VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 7/8/19)—As American Baptists gathered from across the country to celebrate at the 2019 Biennial Mission Summit in Virginia Beach, God was doing a new thing. Just down the hall from the Grand Ballroom in the Virginia Beach Convention Center, over 100 young people from as far as Wisconsin to those who attend churches in the Hampton Bay area gathered for a Biennial Youth Conference. Themed, Lessons at the Seashore, Mark 2:13, elementary to high school students worshipped, served and learned the lessons Jesus taught his disciples from the seashore. “One of the mantras from the weekend was, ‘we are gonna pray together, learn together, and serve together.’ Throughout the weekend, all of these combined for an experience of a lifetime,” said Tyler Hickman, one of the participants.
Inspired by a desire to engage young people in denominational life and to celebrate their contribution to the church, General Secretary Lee Spitzer proposed holding a youth conference at the Biennial. Associate General Secretary Rev. Marsha Scipio worked with a team of youth pastors and leaders from different regions to execute the vision. The New Beech Grove Baptist Church in Newport News, Va., and Rev. Betty Long of First Baptist of Hampton came alongside the planning team to assist with local arrangements.
The Biennial Youth Conference opened with icebreakers and a worship service on Friday evening for the teens and creative arts activities for the elementary age children. Youth lifted their hands in worship to the voices of the United Forces of Soul, a local praise team. Pastor Trevor Beauford of Union Baptist Church in Hartford, Conn., preached a powerful message that ended with an altar call, as young people reflected on their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “Pastor Beauford’ s preaching was amazing and his message was catered for youth to be able to understand,” declared one of the young people as she departed on Friday night.
On Saturday morning, Dr. Spitzer inspired the youth with an interactive message drawing from his recent experience with heart surgery. This was followed by a plenary session by Pastor Karen Yee, “Don’t be a boat potato,” and interactive workshops. Saturday afternoon’s program began with a panel discussion where International Ministries global servants shared their stories on the mission field with the young people. Youth then listened to a short presentation on caring for God’s creation from Pastor Tom Carr, the chair of the ABC Creation Justice Network. This prepared them to go out to Lafayette Park in Norfolk to do a beautification project: cleaning and painting for children in the community. Having worked up an appetite, the young people enjoyed the Southern hospitality of the Queen Street Baptist Church. The culinary ministry prepared a hearty dinner and gave the kids a tour of this historic congregation.
On Saturday night, the young people returned to the Convention Center for a dynamic worship experience. Youth had an opportunity to share their diverse gifts including: miming by a team from the Yorktown Boys and Girls Club; the New Beech Groove youth choir; the youth Arts on a Missions team from Berean Baptist Church; and the drumming duo from the Berean Community Drumline. Youth entertained and ministered to each other through their unique expressions of their faith.
On Sunday, youth joined the adults at the Biennial Mission Summit. They were very engaged in the Word and Witness presentation led by Dr. Jolene Erlacher, unabashed to stand and share their ideas. As one young person said, “We are here and want to be included in the conversations about us.” Youth also participated in different aspects of the Biennial Mission Summit program on the mainstage throughout the weekend. Attendee Grady Nun Tha Lang shared her testimony of how the Lord had worked miracles in her family. The youth from Berean Baptist Church participated in worship through dance and drama. Jahleel Hills said, “This trip opened my eyes to how worship can touch people from all around the globe. When my peers and I hit the stage and performed the Lifehouse Skit, you can just feel the difference in the atmosphere.”
“I am humbled by what God was able to do in the hearts and spirits of the young people as they participated in this Biennial Youth Conference. I am grateful for the ministry of Rev. Rob Ely, Garret Black, Min. Eric Battle and Kathy Carlson, who provided leadership for the Conference. If our denomination is going to thrive we have to be intentional about engaging our young people – this includes the youth and the young adults that minister to them,” remarked Scipio.
“The Summit by the Sea Youth Conference was refreshing. Many kids came not knowing what to expect, but I do believe they left better. More importantly, I do believe they left closer to Christ!” said Battle.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.