More than 330 high school students, youth leaders and staff converged on Glorieta, New Mexico, June 16-20 for USMB NextGen’s third annual national high school camp, ASCENT. Students represented 19 churches from California, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah.
ASCENT’s mission is to connect high school students from across the country while providing each with the opportunity to encounter a life-transforming, personal connection with Jesus.
Sessions focus on “BE”
This year’s theme, BE, addressed culture’s obsession with and definitions of achievement, success and productivity.
Jason Quiring, pastor at Greenhouse Community Church in Saratoga Springs, Utah, urged students to live countercultural lives. In four sessions, Quiring encouraged students to “BE in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21), “BE still and know” (Psalm 46:10), “BE transformed (Romans 12:1-2) and “BE salty and lit” (Matthew 5:13-16).
Student Zaylee Werth from Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas, says the Psalm 46:10 message was meaningful.
“What I learned from camp is to ‘be still,’” Werth says. “It is okay to not be going all the time, (and) the Lord is more worried about our heart and our relationship with him than what we are doing. He isn’t going to love us more or less based off of what we do.”
Each session began with games led by emcees Kyle Goings, Ridgepoint Church, Wichita, Kansas, and Mike Klaassen, Parkview, to welcome and engage students. Presence Worship from Newton, Kansas, led worship through music.
The final evening of camp, Stephen Humber and Joanna Chapa, members of Multiply’s Midwest Regional Mobilizers Team, hosted a night of worship and learning about missions.
Partner agencies Multiply, Fresno Pacific University, FaithFront, Mennonite Central Committee and Tabor College connected with students.
For the first time, FaithFront, a student leadership program housed at Tabor College, offered a pre-camp, “Encounter” experience. Encounter is FaithFront’s advanced-level program designed to provide a mobile lab in which students experientially encounter global issues that call for Christian action. Seven students from Kansas and California traveled from Tabor’s campus to Garden City, Kansas, to engage in a conversation about refugees before heading to ASCENT. Participants received a $100 scholarship for ASCENT.
Also new was a learning opportunity, “The Exchange.” Students who chose not to go whitewater rafting attended this informal session where speaker Quiring and Multiply’s Chapa answered the question, “Are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church Christian?” Quiring and Chapa gave background on each faith tradition’s beliefs and practices and shared their personal experiences of doing life with people who consider themselves members of each group. This session concluded with students texting questions to the speakers.
Joel Newton, Greenhouse, says camp was an invitation for action.
“Camp was one of the best experiences of my life,” Newton says. “I left challenged to share my faith with my LDS family and friends back home.”
Times for learning, fun
Students chose two workshops to attend. The hour-long classroom-like settings allowed students to engage in topics including: what does it mean to deconstruct my faith, understanding and engaging fear, evangelism, creating ways to remember, identity and understanding how culture impacts our lives.
Mackenzie Hagerman, North Oak Community Church, Hays, Kansas, says the workshop on identity left a lasting impact.
“I learned to take my thoughts captive and reaffirm who God made me to be in respect to how I view my identity,” Hagerman says.
Students also experienced a unique avenue of learning in interactive tracks, which sought to connect students’ hobbies and interests to the everyday kingdom of God. These included advanced hiking, mountain stroll, writing and journaling, painting and art, photography, rock stacking, video games, basketball, disc golf and kickball.
Before breakfast each morning, students and staff could attend a Bible study, “J-Time,” short for “Jesus Time,” led by Multiply’s Humber and two senior students from North Oak Community Church, Hays, Kansas.
Every day, campers had free time to participate in activities such as arrow tag, swimming, hiking, sand volleyball, tree rappelling, drift trikes, zip line, mini golf, disc golf, a super swing and more.
Daily group events helped foster community between churches. These events included a silent disco, talent show, mud pits and Rally Games. Rally Games are a simple way for people to get to know each other. Campers and staff were randomly put into different teams to compete against each other in a variety of activities.
The descent back home
For many campers, ASCENT was more than just a break in their daily routine. It was an opportunity to learn and take steps forward in their spiritual journey.
Lola Eppright, Ridgepoint Church, Wichita, Kansas, says camp was a starting point.
“This year especially, a greater need was put on actually being in the presence of God and spending time in the Word,’” Eppright says.
Finding the sacred in the ordinary impacted Hazel Jerez, from Lighthouse Community Church, in Wichita, Kansas.
“I now look at salt differently, as I remember what it means to ‘Be like salt,’” Jerez says.
Michael Klaassen is the digital content manager at Tabor College as well as the college photographer. He attends Parkview MB Church, Hillsboro, Kansas, where he volunteers with the high school youth group.