Keegan Smith is one of our yOUTH advisors. After he returned from taking our youth to the Middle School Retreat in Maryville, TN, he wrote the reflection below. And that's Keegan being Keegan in the first photo.
"Hope is Happening” This phrase was the central message at the Middle School Montreat Conference this past week. This conference hosted over 600 youth from across the nation from numerous churches, who all came and were given the opportunity to grow in their faith. The week consisted of activities, small group discussions, back home groups, recreation, worship and understanding how “Hope is Happening” all around us, both as youth and leaders. These 5 days, at a small college in the middle of Maryville, Tennessee, had an enormous impact on the youth at DTC as well as myself.
At the start of the trip, I quickly began to realize that our youth were more introverted than extraverted and I worried that they may feel out of place at a conference focused on extraverted activities, meeting people, and having discussion about Jesus. Man, did God show me that I was wrong! After the first day, I had to start directing our youth to the dining hall, or to activities because they were so engulfed in conversations with people from their small groups. It became evident that our youth had quickly stepped out of their comfort zones and had made numerous friends throughout the conference. It was a blessing to see how God opened our youth up to trying this new experience. They continued to become more involved as the conference went on. At the end of the week, several small group leaders came up and complimented our youth on how great they were during group time, as well as how quickly they seemed to make friends.
Over the week, I learned that our youth have numerous talents. Logan was all in during the conference. He got onto stage during one of the activities to show off some dance moves and then showed us how he can rap 6 words a second. Zoe surprised me by how quickly she met new people and how kindly the other leaders at the conference spoke of her, as well as her great enthusiasm during energizers. Joseph showcased his love of rock music, drawing and an app on his iPad called Clash of Clans (this was a major bonding point between him and the other middle school boys at the conference). Madeline instantly showed off her love of art and knowledge of bands/script writers in discussions with her friends in small group. The youth continued to teach me that you can relate to anyone if you are willing to put the time and effort. They clicked with each other and those we traveled with from Forest Lake Presbyterian Church.
The youth loved going to the conference and when we were leaving they kept saying, “Next year when we come back, we should….” They listed ideas, talking about doing a talent show act, seeing friends they made this year, and how excited they were about the theme for next year. It was easy to see that the Lord had grown their faith through the week. I believe that this week at Middle School Montreat grew our youth closer to one another and brings me hope/excitement for the impact that they will have on DTC youth this fall. I look forward to them, as well as other DTC youth, going back next year to grow even more through deeper relationships with one another as they enter the conference.
This conference, even though it was youth focused, caused me to grow in way I never expected. I grew a better understanding of middle school ministry, learning that it is extremely beneficial to take time to rest to keep up with their energy, and how their questions/ideas make you think about faith in ways you may not expect. Throughout the week, Back Home Leaders (the adults like me that brought youth) talked about how they were humbled by the Lord working in the youth and showing that even as leaders, we are not in complete control but God is. God showed me that “Hope is Happening” both in the youth at DTC and across the nation. Sometimes, this hope and the largest changes are more easily seen when you sit back and watch the Lord move before you; and man, did he move in big ways this week.
One of these passages we studied really spoke to me. In Isaiah 11:1-9, one of the pastors, Claudia, talked about how a child shall lead (verse 6) and how adults will see the child as a leader. At first, I was completely caught off guard. I have been reading through Isaiah on my own recently and had skimmed over this passage. I didn’t think a child could lead an adult, so the message continued to sit with me. After some thought, it hit me, Jesus was the greatest leader of all time but was first a baby. This baby showed glory and caused the wise men to not return to Herod but to travel a different direction. As a child, Jesus was found preaching in a synagogue to teachers of the law by his parents. Why do we not believe a child can lead us? Their ideas, questions and comments lead us to think through our own faith in ways we may never have thought before. In that way they lead us, adults, to grow our own faith even if it is unintentional. Claudia titled this sermon, “Hope is…” and I would finish it by say “our youth” because without them, I would not have grown in my faith this week. I think it is also important to know the closing question posed to the you, “If not you, who?” Claudia further empowered the youth by saying they did have the power to make a difference, giving examples of kids such as Kid President, and Malala Yousafzai, showing that their faith as middle schoolers can change the world and lead others toward God. I cannot wait to see how the youth bring back all of the lessons they learned or how they continue to help me grow in my faith, learning more about myself and youth ministry next year.