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Young king inspires modern audience

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It is perhaps fitting that an obscure 8-year-old king is the inspiration behind an emerging student initiative.

Although the biblical account of King Josiah is often overshadowed in Sunday School classes by his more prominent ancestors such as David and Solomon, he nevertheless completely revolutionized the culture of his kingdom in a way no one before or after him did.

That is exactly what those behind the movement called Josiah Road hope to accomplish as well. Its motto — “Calling All Students to Influence, Stand, and Lead” — is outlined at www.josiahroad.com.

The idea for the ministry took shape at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The ERLC is most widely known for its work on cultural issues and public policy. Josiah Road is an effort to encourage the next generation of leaders to stand up and lead out as Christ-followers in the student community.

The Josiah Road ministry extended its reach recently with the release of a five-part student Bible study of the principles gleaned from the biblical account of Josiah.

Harold Harper, executive vice president at the ERLC, connected with the story of King Josiah through the challenges of raising children in what he called a “morally bankrupt society.”

“I’m just a parent trying to raise my son and daughter in a culture that scares me to death,” Harper told Baptist Press. “But I find hope in the story of King Josiah.”

The account to which Harper was drawn is striking indeed. The book of 2 Chronicles records that Josiah was only 8 years old when he became king of a land filled with idol worship practices that were encouraged by many of the kings before him. At the age of 16, “he began to seek the God of his father David” (2 Chronincles 34:3). As a teenager, Josiah tore down the idols in Judah, restored the temple of God, celebrated the Passover and presided over the rediscovery of the Book of the Law.

It may be said that Josiah singlehandedly transformed a culture that worshiped idols to one that worshiped the true God, a stunning achievement that inspired the genesis of this ministry in his name in the 21st century.

Josiah Road officially began at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio as a Web-based ministry to point students to the story of King Josiah, who accomplished great things for God even though he was very young.

“My son Luke really wanted to be a leader, but he was all alone at age 13,” Harper said. “Here I could point him to a young man who was a leader at age 8. We learn all through Scripture that God uses young people.”

The hope is that once students see how Josiah stood for the Lord amidst a crooked generation, they will be motivated to do the same, Harper said.

To accomplish this, Josiah Road hosts on its website devotional-style blogs written by students, as well as news stories and videos about students who are actively leading.

“We want to give a place for students and youth pastors to be encouraged, to find resources,” said Josh Ulmer, project coordinator for Josiah Road. “A lot of times, parents and other adults say they want students to lead but don’t give them the platform and encourage them along.”

The new five-part Bible study, available for download from the Josiah Road website, is designed for youth pastors or student leaders to go through in small groups.

Harper’s son Luke, who helped write the study, hopes it will create a new generation of Josiahs in young men and women his age. “I hope they see they have that potential,” he said. “I want to open their eyes, to say all students, ‘This guy led a nation at the age of 8.'”

Jody Johnston, a 19-year-old student preparing to enter college, would never admit it, but he is exactly the kind of leader Josiah Road hopes to create, Harper said. Bold in his witness and confident in the Lord, Johnston, who writes for Josiah Road, noted how the ministry has impacted his life.

“Josiah Road has connected me to other modern-day Josiahs,” Johnston said. “It has revived me in those times when I was struggling and it has challenged me to grow.”

Johnston believes that today’s students must act to change their culture, which is why he views the story of Josiah as so important. “Just as Josiah changed what he saw was wrong in his world, so we are to do in our world,” Johnston said. “It is so vital, because if we do not act for the things we believe in, then our beliefs are worthless.”

Harper prefers a behind-the-scenes role in Josiah Road, hoping to leave the initiative to students to develop and grow.

“I want to create a place that shows other students who are standing, to create a movement of students serious about living out their faith, who want to be true followers of Christ,” he said.

Johnston agreed that students themselves must take radical stances for Christ if they want to change the world around them.

“I hope that God will soften the hearts of my stone-hearted generation to see that how old we are has never mattered, and that we are always capable of doing great things for the Kingdom of heaven,” he said.
John Evans was a summer intern with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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  • John Evans