Youth conferences emphasize "The Battle" and Truth
By Connie Faber
More than 600 high school students and their sponsors from two USMB districts in the Midwest met for their annual district youth conferences the third weekend in November. The Central District Conference (CDYC) event was held in Iowa while the Southern District Conference (SDC) gathering was held in Kansas (photo above).
Organizers for both confereces, in email interviews following the events, agree that it is difficult to identify a single highlight.
“To some the highlight is spending time away from home with close friends in a different environment from normal life,” says Terry Ens a member of the SDC Youth Commission. “Some like to be completely absorbed in a spiritual experience with the speaker. Others come for the music and worship.”
Because youth groups typically attend the district conferences as a group, the weekend offers adult sponsors the opportunity to enhance their ministry with the teens in their group. "(SDYC) is a place youth can connect with their youth leaders in a new way, allowing them to walk closer with one another as they seek Jesus Christ and grow in their love for the Lord," says Russ Claassen, SDC district youth minister. "Thank you to all the youth workers that are loving Jesus and therefore giving of themselves for the kingdom.
Regardless of their reasons for attending, reports indicate that the students enjoyed the weekend retreat and grew in their journey of faith.
CDC youth challenged, serve the hungry
About 145 youth and their sponsors from 11 congregations attended the Central District Youth Conference Nov. 20-23 at Inspiration Hills Camp and Retreat Center in northwest Iowa.
Speaker Tom Henderson, (pictured left) from Sioux Falls, SD, spoke four times using a variety of Scriptures, challenging the students and youth workers on the conference theme, “The Battle.” The theme was taken from Eph. 6:12 which says that followers of Jesus struggle against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
In his first message, Henderson reminded his listeners that they are created in God’s image so that they can have a relationship with God. Satan, on the other hand, wants to destroy us, but God is bigger and defeated Satan when Jesus died for all of us, winning the battle. In the next session, Henderson spoke about the three things his listeners can hold on to: God is here for us, God is in control and God can restore our joy.
Henderson’s third message focused on the consequences of sin. “Sometimes the only thing worse than being caught is not getting caught,” said Henderson.
Henderson concluded by reminding his listeners that while weekend retreat experiences like CDYC are great, “we are called to work in the valleys and the normalcy of the plains.” Saying that mountain top experiences can lead to new places, Henderson told his listeners that reading their Bibles and praying daily, helping the poor and loving others are ways in which their weekend experience with Jesus can fill their homes, school and work. “This should give us confidence and courage as we leave,” he said.
Henderson is the founder of and lead communicator for Restoration Generation, a ministry that hopes to restore broken relationships with the life-saving message of Jesus Christ. Henderson has been working and speaking to youth around the country for 17 years and is the author of “Heart (Not Hype).”
Kristin Pikop of Stony Brook Church, Millard, Neb., led the worship and singing during the four-day conference. She was assisted by musicians from Stony Brook as well as from Lincoln Hills Bible Church and Christ Community Church, both of Sioux Falls, SD.
When asked to list highlights of the weekend conference, Jeral Gross, CDC youth committee chair, says, “Based on the evaluations, the three highlights were our speaker, the worship band and just being able to hang with friends. Both Tom and the band were able to connect with the youth.”
For the second year the CDC Youth Committee organized a service project during the conference that supports Feeding South Dakota, a hunger relief organization that works to eliminate hunger in the state. Each youth group went shopping for a Thanksgiving meal that was delivered to the Feeding South Dakota food pantry.
“The youth groups once again responded with lots of enthusiasm,” says Gross.
Conference attendees also contributed $900 to the ministry of MB Mission worker Sandy Fender who is from Bible Fellowship Church in Rapid City, SD and who shared with the teens and sponsors about her work in Thailand.
In addition to hearing from Fender, CDYC attendees also heard a presentation from Wendell Loewen who directs Ministry Quest, a program of Tabor College and USMB that focuses on training teens for ministry and leadership. Tabor College representatives and students were also present.
CDYC organizers also highlighted and promoted Named 2015, the National Youth Conference scheduled for April 9-12, 2015 in Denver, Colo.
“We have great youth and it made all the planning worthwhile to see them grow over the weekend,” says Gross. “We truly did have a great weekend, and I’m excited to have this momentum carry us into Named 2015.”
SDYC focues on truth, values
More than 500 teens and youth workers were challenged at the Southern District Youth Conference (SDYC), held Nov. 21-23 in Hillsboro, Kan., to commit to following Christ’s truth in a world where absolute truth is not popular.
Speaker Michael Suderman, who grew up in Hillsboro, works with Ravi Zacharias Ministries International and is based in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren college in Hillsboro, and of the University of Oxford.
Suderman addressed the conference theme, Truth,” based on John 8:31-32 in which Jesus explains how the truth of Jesus sets us free from sin. Suderman used humor, videos and personal stories to bring home his points concerning values and truth. He talked about the false images that can be created via social media, including Twitter and Facebook. He emphasized that ones true value is only found in Jesus Christ. In his fourth and final message, Suderman encouraged his listeners to follow Jesus Christ and to let Christ be the source of their identity.
“I could sense several times that Michael had connected when he would bring his humor into the sessions by the way people would laugh,” says SDYC planning team member Ens. “There were points that he made that also made it very quiet in the house.”
Breakout groups followed the in-put sessions and were designed to give youth groups the opportunity to process the teaching and events of the weekend. A team from First MB Church in Wichita, Kan., led times of worship and music.
Saturday workshops also focused on the topic of truth. Workshop topics included sexual sin, leadership, social media, biblical truth, who Jesus is and values. Workshop presenters included Tabor College faculty members and students, MB Mission workers and SDC pastors. Students could choose from a variety of afternoon freetime activities.
An offering was taken to support MB Mission workers Paul and Sara Raugust, who will be serving with the two-year Jornada program. The couple, from Hillsboro, Kan., has been involved with SDC youth ministries over the past eight years. Paul, who was the Hillsboro MB Church youth pastor, served on the SDC Youth Commission and co-directed the SDC senior high camp. The offering totaled about $1,600.
While SDYC was held at Hillsboro MB Church, the three Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren congregations—Ebenfeld MB Church, Parkview MB Church and Hillsboro MB Church—hosted the students and their sponsors. About 60 households representing all three congregations provided evening snacks and morning breakfasts as well as a place to sleep.
"One of the highlights I've heard several people talking about was the opportunity to stay in host homes and interact with the families," says Russ Claassen, SDC district youth pastor. "Arranging all the host homes is a nother big job that the host church(es) tackle, but it has been worth the effort to create such a wonderful connection between adults and youth from different churches that probably doesn't happen in very many other settings."
Both Ens and Claassen credit the host churches for their involvement. “It is a huge task to entertain and engage 500 people for an entire weekend,” says Ens. “We had some great food and entertainment along with inspirational music and impacting words from one of our own. I truly believe that this is one of the most important events of the year for our students to attend.”
SDYC speaker Michael Suderman; photo by Josh Paulus
CDYC speaker Tom Henderson; photo from CDYC Facebook page
Thumbnail photo: CDYC worship time; photo from CDYC Facebook page