Organizers hope NYC will change youth


Named 2015 to provide a milestone on spiritual journey
 by Myra Holmes

The setting was Estes 1995, the USMB National Youth Conference (NYC), held that year at a mountain retreat center in Estes Park, Colo. On the last night of the event, speaker Ridge Burns gave a call for commitment, asking students to stand on their chairs to declare their commitment to radical discipleship.

Matt Ford stood, as did most of the other students in the room. At the time, Ford was a student in the North Fresno (Calif.) Church youth group.

Perhaps startled by the overwhelming response, Burns took some time to clarify: This was a statement of radical discipleship, meaning sacrifice and life change. A few sat, but Ford was among those who remained standing.

“That moment served as a spiritual marker for me,” Ford remembers. “That was a moment when I made a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus and follow him with all of my heart.”

Now, as youth pastor at North Fresno and a member of the NYC planning team, Ford hopes the next NYC, Named 2015, will likewise provide a spiritual milestone for students who attend.

Named 2015 will be held April 9-12, 2015, in Denver, Colo. This will be the 11th NYC, a national gathering of USMB high school youth held once every four years, giving students the opportunity to attend once during high school. The first NYC was held in Glorietta, NM, in 1975.

Christy Goentzel, member of the NYC team, part of the Southern District Conference (SDC) youth commission and also a former NYC student attendee, says the goal is not a mountaintop experience, because that implies a coming back down, leaving the experience behind. Rather, she says, the NYC team wants Named 2015 to be part of ongoing growth for students. “We want these things to be stepping stones,” she says.

Appropriately, Named 2015 will be the third NYC in an urban rather than a mountain or camp setting.

Named 2015 will be set in the heart of Denver, which offers both a central location and a rich urban experience. Sessions will be held in the Colorado Convention Center (photo right); students will stay across the street at the Hyatt Regency Downtown Denver.

Just a stone’s throw away is 16th Street Mall, an open-air pedestrian mall with shops and a variety of restaurants in all price points. Easy accessibility to the mall should make meals much simpler than at past urban youth conferences, Goentzel points out.

Youth groups who wish to explore Denver’s attractions during free times or before or after Named 2015 have a long list of options, from mountain activities like hiking or, conditions permitting, skiing, to museums for nearly every interest, to parks and shops, to the ever-popular Casa Bonita restaurant. 
A new identity
General sessions, workshops and service opportunities will center on a theme, Named, that will help attendees take home a new identity in Christ.

The theme draws upon Matt. 16:13-19, in which Jesus asks his disciples who the surrounding culture says he is, asks who they say he is and, when Simon declares him Messiah, gives him a new name, Peter.

The conference will follow an outline suggested by that Scripture, exploring what the culture says about Jesus, asking students what they believe about Jesus, considering what Jesus says about them and challenging youth to live out that identity.  

“In everything we do, we are looking to see who Jesus is and how that relates to our identity,” says Russ Claassen, NYC team member, youth pastor at Koerner Heights Church, Newton, Kan., and SDC district youth minister.
“I hope this will be one of those times in life where students can grasp who Jesus is and who Jesus says they are,” he says.  
Speaker, band lay foundation
Speaker John Richardson (right) will frame the theme for attendees in four general sessions. Richardson currently serves as campus pastor for Mountain View Community Church Sunnyside, Fresno, Calif., a church plant partnership of Mountain View Community Church in Fresno, the Pacific District Conference (PDC) and Mission USA.

He holds a degree in contemporary Christian ministries from Fresno Pacific University, the Mennonite Brethren-owned school in Fresno, Calif., and a master’s degree in Old Testament from the Mennonite Brethren seminary located in Fresno. In addition, he has a passion for youth and for mission. As a youth pastor for 11 years, he led numerous mission and service experiences for youth.

Claassen is thrilled that Richardson is “an MB guy” and expects that he will challenge conference attendees to engage in mission, especially local mission. “I’m excited about getting kids connected to ministry where they are,” Claassen says.  

The band For All Seasons will help students focus on who Jesus is. Claassen says that the planning team prioritized worship over big names when it came to choosing the band, and they got a true worship band in For All Seasons. “Their hearts are all about helping people connect with God through music,” says Claassen.  

The band is based out of southern California and is a regular at Hume Lake Christian Camp, which means that many West Coast students will be familiar with the group. Claassen says the NYC team would like all attendees to be familiar with the band before Named 2015 and encourages students to purchase the band’s most recent recording, “For All Seasons,” or explore their music online.
Learning, service opportunities explore identity
Based on the foundation of an understanding of who Jesus is and personal identity in him, Named 2015 attendees will explore that identity further through “Learning Ops” and “Service Ops.”

Learning Ops are simply “learning opportunities” with a purpose, according to planning team member Joanna Chapa, an MB Mission staff member working from Hillsboro, Kan., who also attended NYC as a student. In these workshop settings, students will hear a variety of stories of God at work around the world and through specific interest areas such as music, sports, education, missions or church planting.

“We feel that the Learning Ops are going to be another opportunity for Named 2015 attendees to connect through the story of how Jesus renames us and calls us to greater things than we can dream or imagine,” says Chapa. “One of our hopes for the Learning Ops is that students, leaders and speakers alike will come away with a stronger sense of how Jesus has moved through others and be inspired to continue to seek to do the same as they leave Named 2015.”

Details about Learning Ops topics and speakers will be available on the Named 2015 website when registration opens in January.
On Friday, attendees will practice what they’ve been learning through Service Ops—opportunities to serve in the Denver metro area. “It’s putting hands and feet to what we’re hoping to teach and challenge our students with,” says NYC team member Ford. Service has become a major component of NYC’s relatively new, urban-setting model.

NYC is once again working with Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection (DOOR), a faith-based network of urban service-learning programs that happens to be headquartered in Denver. Ford notes that DOOR knows the city and has relationships with those who are effectively meeting needs. “They’ll get our kids plugged in to all these different organizations,” he says.

While specific assignments are yet to be determined, students can expect to get hands-on experience with soup kitchens, food banks, inner city ministries, thrift stores, homeless services and inner-city churches.

Taking it home
Ford hopes the service will be much more than a one-day experience for Named 2015 attendees; he hopes that as students see how people in Denver participate in what God is doing in the city, they’ll learn how to see and participate in what God is doing in their own community: “How do I find God in my context and follow him?”

Ford hopes that the way students serve in Denver will become their “everyday reality.”

“God calls all of us to be missionaries,” Ford says. “Hopefully our Service Ops will foster our overall theme in that way.”

Worth the cost
NYC team members say that as students take their new identity home, Named 2015 has the potential to change lives. Because it can be transformational, team members say it’s worth the expense and effort for a church to send their youth to Named 2015.

“These kids are the future of our conference; these kids are the future of our nation,” says Goentzel. She points out that families often don’t flinch at the travel and expense of, say, a sports tournament or band camp. “Why would we not invest in furthering Christ’s kingdom?”

Claassen says NYC has been an important part of not only his own spiritual journey but also the journey of many who are now leaders in their churches, communities and families. “NYC was a part of that,” he says. For some, it was a first step; for others, it represented a significant call to mission.

Chapa remembers her experience at Estes 2003, which was one of those spiritual milestones for her. “I’m glad my small, South Texas MB church in La Grulla was willing to fund-raise and send our youth group, even though it took a lot of effort and resources to send us,” she says. “My life journey has been impacted by what God did at Estes 2003.”

She adds, “It’s at conferences such as Named 2015 that students meet Jesus in a new and refreshing way alongside hundreds of other students from around the U.S. Let’s join together as a family of disciples at Named 2015 to train and equip our young people to know, love and serve Jesus.”

Information on Named 2015 will be updated regularly on their website,


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