Ascent creates community, memories

Future camps will build on first national summer event

Campers who hiked in New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains enjoyed an impressive view of the area around Glorieta Adventure Camps. Ascent, the name of the new USMB national senior high summer camp, is intended as a metaphor—ascending to a peak, looking back on the journey and gaining a new perspective for the future—for the role the camp experience can play in teens' spiritual lives. Photo: Mike Klaassen

More than 340 students, youth leaders and staff ascended New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains for Ascent, the new national high school camp for U.S. Mennonite Brethren youth held June 16-20, 2021.

Nestled in the southern Rocky Mountains about 7,500 feet above sea level near Glorieta, youth gathered for daily sessions, workshops, activities and more.

Gaining momentum

Ascent replaces YouthCon, the once-every-four-years national youth event hosted by USMB Youth. The national youth committee shifted to a summer event because of a steady decline in attendance at the spring conference.

Ascent is intended for all USMB high school youth and will be held annually. In 2021, attendance included 239 students, 61 youth leaders and 41 staff that represented four of the five USMB district conferences.

“We’re very excited that we had four of the districts represented,” says SDC district youth minister Russ Claassen. “That was really, really cool.… While the numbers weren’t huge, the representation was there, and it’s at least something to build on moving forward.”

Sessions and workshops

Speaker John Leonard, youth pastor at Mountain View Church in Fresno, California, centered four daily sessions on the theme, “Home: Remain in Christ.” Using John 15:1-17 as his primary text, Leonard talked about abiding in Jesus, purpose, identity, producing fruit, loving God and others and making disciples.

“When God is your first love, your love for yourself and for other people is magnified,” Leonard said. “My desire is to push you to know God more in a loving and real way.”

Presence Worship from Wichita, Kansas, facilitated worship during sessions, while Mike Klaassen from Parkview MB Church, Hillsboro, Kansans, and Jenn Tarbutton from Ridgepoint Church, Wichita, Kanss, served as emcees, often opening sessions with a game and summary of the day before.

Representatives from partner agencies spoke, including Multiply, Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University and Faithfront. Both FPU and Tabor presented scholarship opportunities.

Students could attend four of 14 workshops offered Friday and Saturday. Youth pastors, agency representatives and program team members led the workshops. Most workshops were offered twice, with popular topics including an interactive workshop that emphasized problem-solving, generosity and choosing to work together instead of competing; prayer and worship; trusting God when plans don’t go as expected; identity; personality and relationships.

Free-time and late-night activities

Each day included free-time activities, and although COVID-19 restrictions limited availability, options included a mountaineering obstacle course, tree rappelling, drift trikes, a zip line with a drop, waterfront activities, sand volleyball, gaga ball, mini golf, disc golf, a super swing and white-water rafting.

At the end of the day, late-night activities included “Moonlight Madness” with 2,400 glow sticks and music on the field, a counselor hunt, a show by illusionist Zak Mirz and an 11-act talent show featuring singing, card tricks, painting with ketchup and more.

During Saturday’s night of worship, recent Multiply TREK participants shared, and students gave an offering of more than $1,700 for Multiply, designated for music ministry in Niger, West Africa.

Redefining success

As a result of COVID-19, Kyle Goings, USMB Youth chair, says the planning team did not rely on high attendance to define success, instead looking to create community on a national level and memories to serve as markers on students’ spiritual journeys.

The team seeks to continue to spread the word about Ascent.

“We’ve got several churches that we’ve been talking with that were interested in coming that weren’t able to, or that would like to in the future, so I’m excited about the potential,” Claassen says. “I’m excited about continuing to build momentum and just seeing what God’s going to do with that.”

Ascent at a glance

239 campers


61 youth leaders


19 churches

coming from

6 states

that represented

4 USMB district conferences


26 program team members

that included

6 planning team members: Russ Claassen, SDC district youth minister; Kyle Goings, USMB Youth chair; Stacie Myers, camp director; Mike Klaassen, youth sponsor at Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kan.; Jenn Tarbutton, middle school director at Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kan.; and Jared Menard, youth pastor at Hesston (Kan.) MB Church;


15 agency representatives.

The group downed

3,240 bottles of water

and raised

$1,700 for music ministry in Niger, West Africa.

The 4-night camp included

4 main sessions with speaker John Leonard and

14 workshops,


6 students accepted Jesus for the first time.


For more on the preparations for Ascent: usmb-youth-anticipates-first-ascent-summer-camp/.

For more on the decision to move to a summer camp:

For photos of Ascent:



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