The following article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-19 of the August 24, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.
How can you hold the attention of over 600 high school students for five days? It helps to prohibit personal electronics such as cell phones, computers, iPods, and video games. Many young people at a recent RYS Convention undoubtedly experienced some measure of technology withdrawal, most likely thumbs twitching to text.
But the electronics prohibition frees young people from many distractions and helps them focus on their personal relationship to Christ and Christian fellowship with others.
The largest number of young people from the most churches ever converged on the campus of Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA, to attend the 11th RYS Convention from July 25-29, 2011. Add 190 sponsors (leaders), speakers, and staff to the 623 high school students for a remarkable total of 813 attendees. They represented 60 congregations from URCNA, OPC, PCA, RCUS, and independent Reformed churches.
Fifty-nine people attended from Trinity Reformed Church (URCNA) inLethbridge,AB, making it the largest ever delegation from a single congregation. That number consisted of 46 youth and 10 sponsors, Rev. Wybren Oord (a workshop speaker), as well as two members of the convention committee (Ed & Darlene Van Dellen).
According to RYS Director, Edward DeGraaf, the convention’s centralized location and the lowest registration fee since 2005 contributed to the record-breaking participation.
The convention theme, Under Construction, was based on Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
That theme carried through in sessions and workshops that focused on building and strengthening faith in Jesus Christ. Session speakers were Rev. Jason Tuinstra, pastor of Bethel URC in Jenison, MI, and Rev. Bob VanManen (aka “Bob the Builder”), pastor of Little Farms OPC in Marne, MI. Their back-and-forth banter enlivened and entertained. Their presentation of biblical truth convicted and edified.
Organizers assigned young people to attend five workshops based as much as possible on personal preferences indicated when registering. Twelve workshop leaders addressed various topics of interest to young people.
You might imagine young people grudgingly attending scheduled workshops or zoning out during them, coming to life again during times of fellowship and fun; however, that was not the case. I saw lively high school students enjoying friendship building activities, but I also witnessed engaged young people soaking up faith enriching instruction. Many young people with whom I spoke mentioned the biblical teaching as their favorite part of convention.
The predominant attitude of those who have attended more than one convention was perhaps best expressed by Sam DeGroot, from Sioux Center URC, who attended his fourth and last convention.
“When I began,” he said, “I really liked the people, and workshops were almost secondary. Now I have a deep love for the teaching. It’s not very often we students get to this level.”
Marina Jelsma (also from Sioux Center URC) and Lori Versteeg (Immanuel URC in Listowel, ON) became friends when the two roomed together at their first convention four years ago.
“There are kids who come here who are apathetic about their faith and church, but they are moved by the speakers,” said Marina. “You realize your immaturity and feel yourself changing.”
“The workshops are fun,” adds Lori. “All the ministers keep it fun while we’re learning.”
Most workshop speakers were URCNA pastors; one was a PCA pastor and one was a pastor’s wife. Rev. Eric Tuininga, Immanuel’s Reformed Church in Salem, OR, dealt with purity and preparation for marriage in “How to Paint Your House White.” In “How to Talk to the Master Builder,” Rev. Wybren Oord, Trinity Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, described how to maximize devotional life. Rev. Bradd Nymeyer, Sioux Center URC in Sioux Center, IA, guided young people in maintaining a biblical balance through life’s “Job-site Hazards.” In “Come, Follow my Jesus with Me,” Rev. Jeff DeBoer, Hope Evangelical Church (PCA) in North Liberty, IA, probed what it really means to follow Jesus. Rev. Michael Schout, Grace URC in Alto, MI, discussed identity, contentment, and Christ in “It’s Cool to Be Me, Right?” In “God’s Regimen for Righteous Fruit,” Rev. Bill Boekestein, Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA, helped young people understand and appreciate God’s tools for disciplining His children. Based on Ephesians 6, Rev. Jody Lucero, Providence Reformed Church in Des Moines, IA, emphasized the reality of spiritual warfare and how to be equipped for battle. Rev. Kevin Efflandt, Zion URC in Ripon, CA, explored issues related to doubts during trials in “May Christians Question God?” In “Taming the Tongue—and Your Keyboard,” Rev. Doug Barnes, Hills URC in Hills, MN, considered differences between expressing faith and starting fires. Rev. Jeremy Veldman, New Haven URC encouraged young people to have “Maximum Impact” by loving others through the power of the gospel. Rev. Ed Marcusse and his wife, Denise, addressed guys and gals separately on the question of being “Yoked w/a Goat?” and urged them to consider this at the earliest stages of relationships. Every young person attended either the male or female version of this workshop.
“We shouldn’t date a non-Christian thinking we can evangelize them because it won’t work,” said Colton Kuyers (Faith URC; Holland, MI), commenting on the guy version of the “Yoked w/a Goat?” workshop. Even as a first time attendee, Colton appreciated the convention’s large amount of Christian teaching. “There were things I learned today and throughout the rest of the week that really made me think about my life.”
“These teachers are so passionate,” said Arianna Lindgren (Immanuel’s URC in Salem, OR). “This year especially there were so many workshops that were of benefit.”
Other favorite aspects of convention for her friend Hannah Lockman (also from Immanuel’s URC) were “that you feel like you’re in community with other people” and the Thursday evening Talent Show, which she described as “so much fun.”
“We’re all supportive because it takes guts to get up there,” Hannah said. “Everybody’s spirits get lifted.”
Thursday evening’s performances showcased an impressive array of talents. Musical gifts in particular were exhibited in pure sopranos, mature soloists, and extraordinary pianists. Rev. Rob Godfrey (Trinity URC; Visalia, CA) and Rev. Jeremy Veldman (New Haven URC; New Haven, VT) garnered lots of laughs and applause with their humorous performances. A musical highlight was a piano and cello duet performed by Ethan De Vries (Cornerstone URC; Hudsonville, MI) and Benji Jouing (Messiah’s Independent Reformed Church; Holland, MI), whose rapport conveyed a life-long friendship, but who had only met and begun working together two days earlier. The smile they exchanged before switching musical gears was priceless. The most unique treat of the evening was a skit performed by Sarah and Kaity Bergquist (New Life PCA in Escondido, CA), who capably played the roles of five different people. Many of Thursday evening’s acts generated standing ovations from the enthusiastic audience.
Another incredible group experience was the singing during worship times. Praising God with over 800 people packing Dordt’s B.J. Haan auditorium was a harbinger of heaven.
Due to the large number of convention attendees, meals were scheduled in shifts. Following the three-shift breakfast, guys or girls from different locations met for devotions in small, same-sex “SON-rise” groups, led by two sponsors. Late at night, all attendees and sponsors from the same church met to recap the day and close it with devotions in “SON-set” groups.
Days were additionally packed with a host of voluntary activities that ranged from playing volleyball or shooting hoops in the Rec Center, to swimming in the pool or swooping down water slides in the All Seasons Center, to throwing Frisbees or playing ladder toss on the lawn, to practicing for choir or competing in Jeopardy, to searching for items in a scavenger hunt or competing in Minute to Win It. Many students used free time to hang out together around campus or play games in the Campus Center.
Wednesday’s “Day Away” featured paintball and water fun at Wild Water West in Sioux Falls, SD. Most attendees were ready to crash by lights out at midnight each night. The only somber meals were on Friday, when the reality of the week’s end weighed on young minds and sleep deprivation caught up with even young bodies.
Pastor Rip Pratt, Youth & Family Pastor at New Life PCA in Escondido, who served as convention counselor and a worship leader, has ministered to young people and their families for 32 years. As a frequent speaker at youth conferences, he is qualified to compare the RYS convention to many others.
“This is my favorite,” he said. “It’s the most remarkable conference as far as level of spirituality, the quality of the teachers, and the quality of the kids. Other conferences often have serious discipline problems—which can be brutal—but that doesn’t happen here.”
Pastor Pratt’s daughter, Erin, was attending her fourth and final convention. His older two sons also attended RYS conventions.
“It’s been the highlight of their lives,” he said. “The boys went to Covenant College and already knew over 100 people when they got there because of RYS.”
“Seeing my dad at RYS and seeing that he is a man of faith and really walks for God has really blessed me,” said Erin. “But RYS has also shown me that my faith is my own and not my parents’ faith.”
It was the tenth convention for sponsor Diane Vande Kamp (Hills URC; Hills, MN). She and husband, Greg, served on the convention committee for the three previous years.
“From the first convention, I was hooked,” she said. “I left feeling so blessed that we have godly ministers and we can hear the things they present from God’s holy word; things we can take back home. We are blessed to have this teaching, and the singing, and the fellowship. I love young people and I love seeing the next generation of our church.”
At the end of Friday morning’s slide show highlighting pictures from the week, the boisterous audience reached fever pitch as the closely guarded secret of next year’s location was revealed: Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA, July 23-27, 2012.