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Storms, new cultures impact youth lab

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Tornado-spawning thunderstorms prompted participants at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2007 Youth Ministry Lab to go underground to worship Jesus Christ, who calms the storms.

Soon after the lab’s opening worship service began on April 13, tornado sirens near the seminary campus sounded. YML staffers quickly and calmly ushered the Truett Auditorium’s capacity crowd into the basement below Scarborough and Fleming halls. In a scene that brought to mind the first-century church meeting underground in catacombs, worship leader Joel Engle then walked among the youth ministers, volunteers and youth hunkered along the walls of the basement, leading them in worship. Other attendees huddled in groups for prayer.

“There is nothing like a good ol’ tornado to wake up the people of God,” guest speaker Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, said after the tornado threat had passed. “Then we come in and start speaking about the greatness of God, and all of a sudden, you are thinking, ‘I really believe that now!'”

Matte said he had read Luke 8 just that morning, the account in which Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The passage came back to mind as he sat among worshippers during the tornado warning.

“Christ rebuked the wind and the waves, but He didn’t rebuke the disciples,” Matte said. Instead, Christ called his disciples to examine their faith and realize who He was. Matte urged lab participants to remember this lesson as they proceeded with the conference.

The following day, teenage lab participants woke up to the reality of the “underground church” through a “reality missions experience.” In buses and vans, they were driven to Mainstay Farm in Burleson, Texas, a 75-acre spread surrounded by low-lying hills and covered with 6,000 Christmas trees. Over the brow of one hill, the teens were greeted by a area designed like a small farmhouse and barn. “Welcome to the Rural World” was painted onto one wall in the area. The phrase was an appropriate description for the event.

All across the farm, YML volunteers and representatives from the seminary’s World Mission Center and local churches had set up mock villages and multi-cultural experiences where the teens could learn to share the Gospel across cultures such as China, North Korea, Thailand, Botswana and Nigeria. The teens also experienced life in a Muslim village and learned about followers of Hinduism.

“The purpose of the reality missions experience was to expose the students to other major cultures existing in our world in a real-time sense, involving people from the culture in their own cultural setting,” said Johnny Derouen, an organizer of the event and associate professor of student ministry at Southwestern. “Our prayer was that God would step in and use this experience to give them a heart for the nations and for some to respond to God’s call for short- or long-term missions.”

At one station, teens learned about the persecution leveled against Christians in North Korea. They were given the opportunity to worship in a simulated underground church -— similar to underground churches that exist in closed countries all over the world today.

Travis Carver, a teen YML participant from Timber Crest Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, was impressed to think about the faithfulness of North Korean believers.

“They are strong about their faith even though they know that they can die any day,” Carver said. “They can be caught. Somebody could turn them in. They know that there is danger…. They love Jesus so much that it does not even matter to them. That is just pretty intense how they love God so much.”

These cross-cultural experiences may help stabilize the teens’ faith, said Otlaadisa (Jack) Rantho, a volunteer at the Botswana village who is pursing a master’s degree at Southwestern; he is a native of Botswana, where he has planted several churches.

Because many kids leave the church when they go to college, Rantho said, “But if you can teach them and show them the bigger picture, they realize, ‘You know, Christianity is not just about my home church, because I can see other cultures where people are being killed because they are looking for Jesus.'”

Jim Wilson, the owner of the Mainstay Farm, called the missions experience an “awesome, tremendously organized” event.

“Our farm is never happier than when we have believers on the farm in this number,” Wilson said. “It’s just a phenomenal joy to me, my wife Marianna, and our girls to have our friends here. … Whenever there is something that we can help with, we want to help.”

According to YMLs organizers, this year’s 1,312 lab participants represented 321 churches from 24 states, including churches in Florida, Wyoming, Maryland, Michigan and Hawaii. During the conference, three teens received Christ; 22 participants recommitted their lives to Christ; 66 committed to either short-term or long-term missions; and 69 responded to a call to vocational ministry.

    About the Author

  • Benjamin Hawkins