Sometimes, it helps to be reminded that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.
It’s one of the reasons that Kent Cheney has, for the last six years, packed a suitcase with cold-weather clothes and a car full of high school students to spend a weekend at KYCK — along with thousands of others.
The youth minister at Coffs Harbour’s Harbourside Presbyterian Church brought 40 high schoolers and leaders from the church’s youth group to the conference earlier this year. The group is made of young people aged between 11 and 18 years old, up to 30% of whom have no other connections to church beside the Friday night youth group. The group’s attendance at the Christian youth conference has increased over the last few years, Kent says, as more youth see how valuable the weekend is.
So when they made the six-hour drive to the Katoomba Conference Centre, they knew it would be worth it. The weekend focused on the Old Testament book of Joshua, with a call for young people to be similarly strong and courageous in growing in, and living out, their faith.
“The youth really connected with parts of the message, which is good,” Kent says. One teen, who hadn’t been to church in a few years, came to the conference after re-visiting the youth group earlier this year, and decided to make a recommitment to Jesus on the camp.
“He really seemed to understand different things, which was cool,” Kent says. “And he was keen to try to make youth regularly.” Seven others also chose to commit to the Lordship of Jesus over their life, at least two for the first time.
When they weren’t in the main sessions, the youth group spent time exploring the Blue Mountains and bonding as a group.
“We went on a few different walks, out to the Three Sisters, that sort of thing,” Kent says. At the same time, leaders were able to have intentional conversations with youth about the talks and faith. “We had a lot of different downtimes that had good conversations and [we were] just enjoying creation and each other’s company, which was a lot of fun.”
Kent won’t forget a scene he witnessed one evening: seeing his youth sitting “in the pitch dark and freezing cold” singing along to the worship songs that were sung throughout the conference. “It was really cool seeing a bunch of them singing, unorganised, singing out praises to God,” Kent recalls.
There’s a reason Kent is so passionate about getting his youth along to KYCK each year: in his experience, such youth camps are often crucial moments in a young person’s faith journey.
“Something like 80% of people decide to follow Jesus before they’re 18,” Kent explains. “So I think that age is really critical. When it’s a conference with a few thousand other young people, I think [the camps] can really help someone’s faith, because this is a sign that, not just my local youth group that believe this, but there are thousands of people who believe this.”
“You see a little glimpse of heaven in that sense. Lots of people wanting to understand God’s word and sing praise to him.”
Being connected to one another and exploring God’s word “is not just a conference experience, but a part of our lives,” says Kent. It’s one of the reasons Ignition Youth has created a discipleship hour before Friday night youth begins, with small group mentoring with older members of the church family, and workshops on the church’s mission to ‘connect, grow, serve and go.’
It’s in the group’s regular meeting that Kent is convinced God works over time to build people in the faith and draw others to him. But he’s also grateful for the role camps and conference play in energising and captivating Christian youth.
At the end of this year, many youth and their leaders will pack their own suitcases – this time with warm weather clothes – and head again to a camp. They’ll sing praises to God, learn from his word, and enjoy fun and fellowship in Christian community. Will you be joining us?
The annual Presbyterian Youth Summer Camp is taking place at Stanwell Tops from December 27 2021 to January 1 2022. Expressions of interest are open now: https://pynsw-sc2021-eoi.paperform.co/