PHILADELPHIA (BP)–While most of the activity related to the seven-city YouthLink 2000 event was inside the arena and conference center venues, thousands of youth participated in a variety of ministry projects throughout host cities.
The Dec. 29-31 event — sponsored by Southern Baptist agencies and state conventions — was held simultaneously in Atlanta, Anaheim, Calif.; Denver; St. Louis, Mo.; Philadelphia; Tampa, Fla.; and Houston.
The ministry projects at each site were conducted Thursday and Friday afternoons of the event. The projects included everything from 700 youth doing door-to-door visitation in St. Louis to hundreds more preparing rice bags in Houston for displaced families from the recent flooding in Venezuela.
Smaller groups at each YouthLink site worked on renovation projects at homes, churches and local ministry centers; gave blood at site-sponsored blood drives; visited shut-ins at retirement centers and nursing homes; and witnessed one-on-one with people on city streets.
In Atlanta, 20 youth and leaders from Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Dothan, Ala., visited the city’s central rapid transit station to hand out subway tokens to passersby. Each student had three tokens each to give to three individuals.
Paul Carnes, 15, said the experience gave him the opportunity to witness to different kinds of people than he would find in his hometown, specifically noting homeless individuals and internationals.
Jeremy Patterson, 12, added, “This is one of the best opportunities we’ll have to show people God’s love.”
In Philadelphia, about 900 eager teenagers left the secure environs of the Philadelphia Marriott for a few hours of hands-on work at 22 locations across the city. They started renovations at a private residence, painted walls at a public school, and distributed food to hungry people.
Patricia B. Kennedy, owner of a small two-story tenement in south Philadelphia, accepted the assistance of a half dozen YouthLinkers December 30 through a partnership with the Eighteenth Street Development Corp., a Christian community service organization.
With guidance from ESDC director David L. Heaton, the teens learned the use of a power saw and other carpentry equipment, thus developing the same skills that their mentor, Jesus Christ, learned 2,000 years ago as a youth. They also observed first-hand the difficulty of the urban poor, as they set out to construct a bedroom closet so Kennedy’s home could be better organized.
“It was a good experience because we were able to help other people while showing our love for Christ and his people,” commented Elizabeth Varon, 14, of Union City, New Jersey, who was developing carpentry skills for the first time.
Kennedy, a former Jehovah’s Witness who is African-American, expressed appreciation for the young volunteers, saying, “I’m surprised! I didn’t think there would be so many people. I’m happy! It’s good to see the younger ones learning the skills I wish I had learned.”
“I knew it was the Lord moving in a mighty way to get this done,” observed Kennedy. It’s important to her because if she can demonstrate that she provides a stable home environment, Kennedy expects that her two young children will finally be returned to her from foster care.
Other YouthLink participants were busy on the other end of the city at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, a magnet school for the brightest of Philadelphia’s youth.
They painted several classrooms in the 50-year-old former elementary school, brightening the place with both paint and their smiles, showing their appreciation for the learning that takes place there.
Assistant Principal Steven Miller said it is the first time he can recall in 27 years as an educator that a church-based group has volunteered at the public school. “I think it’s fantastic that they would volunteer their time to help the Philadelphia Public Schools,” he said.
Courtney Bickers, 12, of Thailia Lynn Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, Va., said of the pre-millennial painting outreach, “It’s fun because we’re helping out other people. One day I might need help… God wants us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Quoting the Golden Rule, Bickers said she is an experienced painter, having worked on her grandparents’ house.
Dan Hinst, mission projects chair for Tampa YouthLink, said students from 89 of the approximately 220 churches participating in the conference pre-registered for afternoon mission projects at 103 different sites.
At University Mall, youth provided stage entertainment including drama, mime, puppetry and clowning. Others worked in customer service and served as greeters, sporting red “volunteer” ribbons.
Teri Brown, First Baptist Church, Lafayette, La., and a student at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, worked at the customer service desk. “We’ve been telling some of the girls (employees) about Christ, showing them a smile and that God loves them,” Brown said.
In the largest project in Tampa, Hinst said students conducted community surveys, discovering prospects for 20 Tampa area churches. Church teams involved in the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy will do follow-up visitation with the prospects.
Other students assisted at a nursing home and helped with construction and landscaping projects at two children’s homes.
Also, several hundred students were involved in prayer walks at 36 schools in the Tampa area. Dave Keem, a sponsor from First Baptist Church, Hinesville, Ga., said he and 27 other students and adults conducted an afternoon prayer walk around James Buchanan Middle School in Tampa.
“We divided into six groups-at least one adult in each group. To hear the students express their concerns was pretty awesome,” Keem said.
They concluded the prayerwalk with a group prayer time at the school flagpole. Keem said they plan to send the group photo to the school to let students and faculty know they prayed on Dec. 30 and will continue to pray for the school over the next year.
James Dotson, Dan Nicholas, Linda Lawson, Marv Knox, Lonnie Wilkey and Greg Heyman contributed to this report.