What happens when 34 teenagers and 7 brave adult leaders hop on a charter bus and head to St. Louis to join 7,000 of their closest friends for a week-long conference?
First, fun happens. Think big, inflatable toys. Think ziplining. Think rap concerts, free t-shirts, random dance parties in hallways and meeting other students from across the country and even around the world. Marie B, a graduated senior who attended the conference with Bloomingdale Church said, “The most fun thing I did at LIFE was attend the graduated senior’s concert. We even got to meet the band afterwards!!” And Sophomore Hannah L said, “I feel a much stronger bond with [the people from my group] who went to LIFE.”
Students also learn at LIFE. Each day of the conference had two main-stage sessions where speakers gave messages on the themes of “disciple,” “family,” “servant,” and “missionary.” In addition to these main sessions, students also chose two breakout seminars to attend each day on topics like “Spiritual Gifts,””Forgiveness,” and “How to Choose a College.” There were also headlining speakers like Francis Chan, David Nassar, and Skye Jethani. Junior Jason S said, “Skye Jethani taught me how God just wants to be with us. It is not enough just to serve Him if we do not have a relationship with Christ.”
Serving has always been a big component of the LIFE conference, but this year it was emphasized even more. With the theme of “Renew” it was the LIFE conference’s goal to bring renewal to the city of St. Louis. In an effort to achieve their goal, 2,000 students went into the city each day to over 40 sites where they worked on clean-up and renewal projects in local parks, cemeteries, and homeless shelters. The Bloomingdale Church group was assigned to a site in Belleville, IL. “For three hours we shoveled, scooped, and moved approximately 45 tons of pea gravel at a community park,” said BC youth pastor Daniel Riemenschneider, “ It was tedious, and yet the students worked hard, did not complain, and had a lot of fun together. Very impressive.” Their efforts did not go unnoticed; throughout the week, the students’ volunteer efforts made newspaper headlines, and even made it on the local five o’clock news one night.
In addition to work projects, the LIFE conference also hosted a 5K “Race to Renew” on Saturday, and all proceeds, which totaled just over $45,000, went to St. Louis City Schools to keep their after school programs running for the 2013-14 school year. Thirteen students and two leaders from our Bloomingdale Church group ran in the race. “The Race to Renew was a great way for the students to be active participants in supporting St. Louis schools,” said BC youth pastor Matt M.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance “LIFE” conference has been hosted in different cities around the United States. Since 1962 when the first conference was hosted in our very own Chicago, Illinois. It’s purpose has always been to teach and inspire students to love and serve God and their communities. The 2013 conference in St. Louis was called “Renew” and conference planners set out with the mission to “create an EPIC environment (experiential, participatory, image-driven, community-focused) where high school students will experience God and are challenged to expand His Kingdom,” according to the LIFE2013 website.
According to Matt Peace, a former youth pastor and current Short-Term Missions Coordinator for the C&MA in Colorado Springs, “I have seen this conference from so many different angles that I can probably tell you a lot more about it than you would ever want to know. However, if I could tell you one thing about LIFE it would be this. God shows up. He changes lives. And now that I have seen it for many years it is a lasting impact.”
Many students from the Bloomingdale Church group share Peace’s reflection on the conference’s impact on their lives.” I learned that the way I have been living life and the way I should be living were completely different, “ said graduated senior, Gia Gerardi, “I learned that as a follower of God you can’t just say you accept Jesus into your life and never act on it. Ones devotion to Christ must be spoken but also followed up by actions that show ones true feelings on a daily basis.”
Hannah L said, “The seminars I went to really helped me realize that God has given me gifts to use for him.”
“Coming into Life I had no idea what to expect,” said Jason. “I came in with a few questions, some that I didn’t even know I had but God answered all of them.”
Miranda M said, “I learned how to listen to God and not just talk to Him. I felt God’s presence on multiple occasions during the trip, as I believe other people did. I think I grew much closer to God, and also much closer to the other people who came on the trip.”
“One experience that really stuck to me from LIFE 2013 was during one of the worship sessions,” said Simon N. “I’ve never really understood the overwhelming joy that others feel when worshiping or serving. I’ve felt good but I’ve never felt that overwhelming joy. And during one of the songs that the Jeremy Riddle Band was performing I had a sudden sense of crazy happiness. And I had never felt that before, everyone had their hands in the air and i just so happy almost giddy for those 2-3 min. And God just put it on my heart to pursue that joy. So thats what i took away from LIFE.”
“We want to thank everyone who supported our students and the LIFE trip financially and through prayer,” said Matt, “we are so proud of our students how they engaged the seminars and served the St. Louis community. Way to go, Bloomingdale Church Youth Group!”Click to see more photos from LIFE on Facebook