Youth respond to speakers' calls to follow Jesus
By Connie Faber
More than 650 USMB high school students and sponsors attended two annual district youth conventions during November. Fairview (Okla.) MB Church hosted the Southern District Youth Conference (SDYC) Nov. 15-17 and the following weekend the Central District Conference (CDC) youth event was held at Cedar Canyon Camp in Rapid City, SD.
Organizers of both district youth conventions say the weekend is intended to help youth grow in their relationship with God and one another.
“The purpose is to create an opportunity for the youth to cultivate their relationship with God, develop stronger relationships in their small group as well as connect with the other youth/churches,” says Jeral Gross, CDC Youth Committee chair.
Both district youth conferences featured speakers from USMB partner ministries that called on students to commit—and recommit—their lives to Jesus Christ.
"Stories" theme of SDYC
SDYC is the largest annual gathering of U.S. Mennonite Brethren. This year, more than 500 students and sponsors representing 18 SDC congregations were hosted by about 55 households in the Fairview, Okla., community for the weekend convention.
“Stories” was the theme for SDYC and will be the theme as well for the 2014 SDC summer camping program.“Our hope is that God’s story and the stories of faith our speaker shares will change the hearts of our students,” wrote Christy Goentzel of the SDC Youth Commission in an invitation to SDYC 2013.
Speaker Randy Friesen, MB Mission general director, focused on faith, hope, love and making disciples in his four sessions. “From everything I’ve heard, both kids and leaders connected really well with the words Randy brought,” says Goentzel. MB Mission is the global mission agency of Mennonite Brethren in the United States and Canada.
“Randy started the weekend helping the kids really take a look at their faith and asking for kids to make decision for Christ,” says Goentzel. “While we aren’t sure of the numbers, it seemed as though there were a number of student who did make first-time commitments.”
General sessions also included a worship time led by Jarod Richardson, worship pastor at Discovery Bible Church, Owasso, Okla., and a team from DBC.
Saturday afternoon included activities planned by the host congregation and workshops led by youth pastors and USMB agency leaders.
Providing an affordable weekend event that “takes student out of their normal home and church environment and presents them with the truths of Christ,” has been so successful at the high school level, says Goentzel, that the commission has also initiated a similar one-day event for junior high youth.
CDC students engage and serve
A total of 148 youth and sponsors from 10 CDC congregations spent Nov. 22-24 in the Black Hills of South Dakota hearing from Wendell Loewen, Ministry Quest director and Tabor College professor. Ministry Quest, a program of Tabor College in partnership with USMB, is a yearlong, two-stage program designed to help high school students consider God’s call and their potential for ministry and leadership.
Using the theme “Engage: In And Not Of,” Loewen talked about the tension that exists as believers follow Christ’s call to live in this word but not be conformed to the world. “Wendell did a great job of incorporating personal stories and biblical truths that connected with the youth,” says Gross. “Saturday night he had a formal invitation and there were many youth—I couldn’t begin to count them all—that said yes to Jesus either for the first time or as a recommitment.”
“At the Wayside,” a band from Wisconsin that plays at music festivals, including Hills Alive in Rapid City and LifeLight in Sioux Falls, SD, led the group in musical worship.
Apart from the sessions, Gross says the weekend service project benefiting Feeding South Dakota Food Bank was a highlight. “We felt that since this was right before Thanksgiving and so many people that depend on this service, this would be a worthy service project this year,” says Gross.
Each attendee was asked to bring at least $5 and each youth group was given an additional $50 for the purpose of shopping at local stories to purchase items for the food bank. The CDC Youth Commission also selected 10 students who spent the afternoon working at the food bank.
“All the youth saw the need and stepped up to the challenge,” says Gross. “As a result of their efforts, 1,420 pounds (including 57 turkeys) were delivered and 2,800 pounds of food was sorted.”
Seeing God move in the hearts of young people during the weekend was a highlight for Gross. “The first night we gathered I asked each person to do two things…be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in their lives and be real with each other when they talked in their small group. As the weekend went on you could see the layers melt away and when Wendell offered a formal invitation on Saturday night, a majority of the youth responded by asking Jesus to lead them.”