ORLANDO (FBC)—Quoting A.W. Tozer, Jeff Hessinger, director of the Personal Evangelism Department of the Florida Baptist Convention, called nearly 875 students and leaders to battle at the 2009 Youth Evangelism Conference in Orlando Aug. 7-8.
“‘The Christian is a holy rebel loose in the world with access to the throne of God. Satan never knows from what direction the danger will come,’” Hessinger said.
The conference, at First Baptist Church in Orlando, expressed Florida Baptist Convention’s mission to instill within students a passion for sharing the Word of God and changing the world through the message of the Gospel, Hessinger said.
Throughout the Cooperative Program-supported event, students and leaders were urged to rise up and prepare for battle in the world. Their weapon: the Word of God. Their message: the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their strategy: love like Jesus.
“This movement that we’re calling you to is about the mission of God. It’s about carrying out the Great Commission,” Hessinger said in his opening message.
During the next two days, the young “rebels” were equipped for “battle” through teaching, prayer, worship, and discipleship. For many, that was exactly why they came.
Shelby Todd, 15, from Florida Gardens Baptist Church in Lake Worth, said she was at the conference specifically to be trained to hear God speak through His word.
“I fell into false teaching last year,” Todd said. “But I went to [Super Summer] this summer and felt like God was telling me to rise up, walk for Him and show His love in a selfless way. I’m here to be equipped.”
That equipping came through evangelist Tony Nolan, enthusiastic worship led by musicians Building 429, and speakers who led breakout sessions on a variety of topics including “Dating God’s Way” and “Evangelism in an Emerging Culture.”
In the opening session, Nolan, founder of TNT ministries in Woodstock, Ga., captured students’ hearts through stories of his own family, including his newly adopted three-year-old daughter, Fei Fei, from China. His message took a serious turn as he told students their sinfulness separated them from a Holy God.
“We might be able to create emotional loopholes, but God is offended by our sinfulness because He will not share His glory with anyone,” Nolan said. “He alone is glorious. He alone is unrivaled. He alone is to be enthroned. Not us.”
After presenting the Gospel, Nolan spoke of God’s love.
“He is passionate about offering you forgiveness, grace and mercy,” Nolan said describing God’s love toward His children. God’s love could be distinguished from the love of the world in that His love was demonstrated when He gave His Son, he said. “He gave because love always gives.”
Natalie Constanza, 12, said Nolan’s message inspired her.
“You have to give love to receive it. And you have to have love to evangelize” said Constanza, of Hibernia Baptist Church in Green Cove Springs, who was with her friend Brittany Brackins, 13.
Brackins said she already has a deep passion for sharing the Gospel and has led several of her friends to Christ. Her strength and courage came from the Lord, she said.
“I wouldn’t be able to do anything without His help, whether evangelizing, or serving or loving,” Brackins said.
Hessinger, in an interview, said he believes students today are “underestimated, underchallenged, and undereducated” as disciples of Christ—and hunger for more.
At some camps and conferences, Hessinger said expectations have been low and leaders “just dumb” things down, not realizing students “want to do something big, they want to be equipped.
“[Students] don’t even know the right questions to ask, but they want to be led and do something,” Hessinger said.
At this year’s conference, the young “rebels” and their leaders were given a chance to leave the “training camp” and enter the “battlefield.”
Working with Keith Harmon, student ministry pastor at First Baptist Orlando, conference participants took part in “Love Orlando,” an ongoing program that sends students into the community to distribute food to low-income families, play with kids, and share the Gospel with families.
Friday night, Harmon challenged students to live by the personal mission statement, “Love God. Love Others. Go Tell,” derived from Matthew 22:37-39 and Matthew 28:18-20. He urged students and leaders to join volunteers Saturday afternoon in sharing the Gospel with Orlando.
Using the $2,500 offering taken during the conference, church leaders purchased enough food to feed 105 families. Youth groups from 53 churches joined the effort [see related story on this page].
Although several groups reported professions of faith, Hessinger said the greatest success came from the change in the students’ own lives.
“After a time of equipping through breakout sessions and encouragement, we were able to help the kids get realigned with the task at hand and send them out into the streets to love people,” Hessinger said.
The purpose, Hessinger said, “is to let them know that we care, that we love them and that we want to share Christ with them.”
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