Nearly 4,300 teenagers swarmed the Rapides Coliseum Thanksgiving week for the 20th annual Youth Evangelism Conference.
ALEXANDRIA – Nearly 4,300 teenagers swarmed the Rapides Coliseum Thanksgiving week for the 20th annual Youth Evangelism Conference.
It’s an event constantly evolving to keep up with the lost culture leaders want to reach, churched youth dealing with the same teen angst as their nonchurched friends, and the youth leaders who week-in and week-out minister to teens, said Kevin Boles, director of youth ministries strategies for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
“In these days and time it takes a lot to keep teenagers’ attention,” Boles said. Three separate production companies – video, audio and equipment – work behind the scenes at YEC to ensure a high-energy, richly-textured environment in which teens are challenged, equipped and encouraged to live the faith they profess.
“YEC is a great mid-year shot-in-the-arm,” Boles said. “After summer camp, there’s a lull as the school year kicks off. Then there’s YEC.
“Beyond those kids making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, we want to help the churched kids see that the kid sitting next to them in biology or chemistry needs Jesus too,” the LBC youth strategist said. “That’s what this is all about: reaching students and having them potentially changing the world.”
A team of 25 youth ministers and pastors work with the LBC youth ministries strategy team in the development of YEC’s theme, program personalities and focus each year.
“They’re the ‘big picture’ people,” Boles said. “We meet three or four times a year for planning, plus on-site at YEC.”
About 60 people are involved in the production, which started this year with the construction of a round center truss, from which hung four oversize screens. Seven cameras were used to capture the action on stage and throughout the coliseum.
Among a dozen or more vendors were on hand, including YEC t-shirts in a variety of colors and sizes. All 500 hoodies sold out, and most everything else. Several of the state’s camps were promoting their sites, as was Clear, a camping program that takes place “at your location.”
Louisiana College, the undergraduate program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Baptist Collegiate Ministries also made their presence known at YEC.
The main attraction, however, was onstage.
In addition to the Christian rock band Leeland, which provided Monday evening entertainment, YEC combined the strengths of intense worship leader Kristian Stanfill, amazing illusionist Drew Worsham and totally with-it youth evangelist Ed Newton to ignite teens’ hearts and minds with the theme Inseparable.
Let one of Worsham’s sets explain the effectiveness of YEC: He called three students to the stage and gave them instructions. Upon his signal, they were to draw something that was a simple image (not just an abstract design) and that filled an 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper.
He then put coins on duct tape, and covered his eyes with it. A bandana covered that, and more duct tape. When all were convinced he could not see, he instructed the students onstage to draw. One by one, he identified the drawings, even a caterpillar!
“Sin is like this duct tape,” Worsham said as he held up a wad of what he’d removed from his face and head. “Junior high boys, don’t try this at home. It’s sticky. It’s hard to get out of, and,” he paused for effect. “It blinds you to the truth.”
In addition to the scheduled speakers, at each session a Louisiana student spoke about what God was doing through them. Kenneth Whitfield of First Baptist Haughton explained how God placed on his heart a passion for the students at his high school, which grew into a revival meeting. He worked with fellow student Clint Carlisle, and at least nine students made professions of faith at the revival and at First Haughton and Eastwood Baptist in Haughton.
“God placed on our heart to have a revival,” Whitfield said. “God used us ordinary teenagers to bring together 300 students to hear about Him.” He challenged his listeners to ask God if He wanted them to bring a revival to their school.
Hana Steingold, 14, and a member at First Baptist in Jena, said this was her second year to attend YEC.
“I enjoyed it last year – the music and speakers and all the people that were here – so I wanted to come back,” she said. The hardest part of being a teenager is the peer pressure, she said. The best part is being with friends, she added. Terry Townsend is youth pastor; Dominick DiCarlo Jr. is pastor.
Matthew Clark, 15, a member at Bethel Colfax, attended YEC for the fourth time this year.
“I like the music and I like the people that are here,” he said. He agreed that peer pressure is the hardest part of being a teenager.
“Teens are usually pushed to do things they shouldn’t do,” he said. How does he counteract peer pressure: “Ignore it.”
Clark was one of a dozen students from Bethel Colfax, where Becky Stephens is youth leader and Robert Daniel is pastor.
“As soon as I heard we could get tickets, I made our reservation, to make sure we got good seats and to make sure we could get enough tickets,” Stephens said. “YEC keeps them refreshed in the Lord; it’s a booster shot to what we did in the summer, camp and everything. This is like a revival for them to be around other teenagers.”