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YouthLink participants voice personal commitments to God at dawn of 2000

ATLANTA (BP)–Thousands of YouthLink 2000 participants in seven major U.S. cities celebrated the turn of the millennium Dec. 31 by simultaneously shouting personal commitments to God.

In Atlanta, students sang the chorus “Shout to the Lord” after the spoken commitments, and the chorus led into a time of worshipful prayer. Then as the prayer ended, the party began — an explosion of fireworks and a concert by Christian rocker Russ Lee.

In Tampa, two dozen students carried white crosses from the back of the Ice Palace to the front of the platform. All over the arena, students hugged one another, sang and lifted their hands in praise to God. Tears flowed freely.

As balloons and confetti streamed from the ceiling, worship leader Eric Lovett shouted, “Turn to somebody and tell them you love them. Say Happy birthday, Jesus.”

The worship and celebration capped a three-day event intended to make a lifelong impact on the “millennial generation” of Southern Baptist youth. The event did have a significant impact on thousands of participants, according to the number of decisions reported by YouthLink 2000 co-chairs Dean Finley of the North American Mission Board and Richard Ross of LifeWay Christian Resources.

A total of 9,131 students made decisions saying that they were willing to be a missionary if God called them, 4,985 said that they felt God was calling them into full-time Christian ministry, and 1,492 made professions of faith in Christ.

Additionally, students gave over $100,000 in an offering for missions. Organizers said the money has been earmarked to fund Generation X churches in the YouthLink host cities, as well as international missions efforts among a particular “World A” group – a people group that has never before had an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel.

YouthLink 2000 was sponsored by four Southern Baptist Convention agencies — LifeWay Christian Resources, the International and North American mission boards and Woman’s Missionary Union — as well as state conventions affiliated with the SBC. Students participated from arenas and conference centers in Anaheim, Denver, Houston, St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Tampa.

Final registration for YouthLink was 46,081, well below the original projection of nearly 200,000. Organizers blamed the low turnout on the feared Y2K computer problems and predicted some groups who participated might leave early to avoid disruptions at the turn of the millennium.

However, reports indicated attendance remained strong at all sites through the final session. Also, no breaches of security were reported by any of the sites.

In addition to worship and celebration, the closing session also featured one of the signature events of YouthLink 2000 as evangelist Jay Strack addressed the students via satellite from the Holy Land, spanning the millennium.

“I’m already in the 21st century,” Strack said to students in four U.S. time zones still living in 1999. “We’re challenging you to be part of the army of God.”

With the sun rising over Jerusalem, Strack challenged students “to take a stand, once and for all. This is your time, students. It is time for you to stand.”

Similar satellite links with Strack were featured throughout YouthLink, as he spoke from historic sites in the Holy Land including the “Garden Tomb” outside of Jerusalem.

A “Global Link” also connected all of the stateside sites to each other in 30-minute segments each evening. During the links, the youth watched giant screens in each arena, seeing live action from each city.

At the start of the closing session in Tampa, students arrived wearing party hats and carrying laser pointers, confetti and noisemakers. Tipping blue beach balls from hand to hand was an added feature to the singing, clapping and standing of earlier praise and worship times.

But the mood had turned to commitment as speaker Voddie Baucham asked, “What will you do for God? If your purpose for being here tonight was to see who you could see or see how close you could get to the stage, then you’ve missed the whole point,” said Baucham, an itinerant preacher from Houston.

“I pray that this would not be the most incredible night in your life,” he said. “The most incredible night in your life ought to be the night the dream God puts in your heart comes to fruition,” he said. “The fact that you’re here means you’re expecting something great from God. We have yet to see what God can do with this generation.”

In Atlanta, speaker David Nassar said, “Some of you will always remember this night as the night you collided with God, not the change of the millennium.”

Similar inspirational challenges were heard by students at all seven sites throughout the event.

“The one thing everyone of us has in common tonight is that we are in need of a fresh movement of God in our lives,” said Dave Edwards, a youth speaker and writer from Oklahoma City. “That’s what Christianity is about — God doing something unique in your life that only he can do.”

In Denver, Josh McDowell of Campus Crusade Ministries challenged the YouthLink attendees to be more like Jesus in everything they do, even though they may not see the full picture of what they are called to do.

“At your age, you cannot even begin to comprehend the depth of the message [of Jesus],” McDowell said. “But you are needed for God’s purpose in a mighty way,” he added.

Music also was integral to the YouthLink experience. Students cheered, sang along and bounce-danced to ear-splitting, heart-pounding praise and worship led by local as well as nationally known Christian rock bands. In some sites, they laughed with a sprinkling of Christian comedians. And although the scene was often reminiscent of a rock concert, the message was different.

“I absolutely believe that true life is giving your life to Jesus,” gospel artist Rebecca St. James, a native of Australia now living in Franklin, Tenn., told the more than 5,000 in Tampa. “We need to take this conference as an opportunity to really get serious about our faith in God.”

St. James was one of several artists and speakers featured in YouthLink sessions at more than one location, flying from city to city.

In Atlanta, the lead singer of Smalltown Poets observed how impressive it was that the students were eager to express their faith in an often-frightening world. “You guys don’t seem to be afraid, and that’s cool,” he said.

Each afternoon, students also participated in local missions projects in each of the host cities. 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.

In the Dec. 31 morning session, YouthLink participants were challenged by leaders of both the North American and International mission boards to consider their role in fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ.

IMB president Jerry Rankin told the students, “All God is asking from you is your availability. Will you be a part of His will for reaching the lost world?”

Noting that Jeremiah was young when God called on him to make a difference in his culture, Bob Reccord, president of NAMB, said, “God is calling you to go into the United States and make a difference.”

Jimmy Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, told students during the first night’s live satellite link about the hundreds of thousands of Southern Baptists who were praying for them and of the 10 years of planning that went into making YouthLink 2000 a reality.

“We did it because we believe the future impact of Southern Baptists is through you,” he said, predicting, “Out of those of you at YouthLink are those whom God will use to lead Southern Baptists and Christians worldwide to victory in the 21st century.”

Throughout the three-day event, participants testified about the impact that YouthLink was having on them.

Brooke Pflasterer, a member of First Baptist Church of Troy, Mo., said she had discovered some areas in her life that needed to be changed. “YouthLink has been an amazing experience,” she said at the St. Louis event. “Personally, I’ve been challenged to reevaluate my relationship with Christ and to strive to share him with others.”

Helen Kim, a member of Montgomery Korean Baptist Church, Rockville, Md., said she recommitted her life to Jesus Christ following a musical presentation from Rebecca St. James. “The praise was really good. I just felt a part of the group because we’re all Christians sharing the same beliefs,” observed Kim.

“It really makes me grateful that I live in a society where Jesus Christ is known,” said Brookhart, who agreed to pray for unreached people groups around the world. Phillips said she would also pray for those in other cultures and she would consider becoming a missionary. Sarah Ploude, a high school senior and a member of New Colony Baptist Church, Billerica, Mass., said she intended to be more vocal about her commitment to Jesus Christ when she returned home. She also thanked God “for putting me in a position where I can worship him.”

This story was compiled from reports by Linda Lawson in Tampa, Fla.; Jennifer Rash and Greg Heyman in Atlanta; Marv Knox in Houston; Dan Nicholas in Philadelphia; Lonnie Wilkey and Shawn Hendricks in St. Louis; Mark Wyatt in Anaheim, Calif. and Russell Rankin in Denver.

(BP) photo to be posted in the BP photo library. Photo title: SHOUTING OUT LOUD.

*Name changed for security concerns.

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