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YouthLink organizers close books on SBC’s largest youth gathering

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–YouthLink 2000, a Southern Baptist-sponsored millennial celebration for youth at the end of December 1999, resulted in more than 15,000 public decisions for Christian service and reached 46,081 young people at a total investment of $9.3 million, final figures show.

Financial accounting on the seven-city event was completed in early August, indicating participant registrations accounted for $2.7 million of that investment, with the balance of $6.6 million invested by denominational sponsors. LifeWay Christian Resources provided 43.89 percent; the International Mission Board, 37.85 percent; the North American Mission Board, 15.52 percent; and Woman’s Missionary Union, 2.74 percent.

The Dec. 29-31, 1999, event involved young people meeting in arenas and conference centers to worship and listen to speakers and musical groups emphasizing the need to reach the world with the gospel. They also participated in hands-on mission activities.

Gatherings in Anaheim, Calif.; Atlanta; Denver; Houston; Philadelphia; St. Louis, Mo.; and Tampa, Fla., were linked by satellite for special features. Live satellite feeds from the Holy Land were included several times during the conference.

A total of 9,131 students made decisions saying that they were willing to be a missionary if God called them, and 4,985 said that they felt God was calling them into full-time Christian ministry.

In addition, more than 4,000 promised they would spend a summer, semester or year doing God’s work full time before they graduate from college. North American Mission Board officials reported increases in several youth summer mission programs this year, and the International Mission Board anticipates growth in 2001, when groups will have had time since their YouthLink experience to plan international projects.

While organizers had hoped for nearly 200,000 youth, budgeting for the event was based on 132,000 participants. The lower-than-expected turnout was attributed to fears of Y2K-related computer problems, prompting many parents and churches to avoid youth activities involving travel surrounding New Year’s Day.

James T. Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said he believes “the investment by our denomination of $143 for each of these young people for a three-day conference represented a commitment to the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. I regret that so many others missed this opportunity out of Y2K fears that proved unjustified.”

Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, said, “We had prayed that as many as 10,000 young people would make commitments to missionary service out of the initial projection of over 200,000 participants. Even with the lower attendance, for more than 9,000 to offer their lives for missionary service was evidence that God was at work.

“We are grateful the IMB could be a part of rallying the next generation of missionaries and church leaders to a passionate focus on God as they enter the 21st century,” Rankin said.

North American Mission Board President Robert E. Reccord said, “YouthLink showed us the overwhelming openness of our youth to his leading. We’ve also seen a 76 percent increase in semester missionaries, a 40 percent increase in Sojourners, and World Changer participation this summer was up 30 percent,” he said.

“I think we’re on the verge of one of the greatest movements in history of young people being on mission. While some may question what programs like YouthLink cost, I want to know what it will cost the Kingdom if we don’t challenge this generation to sacrificially serve him,” Reccord said.

WMU Executive Director Wanda Lee expressed gratitude “that Woman’s Missionary Union had a part in what we believe are life-changing commitments made by Southern Baptist youth at YouthLink.

“In many churches, the Acteens organizations are stronger,” she said, “because young women had the opportunity to interact with missionaries and denominational leaders; to participate in hands-on missions projects; to hear testimonies of other committed young people; and to have fellowship with young women from different cultures within the United States. Our prayer is that the efforts and financial resources of WMU will bear fruit for years to come.”
Mark Kelly of the International Mission Board, Marty King of the North American Mission Board contributed to this story.

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  • Charles Willis