It's our 4th day in Illinois and we are soaking it up! The conference is excellent, completely different than last year. They changed the name, the layout, the number of students (1,000 down to 500), the focus and it is exactly what our team needed. The focus this year is not so much on going out and verbally sharing our faith every day through different day trips and places, but studying the Bible, retelling those stories and then sharing how our lives relate today to those stories. We've gone through creation, separation, people of promise, new covenant is today. It has been so good for me as a leader to dig into the Word every day. I have been longing for a youth experience/training like this and this is it! It has been a huge blessing to hear the students share every day/night about the things THEY are learning and how God is showing them things in their own lives in a new light.
To give you a little taste, yesterday we had our large group gathering which consists of worship/singing and then the speaker shares the target story of the day. Yesterday's story was a summation of most of the Old Testament...people of promise, Abraham to Moses to Joshua hitting hard on the Promise Land. That afternoon one of our "group expressions" was to walk to the "Tabernacle." They set up rooms on campus that were laid out like the tabernacle that the Israelites had while wandering 40 years in the wilderness. It was a powerful experience. We would read at each room/station where we were and what was done in that room...all the way back to the holy of holies.
In the evenings we get back together to worship and then students share as they feel led about what they experienced that particular day, specifically what God is teaching them or showing them in a new light. One of the things I have appreciated most about this conference is that there is not a lot of "fluff." The worship time, study time, group time, even large group sharing time is very genuine...focused on God and not us. It's hard to explain on a blog, but it is evident that the Holy Spirit is present among us and is working in and through us. I am excited to see how this group of students will be challenged to take what they've learned home and teach it to other youth group students.
Tomorrow is our last full day here. Friday we head out to a hotel and half day of fun somewhere...downtown Chicago I think. Saturday we hit Six Flags and Sunday we head home! This is an AWESOME group of youth! They are a blast to work with. Every night at our youth group time 3-4 students and one leader share their testimony/story too. It has been great to get to know everyone on a more personal level and be able to encourage them where they are at. Thanks mucho for all those who are praying for us! We are BLESSED!!