National MB youth conventions shape faith, lead to service

Three NYC alumni reflect on their experiences

Joanna Chapa along with the La Grulla, Texas, church youth group, leads a morning worship time during thee 2003 USMB national youth conference. Photo: Joanna Chapa

YouthCon 2019 will be held April 3-7, 2019, in Glorieta, N.M., returning to the location of the first National Youth Convention in 1975. YouthCon, formerly NYC, is a once-every-four-years event for senior high students of USMB churches. YouthCon will include worship, biblical teaching, personal spiritual challenge and community. Registration opens in fall 2018. As we anticipate returning to the site of the first national youth gathering, the CL asked three people to share their NYC experiences.

Joanna Chapa: Choosing to follow Jesus

She stood.

One of 1,420 youth attending the 2003 National Youth Convention in Estes Park, Colorado, Joanna Chapa stood in response to an invitation to choose a life of following Jesus.

“There was a session that we were invited to stand from our chairs if we were willing to live radical lives for Jesus and pick up our crosses to follow him, no matter what the cost,” she says. “I remember in that moment I knew I wanted to be about this. I didn’t really know what that meant, much less what was ahead and what he would invite me to.”

As Chapa testifies, following Jesus is about being faithful, one stepping stone at a time.

Chapa was a worship leader at Gracepoint Church in La Grulla, Texas, at the time. She says chills came over her as more than 1,000 people sang at Estes.

“I sat there most sessions and dreamt of the day that I could help lead worship and/or help plan a National Youth Convention,” she says. “Little did I know, that was actually the Spirit of God placing in me a prophetic calling or dream into what He was going to invite me into.”

Chapa and her church worship team were asked to lead a morning worship service, and she closed the last session in prayer.

“I remember standing on that stage, looking out to everyone there and sensing within me that God was going to keep inviting me to more opportunities like this in which I would be humbled and in awe of what he does,” she says.

Chapa served on the planning team for the next three conventions, also joining the worship team at Anaheim in 2007, where she says she realized nothing is more satisfying and fulfilling than when God gives and fulfills dreams.

Chapa has continued to follow God’s call as a long-term missionary with MB Mission in Peru.

“I have been here for a little over two years now and have committed to being here for 10 years,” she says. “If those sentences had been told to me 10 years ago, I would’ve never believed it. But, God is a God who gives us stepping-stone by stepping-stone. Step by step. And the beauty of it is that he’s walked with me each step of the way.”


BJ Heizelman: Conventions build foundation

BJ Heizelman of Buhler (Kansas) MB Church has a track record, and he’d like to keep the streak alive.

Heizelman has attended all 11 National Youth Conventions since 1975, which, he says, has kept him young. Joking aside, NYC not only provided the groundwork for Heizelman’s faith but has continued to grow and shape it.

“Each of these (conventions) is a foundation-builder, even as an adult,” he says. “They’re for the students, but there’s a lot of meat that comes into my life when I’m there as a sponsor as well.”

Heizelman attended his first NYC as a high school freshman from Sawyer (North Dakota) MB Church in 1975. He went as a college freshman in 1979.

He attended the next nine as a sponsor—he and his wife, Denise, served as sponsors for 33 years, first with Olathe (Kansas) Community Bible Church and then Buhler MB.

Although the Heizelmans have retired as sponsors, BJ helps out as needed and hopes to attend YouthCon 2019, returning to the place where it all began.

Heizelman remembers the fellowship of the bus ride from Sawyer to Glorieta, the impact of guest speaker Josh McDowell and the worship. At the time, Heizelman had only recently made his faith his own.

As Heizelman has continued to attend, he’s seen the impact NYC can have on young lives.

“It’s definitely a faith foundation experience,” he says. “It really opens your eyes to what kind of path that God might be leading you on.”

And yes, he hopes to keep the streak alive.

“I think it’d be fun to go (to Glorieta), No. 1, to keep my track record going, and No. 2, it’d be interesting to go back there as an adult now and relive some of that stuff that happened in ‘75.”


Steve Schroeder: NYC expands horizons

Steve Schroeder attended three National Youth Conventions—as a high school student, youth pastor and director. Each provided opportunity for growth, including finding a place in the Mennonite Brethren family, aiding in youth group bonding and developing his leadership skills.

Schroeder attended NYC in Glorieta, N.M., as a high school senior in 1975.

“It opened my eyes to the bigness of our MB family,” he says. “You grow up in a little youth group in your church and there might be 20 or 100 in your group, but you get there and you go, ‘Wow, I’m a part of something bigger than me.’”

Eight years later, Schroeder was newly-married and serving as youth pastor at Neighborhood Church in Visalia, Calif. He attended the 1983 NYC in Estes Park, Colo., as a sponsor.

“As a youth pastor, I found this to be a wonderful way of rallying our youth group, even some of the fringe ones, to say, ‘Hey, come with us. It’s a big event. It only happens once when you’re in high school,’” Schroeder says. “We were cutting firewood and doing garage sales and raising lots of money. Having a common goal, I think, was very valuable for us as a local youth group.”

Four years later, Schroeder returned as director of the 1987 NYC in Glorieta, where he cultivated leadership skills.

“I think Jesus very gently but clearly used that opportunity to help me identify some leadership gifts, to learn to depend on him,” Schroeder says. “If I’m going to lead something, I have to do it not just in my strength, but with his help and his strength.”

Schroeder lists other benefits of NYC as hearing from well-known speakers, recognizing and embracing diversity and building relationships.

“You walk away with a deeper understanding and appreciation for what the issues are in some of the other districts and how they’re dealing with those, the challenges that they face,” he says. “I think that served me well as I continued to grow and get involved in district and national leadership.”

Schroeder served 34 years in pastoral ministry, including eight years as a youth pastor, then, following seminary, as a lead pastor and church planter


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