INCREDIBLE. That is the only word that can even come close to what I feel after YouthCon 2019. It is now three days after YouthCon and I am still overwhelmed with emotion; joy, exhaustion, and more. It has taken this long just to start to process my experience but God is refueling me through it.
During YouthCon and afterwards my social media feeds were filled with pictures, thank yous and hashtags that it was too overwhelming for me to process. After reading and seeing all the posts I wanted to share my experience but it was difficult to into words. But now that some time has passed here are my thoughts.
A pastor friend of mine shared a devotional. He said, “All of us need ‘remember when’ moments.” He talked about how in the Old Testament when God did something amazing, an altar was built. A physical marker to help people remember what God did for them. So now we are living in a digital age and I can see how our social media pages will be a “remember when” alter on what God did at YouthCon. And this post is my “remember when moment.”
For those of you who might not know, I was part of the planning team that brought YouthCon 2019 to life. I was part of a handful of other people with my co-director Neil Bontrager who prayed, planned, and prepared to make YouthCon a reality. Neil has a unique ability to dream and plan events exactly like YouthCon. His optimism is infectious and that helps is natural recruiting ability. Then we have Byron Funk, who is the hidden gem of the planning team. He was always behind the scenes making sure kept moving forward. His servant heart and love for the M.B. world was crucial. Below is a list of names (mostly pictured above) of everyone who served at YouthCon.
I have served on what is now called USMB Youth since 2008 and have been the director since 2012. A lot has changed over the years and our dreams and plans have gotten bigger. But so has our faith in God. I remember sitting down with Neil and the planning team processing where and when we should even have the next convention–which eventually came to be YouthCon 2019 in Glorieta, New Mexico. The planning started on the ride home from NAMED2015. I remember contemplating over so many details: the length of YouthCon, the time of year we held it, the location we held it at, the cost it would take to pull it off and everything else. Very few decisions came easy or without discussion. Except for one… The importance of being together. The importance of having a shared experience; of being inspired by God with youth ministries from all over the country. That was at the forefront of every decision we made.
It is a surreal moment when you see something come to life that only months or even years ago, was just ideas scribbled on a page. Planning a big event like this where hundreds of people rely on your planning takes tons of prayer, hours of planning, and some faith that it will all come together. And every time I plan an event like this, I am surprised by God. And God surprised me every day at YouthCon 2019. So here are some of my “Remember When” Moments:
- I remember stressing over the tiniest of details of how we are going to do registration check-in. Even down to where the tables should be and then the day of the event we had to change our plans and move everything inside due to rain. And it worked out for the better! God really set the tone from the beginning that He is ultimately in charge.
- Standing in the middle of the worship center and everyone–leader, youth, and helper–forming a big circle and then taking communion with all of us facing each other. A powerful image that I will always remember.
- Seeing our two college institutions of Fresno Pacific and Tabor stepping up in a huge way and seeing interns willing to serve and do whatever is needed. Whether that is packing give-away bags, picking people up from the airport or praying with people.
- The many people who pray before, during, and after YouthCon. In fact, we had a full pastoral and prayer team from Multiply that served us every step of the way.
- I remember so many people were amazed with how the stage, lighting, and video screen looked when they first walked into the main worship center. It brought an epic feel to it and I loved seeing the reactions of people walking in.
- I love how I was blessed with a dual role on the planning team and as a Youth Pastor bringing my own youth group to this experience. Some of the best moments for me was hearing how my group was experiencing YouthCon and processing through how God was speaking to them. I loved hearing the stories of how they felt closer to God than ever before or how God is calling them to talk more (from one of the shyest students I know), they were all experiencing God in different ways but they were doing it together.
- I got to interact with youth workers face to face when for years they had been just a number or email address on a page. Having that connection in being in a room full of other youth workers who have the same passion and willingness to serve teenagers will fuel me for years to come. I made so many new connections and deepened old ones that I am eternally grateful for.
- I loved seeing the students interact with the speakers, praise God in worship, and ask questions in our LABS (workshops). Seeing which LAB people are talking about gives me a glimpse on where students are at and what interests them for the future. I was quite impressed with the maturity of so many of these teenagers. It was a proud moment for me.
- I enjoyed walking down the path to whatever the next event was and having a chance to catch a smile or say hi to almost everyone I passed. It brought me so much joy knowing we were all here for the same reason.
- I enjoyed the youth worker leaders meetings in the morning. To be reminded every day that close to 100 youth workers love teenagers and are willing to serve them was a humbling experience.
- I loved seeing how students experience God. Whether that is coming to Jesus for the first time through salvation or being completely open to God in worship. Seeing the pure joy on the faces as they call out to God in prayer and hands raised high will bring joy to my heart forever.
INCREDIBLE. As I said before. This experience was simply incredible. When you are on a team planning for an event like this it’s not always easy, but I can tell you it’s fulfilling. And now I understand why events like YouthCon and the stress, the work, the blood, sweat, and tears of it all is worth it…
Because being together matters. Youth conventions remind everyone who attends that they are part of something bigger than themselves. YouthCon and other events like it remind the adult youth workers and the youth themselves that they are not alone. We need to be reminded of that because too easily we can fall into the trap of thinking that we are the only one who have these struggles, doubts, or fears. And when you get to connect to other people who are pursuing God like you, it’s easier because you get to bear each other’s burdens.
Events like YouthCon matter because it builds momentum like very few things we as youth workers provide. By having students leave the comfort of their daily routine and thrusted into an environment where every minute was designed to have them connect with God and others, positive change occurs. They start to see the world differently because they have put down the blinders of life. They start to get inspired hearing stories of how others are impacting the world for God and they start to believe they can do that too.
When older Christians look back on their life and map out their spiritual journeys I have heard countless stories of how events like YouthCon became a spiritual marker in their lives. This is something we must never take for granted, never question if it’s worth it, never regret what it costs, because the stories are too great, the impact too big, and the change too wide to ignore.
I want to finish by saying thank you. An event like YouthCon cannot be planned or run by any one individual or even a small group. It takes an army of willing volunteers just to make it happen! Below (and most of them are pictured) is a list of names of everyone who helped out in some way. The impact these people below made will never be measured and will ripple on like waves on a pond. Thank you to everyone who prayed, supported, gave, or served before, during, or after YouthCon. You have blessed me and countless others more than you will ever know.