Hosting the Youth Conference was such a wonderful experience on so many levels. A little background to begin. Immanuel International is part of AICEME: Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East. Every year we share in a pastors' conference and a youth conference. Churches take turns hosting and it was our turn to host the Youth Conference. North Park University generously partnered with us in order to bring campus Pastor Judy Peterson over to do the speaking and our colleague, Chris Peterson, coordinated the rest. (no relationship between these Petersons!)He empowered our worship leader, Rigael Drake, to coordinate the worship music experiences with our youth and he spent hours working with the kids, helping them learn music, catch a vision for leading worship and putting together a great band. They did an awesome job. Because of our great facility, we decided to make all of the meals at church. Chris found 3 people in our fellowship who were willing to cook and coordinate the meal service and then had sign ups for volunteers to set up, serve and clean up, including doing all the dishes for 130 plus people for 5 meals. The food was delicious and it went flawlessly.
Students and leaders from 10 different countries gathered at Immanuel Church on Thursday evening and after a great opening meal, we enjoyed an awesome start. The band was incredible and Judy really set the tone by introducing her topic of Shalom...in a nutshell...being at peace with God and others. The kids responded beautifully and we were off to a great start.
The rest of the weekend unfolded beautifully as volunteers continued to show up and execute their tasks, our youth continued to understand what it means to host an event and create a hospitable environment and Judy kept bringing the Word of God in a fresh and funny manner. Over the course of the weekend, the students were challenged to be real with God and one another, participated in an experience of praying for one another and being honest about what they'd like prayer for, sung their hearts out and built relationships with one another that are sure to endure!
The fun and games of the weekend were great too with the students running around our fair city doing tasks and looking for clues, singing outside of the Opera House and taking goofy photographs! The Talent Show on Saturday night was epic...you had to be there to truly appreciate how great it was!
One of the things that I was most impressed with was the way in which our youth stepped up and took a significant amount of responsibility upon their shoulders. They made funny videos to introduce different aspects of our church facility and welcome the attenders to the conference. They baked welcoming treats for the guests. They set up a cozy cafe where people could snack and chill out. They were servants of the deepest kind and did not in any way exhibit a "serve me" attitude but rather understood that they were there to serve and welcome others. And they did it with joy and energy and enthusiasm.
So many from our church stepped up to make this event flawless in its execution and a warm and welcoming place for our guests. Our church offered a place of grace and hospitality, gave generously of time and energy across the entire weekend in order to create a place where youth and leaders alike could see the body of Christ in action. For me, it was one of those pastoral moments that you kind of live for...seeing your church fruitfully living out so much of what you hope and pray for. I was so deeply touched by the servant attitude that just oozed from every corner of our congregation. It has really boosted my spirits and made my cup overflow with joy. I love my church and I must say...the youth of Immanuel International have an even more special place in my heart than they did before...which is saying something because I really loved them before the conference! They are a special and unique bunch who have learned that serving is fun and that it is a true gift to give to others. Thank you Immanuel International...all of you who gave and gave and gave of yourselves and in return have received the blessing of our Lord. Isn't it great?!!