Youth Congress Report: Beyond Expectations
You can’t attend a North American Youth Congress without feeling the palpable energy of Holy Ghost expectations. Thus, from Wednesday afternoon registration to the morning classes and afternoon outreach projects to the final Friday night altar call, the air almost crackles with expectations realized.
Living the theme of “Beyond,” over 18,000 people attended this biennial event in Nashville, Tennessee on August 5-7, 2009. Day sessions are split into separate sessions for teens, youth workers, young adults, and young ministers with speakers ranging from national officials to promising newcomers on the frontlines of youth ministry. Evening services are open to everyone, but when the arena doors open at 5:30 p.m., teenagers literally run all the way to the floor seats.
At 6:30 p.m. each night, the Pentecostal Music Association’s North American Talent Search featured five different Pentecostal musicians before pre-service prayer. Segregated into categories of male soloists, female soloists, and small groups, one winner in each category received the chance to record a free CD. With the audience voting each night, this led to over 5,000 ballots being frantically counted to determine each winner.
The signs of Apostolic dedication were overwhelming:
• During services and sessions, the arena hallways were remarkably vacant. The teens were there to draw closer to God and proved it with their actions.
• The worship soared as Justin Conway and the music team, a group of talented Apostolic musicians and singers, led everyone in heartfelt, contemporary worship in every service
• After services, it was not unusual to see teenagers worshipping in tongues—while being carried out on the shoulders of their youth leaders.
• The Tennessee District Youth President and all of the volunteer staff facilitated registration, ushering, and any number of other overlooked duties to make sure Youth Congress hummed beneath the surface.
• Thursday morning featured a special “Apostolic Identity” session with Brent and Rachel Coltharp that not only celebrated and affirmed the Bible basis for our worldview, but also challenged the teens to live it out loud when they returned home.
Youth Congress isn’t just about taking in, but giving back. Project 22:39 was created to help heal the host city through the Christ-like actions of Apostolic youth groups. Over 600 teenagers worked in homeless shelters, cleaned parks, collected and distributed school supplies and canned goods for the underprivileged, as well as handing out Bibles and tracts. Based on Matthew 22:39 (“Love your neighbor as yourself.”), this ministry took the Scripture to the streets in Nashville, distributing nearly 20,000 church invitation touch point cards.
“Our mission for Project 22:39 Nashville was to show God’s love in a practical way to the city of Nashville,” Project 22:39 coordinator Heidi Urshan said. “We wanted to come and not just take, but to give back to our host city. And, we were hoping that the concept would be grasped by the students to go home and carry out the mission to love thy neighbor from Matthew 22:39. It doesn’t have to be a huge organized event in each city, but as an individual we can live the commission out in practical ways.”
The General Youth Division also unveiled Hyphen, a new ministry for the young people who have graduated from high school. With a booth and Thursday night post-service event, Hypen’s intent is to grow from the grass roots up so that our young adults are not left dangling without national support.
After service Friday night, the Opry Mills Mall was rented to present the “Afterburner” event. All 6,000 tickets were sold so that young people could enjoy eating, shopping, socializing and great music by prominent musical talents within our movement, and the three PMA winners.
Of course, with all that teenaged energy, there’s always the probability of spectacle. Young people came dressed in their “Youth Congress best” (that’s a multiple of 10 greater than your “Sunday Best”). Wednesday night forward, young people wore a wild display of outfits worth remembering. The girls displayed ankle-length dresses, unusual hair accessories, showy glasses, and, of course, the world’s fanciest hairdos. The guys were seen in vests (with and without suit coats), white shoes, and bow ties—though rarely as a combination.
In nearly every service, day and night, there was definitely an increase in dramatized songs. The response to most was dynamic, as different groups used mime faces, costumes, and church dress attire to share their message of a triumphant God. With drama being a key ingredient to this generation, expect to see even more of this in the future of our youth.
The Lord rained down in velvet glory on the night services with their teeming altar calls after special sermons by Bros. Shay Mann, Wayne Huntley, and Wayne Francis respectively. It’s difficult to quantify that many people worshiping God, praying for each other, and interceding for needs worldwide.
After the event, the testimonies poured in:
• North Carolina—On Wednesday afternoon, before the first Youth Congress service even began, a young man from North Carolina prayed with a man on the street in downtown Nashville and he received the Holy Ghost!
• Texas—Two of our young people received the Holy Ghost for the first time and one of them demanded to be baptized, so we used the (hotel’s) pool.
• Mississippi—(One of our young ladies) has struggled with depression, low self-esteem, and never made a significant move toward God. Honestly, she was not really excited about going to NAYC. As the 18,000+ worshipped God on Thursday night, I looked around to see my young people, and this young lady was dancing all over the place. That night she told my staff, “I feel God doing something in me. I’ve decided to just give it all to Him and give Him all of me.” And Friday night she danced, and Sunday she danced, and at our mid-week (service) she danced. This timid, shy, depressed young lady ran up to the platform to testify Sunday. She has smiled and smiled some more. This is what it’s all about!
• Missouri—One girl praying at the altar had four different ministers tell her she was called to the missions field.
• Maryland—Roughly half of our kids decided to pull an all-nighter Friday night because we were leaving in the early a.m. hours Saturday. They were in the lobby of the downtown Holiday Inn Express hanging out. A couple of our young ladies struck up a conversation with a Greyhound bus driver from Atlanta. He was leaving the hotel for his return route to Atlanta on Saturday a.m.. At roughly 3 a.m., our kids prayed him through to the Holy Ghost and then texted me to baptize him. (We used the hotel’s) swimming pool and baptized Mr. Lewis early Saturday.
• North Carolina—Our youth returned on top of the world. The girl that won the female talent search (Ashley Wicker) had a first-time visitor with her this morning; she’s presently teaching her a Bible study. Can’t top that!
No one can deny that every Youth Congress is an exceptional time of visitation with the Almighty. Yet in Nashville, God took us Beyond our expectations into a realized faith that is now growing in nearly every town and city across North America. The final tally of victories will only be known on Judgment Day.