Youth conferences held in late November

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CDYC, SDYC emphasize spiritual growth, foster unity and connection

By Connie Faber

The third weekend in November 2015 was the date of choice for district youth conventions in both the Central and Southern District Conferences. A total of 578 teens and youth sponsors representing 27 congregations participated in the annual events.

Organizers of these youth gatherings say the events are intended to encourage youth to grow in their relationships with Jesus or to make first-time commitments to him. Fostering unity among individual youth groups and nurturing a sense of connection to their respective district conferences are other goals. 

Given the shared goals, its not surprising that the two district youth events had similarities. Both featured keynote speakers and times of worship as well as workshops, free time and late night activities. Tabor College sponsored activities at each gathering and members of the MB Mission Midwest Mobilization Team were involved in workshops at both.

There were also differences. The Southern District Youth Conference (SDYC) began Friday evening and the Central District Youth Conference (CDYC) started Thursday evening. While the CDYC was held at Camp Rivercrest, a camp and retreat center near Fremont, Neb., three Oklahoma churches hosted the Southern District Youth Conference (SDYC) and participants were housed in homes.

Another difference and a key component of CDYC was the Saturday afternoon service project in Omaha. “With the service project, we prayed that youth would see the value and calling to serve others,” says Jeral Gross, CDC Youth Committee chair.   

 

Southern District Youth Conference (SDYC)

Jeremy Jordan, pastor of Memorial Road MB Church, Edmond, Okla., was the keynote speaker at SDYC 2015 held Nov. 20-22 at the Performing Arts Center in Weatherford, Okla. Attendees included 339 students and 96 sponsors from 17 SDC congregations, 15 agency representatives and 10 program participants plus about 95 volunteers from the three host congregations.

Jordan addressed the theme “Christ in Me” from Gal. 2:20, saying that while “living like Christ” is a worthy aspiration, living a life where Christ is “working in us and is seen within us isn’t always as easy as we would like it to be.” He unpacked the theme in four messages, which he summarized in an email following SDYC.  

  • We can’t be “good enough.” God isn’t impressed with how good we are but rather by how desperate we are for him.
  • “Better” isn’t the answer. Religion strives to make us better people by telling us what to do and what not to do. This still leaves us lacking the ability to be truly righteous. Jesus didn’t die to make us better; he died to make us new. 
  • If we want Christ alive and well within us we have to give up trying to do it all ourselves. Any area of our lives where we’re in control is an area Jesus can’t use. Any area in which we want people to notice us, Jesus won’t be seen. We need to daily “die to self.”
  • Live with Christ in us. By allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us, our lives can become a way of pointing people to Jesus. But we have to continue following Jesus’ way, not go our own way.

A highlight of the weekend for many students was Jordan’s Saturday evening message, says Russ Claassen, Southern District Conference youth minister.

“Saturday’s evening session was very moving and included an opportunity for participants to come down to the stage for prayer,” says Claassen. “As they came down, adult leaders were available to pray for them. It was a powerful experience for many students and provided a wonderful visual reminder of what God is doing in the lives of teenagers.”

The Jake Stemo Band was back for the second year to lead the worship times. Jake Stemo is a worship leader and songwriter from Wichita, Kan. Stemo’s band led worship times at the 2015 SDC junior high camp and is scheduled to lead again in 2016.

The SDYC offering was for MB Mission worker Joanna Chapa who is beginning a three-year FOCUS apprenticeship in Peru.

The weekend schedule included time for youth groups to talk following worship sessions and the opportunity for participants to attend one of eight workshops. Workshop topics included college life, missions, social media, dating, following God’s call, identity in Christ as men and women and understanding your personality. 

Free time options Saturday afternoon included ultimate Frisbee, football, disc golf, basketball and dodge ball tournaments and a variety of table and indoor games. Saturday night participants could select from a variety of late night activities: a concert by hip-hop and rap artist Gospelee, karaoke, photo booth and indoor games. Late night refreshments were sponsored by Tabor College.

Seventy-five households from the three host congregations—Pine Acres MB Church, Weatherford; Corn (Okla.) MB Church and Bible MB Church, Cordell, Okla.—housed the 435 teens and sponsors for two nights.  

In addition to strengthening connections within youth groups and among youth from other churches, SDYC offers sponsors unique opportunities to connect with their teens. 

“Youth groups are also able to grow closer through the shared experience of the weekend—traveling together, staying host homes, worshipping together and enjoying the free time and late night fun,” says Claassen. “Youth workers are able to connect with their teens in a way out of the normal routine and hopefully the energy of the weekend translates back home to energy for Christ and one another.”

 

Central District Youth Conference (CDYC)

One hundred forty-three attendees from 10 churches attended the CDYC held Nov. 19-22, 2015. The CDYC theme was “Come and Die,” inspired by Luke 9:23. CDYC speaker Lance Griese, who has 25 years of experience working and teaching youth, focused on each of the words in his three messages.

Speaking from Luke 9:18-27 in his first message, Griese said that the first step is to come to Christ. He spoke about God’s grace being free but not cheap. Coming to faith in Christ is an important step but is only half the gospel, said Griese.

Using the story of the transfiguration from Luke 9: 28-36, Griese noted that the word “and” suggests that discipleship is more than the decision to come to Christ. Peter wanted to stay on the top of the mountain. God calls his followers to come and go, to come and know and to come and rest.

Griese concluded the series by inviting students and sponsors to die daily to themselves and to live for Christ and others, referring to Matt. 19:16-22.  As a symbol of this commitment, Griese invited the youth to a cross that was studded by nails. The students could hang loops of rope on nails to symbolize this commitment.

“Four youth publically came up for a first-time commitment,” says Gross. “Almost everyone else —literally — came up to proclaim some changes that they are needing to make in their lives going forward. It was an amazing time seeing the Holy Spirit move.”

Gross says he will long cherish the memory of “how the Holy Spirit moved Saturday night and hearing how well the small groups went afterwards.”  

Sessions included worship times led by Kristin Pikop, worship leader at Stony Brook Church, a USMB church plant in Omaha, Neb., and a band comprised of mostly musicians from Stony Brook.

Friday activities also included two seminars offered by MB Mission staff; one targeted teens and the other sponsors. In addition to free time, Friday’s schedule included two late night options: board games and s'mores by a huge fireplace or popcorn and a movie. 

CDYC organizers teamed up again with Good Neighbor Ministries of Omaha for Saturday afternoon service projects. Stephen Stout, GNM director and interim pastor at Faith Bible Church, Omaha, organized the service projects. Several groups volunteered at Omaha shelters. Most of the groups served in the neighborhood around Faith Bible Church. The volunteers did lawn work—raking lawns and trimming shrubs and trees—cleaned empty lots and hauled junk to dumpsters. They helped a family with severe illness clean and organize their home and painted for a single mom with several kids.

“We are so thankful for Stephen and how he helps us provide this opportunity for our youth,” says Gross. “It was an awesome day, and the youth did a great job. It was cold—in the 30s—but I didn’t hear one complaint or see one bad attitude.”  

CDYC began Thursday evening with a pizza party and mixer games. Saturday late night Tabor College sponsored nachoes and an Extreme Team Challenge. The Sunday morning service included communion and a meditation from Griese on the importance and blessing of communion.            

“There is great value in this event as it provides an environment for youth and youth leaders to come tougher to worship God, grow their faith and serve with other MB churches,” says Gross. “Friendships have been created through CDYC that last for years and years but more importantly decisions to love and serve the Lord have been initiated and developed as a result of CDYC.” 

Photo provided by Russ Claassen: Jeremy Jordan, SDYC speaker, is joined on stage by the Jake Stemo Band.

 

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