It’s 8:45 a.m., and thousands of teenagers are stumbling into downtown Oklahoma City’s Ford Center, sleepy-eyed and carrying plates full of pepperoni pizza and soft drinks for breakfast.
It’s easy to see why youth workers stay young at heart- even though most of the people here got little to no sleep the previous night; the excitement and intensity emanating from these students is palpable. They are concerned for their friends who don’t know Jesus and are here to find out how to make a difference in their schools and communities this year.
The “Jesus ’08” election theme at the Youth Evangelism Conference was cleverly carried out with red, white and blue balloon pillars, lasers, graphics, signs, bunting, confetti and election buttons. Roving reporters James Lankford and Ben Fuqua peppered students from the audience with funny, yet thought-provoking questions about what plans they have to reach their friends this year. Andy Harrison started the session with a meaningful quiet time of prayer.
The bands “Pocket Full of Rocks”, “Run Kid Run” and “Hawk Nelson” blazed a path throughout the morning before keynote speaker Wes Hamilton took the stage. Hamilton is the teaching pastor at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, and a frequent guest pastor at Falls Creek. He wove a tapestry of comparison between Old Testament figure Nehemiah and students of today.
He said sometimes the course of our lives can be radically changed by some completely unforeseen event. Nehemiah always started his days in the palace serving the king in complete and comfortable routine. But one day (he) received the news that Jerusalem had been destroyed. He could have easily forgotten this reality, but because he was a Jew, he could not. He had to approach the king for permission to go and rebuild the city.
Hamilton asked the students if they are too comfortable in their lives today. The world around us is full of lost and hurting people, and it is easy not to want to be reminded of it.
“There are people who can live on what we throw away,” he said, relating a story of seeing people dig through items he had thrown out on his curb.
He went on to challenge the students to ask what is going on in the world around them, citing the following statistics:
_ 30,000 children die every day from poverty.
_ 72 million children won’t get to go to school this year.
_ 1 billion children don’t have clean water.
_ Most of the world lives on $2 a day.
And the problems are not confined to just third-world countries. Students were told to look around at the kids in their classes this fall and were encouraged to get to know them as real people in need, not just projects. How is God moving in my school? How long has it been since I wept over another human being, just as Nehemiah wept for his fellow Jews? We must be broken for others simply because they are human beings.
“The questions won’t bring change, but the answers will,” said Hamilton.
He went on to say that “curiosity for other cultures turns into concern, and that concern becomes a calling.”
Nehemiah didn’t allow his lofty position in the king’s palace to be an obstacle to obedience. Leave something good to go do something great.
Hamilton concluded by urging students to live their lives the way God intended-to give it away to others-at home, at school, in the community and then globally. It’s what Christ did for us-He lived on Earth and died for us to bring us life. But before that can happen, he said we need to examine our lives for what needs to be cleaned up before God can use it. What can we take out of our lives to make room for what God needs to put into them?
Lankford wrapped up Saturday’s session with some interesting statistics:
_ There are 20,000 Baptist students in Oklahoma.
_ There is a total of 340,000 students.
_ One church only needs to baptize 33 students/year to be in the top 100 churches.
He said, “At some point, we have to stop talking about what we want to do, and just start doing it. Presidents will come and go, but Jesus will always be my leader.”