Living Out an eXtreme Commitment
by Annika and Josh Cowing –
How can young adults in The Salvation Army live their lives in such an extreme way that they will bring others to Christ and effect a lasting change on current popular culture? This was the question asked of delegates at the eXtreme ’98…life on the edge conference, held recently at Pasadena Tabernacle.
The event was geared toward young adults to inspire in them a passion for Christ and for serving him through The Salvation Army. Two hundred and fifty delegates from each of the United States territories, Canada, and Australia journeyed to Pasadena to take part in this event.
Guest speakers included Dr. Tony Campolo, Major Chick Yuill, Captains Geoff and Sandra Ryan, and Phil Wall and members of the UK Mission Team. The focus this year was on “missions,” and the speakers challenged delegates to consider the mission God has planned for each of them. The weekend included intense periods of praise and worship led by Sara Nordenberg of the UK Mission Team, and Tustin Ranch’s worship band PraiseWorks. Sarah Grace, an associate from the UK Mission Team, offered dramatic presentations that were both clever and thought-provoking.
After the life-changing impact of eXtreme…beyond the call in October 1997, plans began forming to make this an annual event. Andrew Hill was selected to coordinate eXtreme ’98. “After being involved as a delegate last year and seeing the powerful change it made in many people’s lives, God placed it on my heart that this was something that he wanted me to work on full-time,” Andrew explains. “That meant staying in Pasadena, away from family, friends, and a really secure career back in Australia. But it was the only step I knew I could make.”
For delegates who attended both the ’97 and ’98 eXtreme weekends, this year built on the foundations laid last year. Hill noted, “[eXtreme…beyond the call] was a real shock to us as conservative Salvationists and it made us realize that we had to be completely authentic and completely radical for Jesus.” Susan Barton added that eXtreme ’98 was different in that, “it was kind of scarier this year, I think, because I knew what I was going into. You kind of think, ‘OK God, I know you’re really going to talk to me this weekend but do I really want to know what you’re going to say to me?’ Because I experienced last year’s the way I did, however, it gave me a stepping stone from which to go to the next level.”
Attendance at the inaugural eXtreme conference was by no means a prerequisite for a full and complete weekend at eXtreme ’98. It was clear from the beginning what the weekend was going to be powerful in itself, and that little, if any, reference would be made to the events of the previous year. Phil Wall explained at the opening session that this weekend would not be an escape, but would confront the delegates with the harsh reality of a world that does not know God. It was apparent that this would not be a conference of “weekend religion,” but rather a time of examining each delegate’s level of personal commitment to a lost world. Russell Rook of the UK Mission Team was the main speaker that evening. “Some of us will crucify what Jesus says to us this weekend,” he said. “At 9 a.m. on Monday it will be gone. We’ve all done it before.” Hence, the challenge had been put forth: to take the lessons learned over the weekend and apply them in a real-world setting.
The following morning, Dr. Campolo, professor of Sociology at Eastern College in Pennsylvania and well-known evangelical speaker, challenged delegates in a like manner, focusing on the “Field of Dreams” philosophy held by many churches who believe “if you build it, they will come.” He reminded delegates that Jesus says, “You go.” His prayer was that “we might be a people who love God in such a way that the world is turned upside-down.”
That evening, Wall defined extreme for the delegates as “being distinct in the mundane.” He focused on workplace evangelism and the need for Christian influence, particularly in areas that affect popular culture, such as business, media and the arts. He also spoke out against the existence of a Christian subculture that separates Christians from the secular world, and precludes Christian influence on that world.
Captain Sandra Ryan related her experiences as a Salvation Army officer serving in Russia. She shared openly the effect that missionary service has had on her faith. As she explained to delegates, she realized quickly in Russia that there is no way to know if your faith is real until it has been tested without a safety net. It is this kind of test that is going to face each of the delegates if they really commit themselves to an extreme faith in Christ.
Later that same day, Pasadena Tabernacle Corps Officer Major Chick Yuill spoke on the topic of “discovering the edge.” He explained that the edge begins here and now; it is not tied to a specific location or area of service, but rather is a position at the front of God’s Army. He reminded delegates that we all have to go back to our hometowns and home corps and live the life of extreme Christians.
It was Captain Geoff Ryan who offered perhaps the most extreme challenge of the weekend to delegates. He called to task the commitments made by attendees of the 1997 conference, and asked them to consider whether the commitments were in fact being honored. He went on to explain that “mission” is something that lasts a lifetime, and something that consumes every area of your life. He, like Sandra, used examples of his own experiences in Russia to illustrate what it means to live out an extreme commitment to God.
In the concluding session, Wall asked the delegates what they were going to do with the commitments they made that weekend. He offered suggestions to help delegates develop a level of sustainability “whereby the covenants we’ve made, the decisions we’ve made, and the things that we’ve learned can become part of who we are rather than a memory that we own.” He focused on the story from Matthew 14 where Jesus walks on the water, and emphasized that “this world is going to be changed by Christians who walk on the water, not Christians who stay in the boat.” He recognized that sustaining this kind of commitments is an act of the will, but reminded delegates that Jesus is not asking us to do anything he has not done before.
Delegates had opportunities throughout the weekend to interact with speakers in a more intimate setting during several “breakout sessions” which brought smaller groups together to discuss specific issues. These included Radical Christianity, Missions Overseas, Missions at Home, The Ethical Minefield, Creative Arts, A Christian’s Response to Homosexuality, Recreating our Culture, and others. In addition, a new feature was added to eXtreme ’98 in the form of a pre-conference leadership workshop held prior to the regular conference. The workshop featured several local speakers, including Bill Flinn, chief operating officer of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses and Songster Leader at Pasadena Tabernacle; Emily Seiler, Pasadena Tabernacle small group coordinator; and Keith Spencer, who spoke on praise and worship.
Also introduced was Wall’s new mission project, entitled “Hope 10/10.” The goal of this program is to raise enough money to support the ongoing work of two homes for children living with AIDS in South Africa. Phil distributed to each delegate a $10 bill from money that he and his wife borrowed on a personal loan. He then challenged them to turn the $10 into $100 in 10 days or $1000 in 10 weeks using creative fundraising. Many of the delegates accepted this challenge, and will continue to work towards this goal.
Although the event was hosted by Pasadena Tabernacle, support was received from several outside donors. Southern California Divisional Headquarters, Golden State Divisional Headquarters, and Del Oro Divisional Headquarters deserve special thanks for their financial contributions and practical support. There were also donations given from private donors within the community.
Flyers for next year’s conference, eXtreme ’99…reaching the lost were distributed, and registrations are now being accepted.
But the question remains: was eXtreme ’98…life on the edge truly a success? When asked, Wall replied, “I think it was successful in the sense that technically the thing went well; aesthetically and experientially, people had a great time. In terms of decisions made and their long-term impact…the jury’s still out on that one.”