbluff, Kearney, North Platte, and Grand Island) a longer break between each time they hosted (since alternating years would mean an eight year break instead of a four year break). The Commission had already discussed the possibility of smaller rallies every other year, so when Grand Island postponed until 1995, the diocese was ready for something new. In 1994, Alliance, Lexington, Ord, and Sidney held the first Banana Splits youth rallies, a tradition that proved to be as successful as the “Big Bananas.” Smaller youth rallies also gave smaller parishes a chance to develop their leadership potential and to mobilize their youth ministry resources in a way that wasn’t possible or even necessary before.
There is a lot of flexibility with the Banana Splits schedule. For example: Alliance chose to hold a two-day event with host families and Ord chose to include an optional overnight sleep-over in their parish hall, yet Sidney and Lexington chose to hold one-day-only events. Moreover, each parish hosting a Bananas Splits rally can pick which March weekend works out best for them. Having more than one weekend to choose from increases the number of young people who are able to attend one of the rallies. 1998 would be the third year of Banana Splits youth rallies.