NASHVILLE — A total of 8,034 students and their sponsors rocked the spiritual world last weekend as students worshiped, learned, and 1,110 made professions of faith. In addition, dozens more made other spiritual commitments.
They were a part of YEC (Youth Evangelism Conference) 2014. Drawing groups from at least four surrounding states, the event was held March 14-15.
Leading the students to their commitments were Tony Nolan of Canton, Ga., and Mike Keahbone of Albuquerque, N.M. The crowd, which nearly filled the Municipal Auditorium to capacity, also heard Trip Lee, a rapper with a Christ-centered hip-hop message of Washington, D.C., and the YEC Worship Band.
Also speaking to the crowd were Randy C. Davis, Tennessee Baptist Convention executive director; and Larry Robertson, TBC president, who is pastor, Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville. The TBC sponsors the annual YEC which is funded by Cooperative Program gifts given through churches.
Before and after the main sessions students and adult sponsors visited booths in the hallways of the auditorium from Carson-Newman University, Jefferson City, and Union University, Jackson, the two Tennessee Baptist universities, and a booth on Impact, the TBC summer camp for teens.
The crowd also gave funds toward TBC international youth missions trips at four stations in the hallways which accepted credit cards. An offering also was taken during a session for the trips.
For the first time this year YEC leaders began using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram a couple of months ago to communicate with students and adults, stated Kent Shingleton of the TBC staff who directs YEC. On March 17 the Instagram site had 631 followers, the Facebook site had 621 followers, and Twitter had 577. To follow or visit use @yectennessee.
The TBC executive director illustrated the spiritual needs of the state’s residents by asking the students who had been given either a yellow or green glow stick to hold them up in a darkened auditorium.
About 25 percent of the students had yellow sticks and 75 percent had green. Davis asked the small group to hold up their sticks as he explained that they represented the residents in the state who know Christ. Then as the large group held up their sticks the crowd gasped. Davis explained that they represented the number of people who don’t know Christ.
“That’s what our state looks like. Seventy-five percent of our family, friends, neighbors, people we go to school with will die and go to hell.
“Eight out of 10 people will not be in anybody’s church this Sunday.”
Davis asked the students to consider if they were devoted followers of Jesus who die to self and who are “God-centered and not self-centered.”
Will they be a part of the generation that is “not just talking about Jesus but sharing Jesus?” he asked.
Finally, Davis challenged the teens to rely on the Holy Spirit and start “getting in the way” of people going to hell.
Larry Robertson told how as a 15-year-old teen at Hopewell Baptist Church, Savannah, he attended the YEC. He had gotten involved in the church through its bus ministry. His parents, though good people, didn’t go to church.
He had become a Christian at age 10 but came to YEC just “to have a good time.”
During a session of the YEC “God rattled my cage,” said Robertson.
He realized that he had been playing at being a Christian. Then a YEC speaker challenged teens to commit their lives to the ministry. Robertson said yes though being a minister was “never on my radar.”
He stood to make his commitment but thought no one he knew saw him. He didn’t tell anyone of his commitment either, said Robertson, not even during the report made by his group at their church following the YEC.
Then some months later he surrendered to the ministry publicly and his youth minister told him he had seen him stand at the YEC and had been giving him time to make the commitment.
Today he has been in the ministry for 32 years and a pastor for 27 years, he told the students. Robertson was evangelism director for the TBC before he began serving Hilldale Baptist.
He also encouraged the youth workers in the crowd, noting he was a smart aleck and even profane that year he attended the YEC.
“God got hold of my heart at the YEC and I have never gotten over that.”
Mike Keahbone, family ministry pastor of a church in Albuquerque and national youth speaker, told about his traumatic childhood which was impacted by some members of a Baptist church in Elgin, Okla. He spoke on Saturday morning.
A Native American, he lived with his single mother and extended family whose lives were consumed by alcoholism and drug addiction.
He was basically raising himself, said Keahbone.
Then a couple who were teachers at his school and members of First Baptist, Elgin, got to know him and sent other members on a bus to his house one summer. A woman from the bus talked to him about coming to Vacation Bible School. Because he didn’t know anything about it, Keahbone told her he wasn’t interested in going to a school. Then the woman told him about the Kool-Aid and cookies there and he changed his mind.
Attending the VBS got him involved in the church where the couple and others took an interest in him.
“Those people loved on me,” recalled Keahbone.
Soon he made a profession of faith and was baptized and reading his Bible. Keahbone became a leader of his youth group preaching at the church while in high school. He went to college and became active in the Baptist Student Union.
Then during a revival he really became a Christian, he told the crowd.
“I gave my heart to Jesus and I got a daddy.” The experience also removed the hatred he had for some of his family members, he said.
He feared getting married but after meeting Jennifer he eventually did marry her and his family attended a church wedding for the first time.
Three or four years later he and Jennifer learned that they couldn’t have children. After the doctor told them, “God rebuked that in my heart,” said Keahbone. Today he and Jennifer have three children or “miracles,” he described.
He told the crowd that statistically he should be an alcoholic and a drug addict but he has never even tried either substance.
He has had to preach the funerals of his 40-year-old mother and 40-year-old brother. They were both alcoholics and drug addicts though his mother, after she was saved was “completely healed of alcoholism and drug addiction” 11 months before she died. They enjoyed a “restart of our relationship,” he explained. His brother also was saved three weeks before he died. Keahbone has had one conversation on the phone with his father.
Keahbone read Psalms 139:3-16 twice to the students during his message. He read, “I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. … Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all [my] days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began” (vv. 14-16, HCSB).
“Your life is not an accident,” Keahbone told the youth.
Though they may not like their parents, family situation, or circumstances, God designed them and determined their lives.
“Seek Him and speak to Him. … He’s not far from each of us.”
Many in the crowd have a “messed up family. … It doesn’t matter if you haven’t reached out to Him and listened to Him all of this weekend. It matters if you are listening to Him now,” concluded Keahbone.
Hundreds came forward to make professions of faith though about 960 had come on Friday night to make the decision. Then dozens stood to acknowledge that they wanted to recommit their lives to God as Keahbone gave that invitation.
Nolan spoke during the Friday evening session. He has recently been tour pastor/gospel communicator for the Casting Crowns Lifesong Tour and Winter Jam. He has spoken at YEC before.
Nolan referred to his last minute cancellation as a YEC 2013 speaker because he tore his ACL, a knee ligament, during a basketball game.
Using humor he told of his pain and the treatment which a doctor told him wasn’t going to be that painful.
Nolan said his experience can be seen as an analogy and lesson for Christians and non-Christians.
The doctor told him the pain wouldn’t be that bad “to put me at ease.” Do Christians communicate the same message to non-Christians? Nolan asked. Do we tell non-Christians that they are going to be okay though they have a “broken soul?”
If people don’t deal with their broken souls they won’t be okay. “It’s going to be very, very bad,” declared Nolan.
The death of sin “contagiously spread” to all people, he noted. As a result, people are liars, idolaters, cheaters, practice lust and greed, and more.
God provided for our “broken soul condition” but if people don’t know or don’t accept His forgiveness they will be cast into a lake of fire where they will endure the second death in Hades.
Nolan shared some of his background, which includes being born to a homeless prostitute who had been in a mental institution. At age 4 he was adopted by a family who gave his mother $200 for him. The man in the family, an alcoholic, beat Nolan. The man would tell Nolan that he wished he had never bought him.
Yet Nolan learned that God and Jesus loved him despite his “baggage” and being raised “in the ghetto,” he described. While a young person he served in a church by transporting widows to church in a church van. Today he has spoken all over America and Canada touring with stars such as Christian recording star tobyMac.
His life is not idyllic though, said Nolan. He has received death threats which also targeted his family.
One night in Dallas, Texas, after attending a Mavericks NBA game, Nolan met a Christian man who had been a sheriff who encouraged him. The man also told him of a tragedy involving a plane crash and death of a fellow law enforcement officer. The death of the man by fire was horrible but short, said the sheriff. Soon the officer was relieved of his misery because he was in heaven since he was a Christian, the sheriff explained.
“God’s not playing Bro,” said Nolan. It may seem like a severe punishment but the offense of sin against God is severe.
For instance, if someone punches Obama, “we won’t see you again Bro.” Yet we sin against God and think we shouldn’t be concerned.
Nolan also told of learning of the sudden deaths of people over the past year he had met at events.
“This is serious. One day you’re going to die. … Your soul is on the line. …
“If you die and stand before God with a broken soul it’s going to be bad and you’re not going to be okay.
“Take care of your broken soul.”
Nolan explained how the students could ask for forgiveness for their sins and could believe in the “sinless Son of God” who took their punishment for sin which would “heal” their soul. He warned them that the devil will try to “punk you” and “make you feel like you got jacked up” but they should realize that and move to the platform anyway. As a result about 960 students made professions of faith and moved to the platform area to show their commitment.
Lee rapped lyrics to music with accompanying videos. His songs included “You Ain’t Gotta a King Like Mine” and “Jesus Muzik.” Some of his lyrics included, “I ain’t got no worries; I ain’t worried about a thing,” and “Life makes no sense without Jesus; without Him life is going to be very difficult.”
Shingleton, who also is pastor/church planter, Hope Fellowship Church, LaVergne, encouraged the church groups to return to their churches and report in a celebration service. He also encouraged the students who made professions of faith to be baptized.
“It has been an amazing weekend … to learn about God,” he said.
At the beginning of the YEC a video featuring the theme, “Together,” based on Acts 2:42-47, was shown and Shingleton spoke about it.
The theme is a reminder of the time for Christians following Pentecost, he told the Baptist and Reflector.
“They were together,” he said, in a way that the 8,034 attending the YEC are.
Christians at that time were together “meeting in homes, praying, and helping people in need. We are glorifying God the most when we pray and worship and serve together.”
Alicia Norman, youth leader of Friendship Baptist Church, Buchanan, said her church brought 34 students and sponsors to the YEC despite the fact that it only draws about 75 people to Sunday morning worship. The youth group has been growing dramatically and drawing many students though many of their parents don’t attend church activities, she reported.
The church has been bringing groups to YEC for about five years. To help the youth attend, Friendship Baptist pays the entrance fee, one meal, and the hotel cost of each student.
She said every year students from Friendship become Christians at YEC.
The youth especially enjoy the worship, she said, which is nontraditional and includes the new music.
“The YEC is a great way to get together and celebrate together and worship with other brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Norman.
Allen Guyer, associate pastor, Riverview Baptist Church, Savannah, said 29 people from the church were attending the YEC. The new church draws about 130 people to Sunday morning worship service.
Three students from his group had just made professions of faith, he reported. “It’s been a good night.”
He brought the students because he has seen the youth group grow in numbers and maturity over the past several months. Guyer also sees God working in Him, he said. Though he felt he was too old to lead students, “I love these kids.”
At YEC he hoped to take advantage of the momentum of the group and “spur them on to the next level,” said Guyer.
Because of his past experiences at the YEC, he said he knew the students here could become sure that they were Christians and be challenged by the speakers. He especially thought the challenge by Davis was good.
Then “I’m going to stay out of the way and keep asking God to keep doing what He’s doing. We’ve been very blessed.”
Bethany Holloway, 18, of First Baptist Church, Crump, has been coming to YEC for seven years. Though she is a senior in high school, she hopes to keep coming as a sponsor.
“I just love seeing what goes on here … kids worshiping, being saved. It’s just great seeing that and being a part of it.”
Cameron White, 14, of First Baptist Church, Delta, Mo., was attending the YEC for the first time.
“I really liked it. It was a lot of fun.
“They talked about a lot of good stuff and it really caught my attention. I thought the music was great and I learned a lot about Jesus, more than I really knew.”
Blake Barnes, 19, a student at the University of Tennessee – Martin and a member of McConnell Baptist Church, Martin, said he has come for several years.
Because he leads worship at his church, he enjoys worshiping “in the crowd” at the YEC, he said.
“It’s different being in the crowd. It gives me a chance to restart I guess.”