National Divisional Youth Leaders Conference held in Texas
Trained and encouraged
by Lisa R. Smith, Captain –
Early this month 120 divisional and territorial youth leaders from all over North America gathered for the National Divisional Youth Leaders Conference at Camp Hoblitzelle in Midlothian, Texas. The purpose for the gathering? To equip and encourage youth leaders from the four U.S. territories and Canada for the strategic ministry that is theirs: developing young people into lifelong followers of Jesus as soldiers in The Salvation Army.
Set in the beautiful surroundings of a Texas ranch, complete with horses and longhorn cattle, delegates enjoyed a program packed with teaching, inspiration, prayer, worship and opportunities for networking.
The conference kicked off with a Texas barbecue and program including Commissioners William and Marilyn Francis, territorial commanders of Canada, riding into the outdoor campfire setting on horseback.
Commissioner Marilyn testified to the faithfulness of God in her life and ministry as she recognized DYSs in the crowd that had been part of her flock in her days as a divisional youth leader. Commissioner William Francis challenged the group with a theme that would be often repeated throughout the week: “What young people need most from you is your personal holiness.”
General Shaw Clifton sent his own message to the group by means of video, speaking to conference delegates from his IHQ office. “I’m very pleased that the event is taking place. I think it’s a very strong, significant signal that we value you as officers and youth leaders and that we place a very high priority upon the young people of today’s Salvation Army.”
He urged the assembly to remember the younger children and to make sure not to settle for merely bringing them to the Army to entertain them. “God speaks to children when they’re still at very tender years…Let’s lead them into a very definite experience of Christ and show them how marvelous it is to accept Christ as savior and make their public witness as junior soldiers.”
The General also mentioned how he thanks God for what he is seeing in Salvationist teens and young adults. “Many of our young people are on fire for Christ, active in the life of prayer, hungry for Scripture and passionate about sharing their faith.” He continued, reminding the group that “God is speaking to many of our young people about becoming officers in the Salvation Army,” recognizing the important role divisional youth leaders have in helping young people on their journey to this holy calling.
Speakers and workshops
The ensuing conference days were spent absorbing teaching on important and cutting edge youth ministry topics as well as enjoying fellowship during meals, networking sessions and informal sharing times. Morning and evening general sessions included the Southern Territory’s Marty Mikles and transMission leading in worship, using updated versions of well loved Army songs such as “I Know a Fount” and “From a Hill I Know.” Other highlights of general sessions included the drama, music and Scripture presentations by the Eastern Territory’s Arts Ministries Team, led by Carol Jaudes.
Each general session also featured outstanding speakers who shared from their youth work expertise. Aaron White, dynamic speaker and leader of 614 in Vancouver, BC, spoke on prayer and the importance of youth involvement in the 24/7 prayer movement that is sweeping the globe. Lieutenants Steve and Sharon Bussey, current leaders of the Railton School for Youth Worker Training in New York gave an overview of historic effective methods of Salvation Army youth ministry from its origins in 1866 and how we can capitalize on those ideas for our youth work today. Larry Acosta of the Urban Youth Worker Institute shared his expertise on developing young people into leaders.
Commissioner M. Christine MacMillan discussed her work with international social justice issues, work that appeals to the upcoming generation and draws many of them into our mission.
Workshop topics, among others, included creative ministry, young adult discipleship, developing young leaders, media and youth ministry.
The conference culminated with a time of prayer and commitment after Spirit-filled preaching by Dr. Coffee Washington of Trinity International University in Chicago, Ill. and a final challenge by conference chaplains Majors Bob and Donna Green from the Eastern Territory. The mercy seat was lined with youth leaders rededicating themselves to their ministry.
The benefits of the conference were many, but most agree the networking with other DYSs was one of the paramount takeaways. “It was a blessing to be able to share in the camaraderie of fellow DYSs—networking, sharing and encouraging one on another,” said Captain AnnMarguerite Jones of the Intermountain Division. “I left the conference a better officer with a clearer vision and a deeper passion to see young people come to Christ and young adults fulfill their callings.”
Captain Rob Reardon of the Northwest Division commented, “In a North American setting there are so many similarities across the board that it is an effective expenditure of both time and money to invest in the development and encouragement of DYSs.”
“Our DYSs have just come off of the frontlines of a strategic summer camp ministry where, in our territory alone, more than a thousand children have made decisions for Christ,” stated Captain Kyle Smith, territorial youth secretary. “Really, the importance of their ministry cannot be overstated.”