by Captain Rachel Stouder
“If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy,” exclaimed Pastor Jim Burns, president of HomeWord and executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family as he challenged 171 youth development delegates from the Central Territory at the Refuel conference.
The delegates were just a sample of the hundreds of youth workers across the territory who plunge themselves daily into the lives of young people, mentoring and discipling them. Recognizing the sacrifice it takes to keep up such a tenacious ministry, the territorial youth department, led by Majors Monty and Angela Wandling, strove to provide an opportunity for youth development workers not only to learn new things and to network, as important as these are, but to be renewed. They have recognized a specific need for refueling—to be re-energized and revitalized—for their challenging and rewarding work.
At this year’s conference, delegates were invited to consider their ministry to youth specifically in the context of ministry to families. While many youth development workers readily acknowledge their ministry is not a singular, youth-only focus, Pastor Burns was able to reframe and reignite a passion for “beyond-a-season” family impact. Delegates were encouraged to help families, including their own, succeed. To accomplish this, Pastor Burns spoke specifically on helping parents help their own kids without attempting to usurp the parental influence. He pointed out that discipleship begins at home and the role of the Church is to influence it for the sake of Christ.
“One of the key points I took from Refuel was to bless children with my presence. Too often in ministry we think we are there for kids because we lead Sunday school or other activities, but are we truly engaged and paying attention to the kids around us?” asked Mike Dixon, Three Trails Camp and Retreat Center director. “As I evaluate my ministry and my family life, I am asking God to give me discernment in making better decisions with my time and attitude so I can be truly engaged with God, my family and those in my ministry and build effective and Christ-centered loving relationships.”
In addition to plenary sessions, delegates were given the opportunity to expand their knowledge of topics like responding to mental illness in families, the impact of healthy sexuality for youth, the realities of human trafficking, and effectiveness in classroom leadership.
Worship led by The Singing Company, laughter inspired by the Bill Booth Theater Company and expressions of appreciation for the ministry to which the delegates have committed themselves were woven into the three days of intentional refueling.
“Refuel, was just that, a time to refocus and refuel. I have never been to a conference where I was told that I was strange and took it as a compliment. Jim Burns’ message of us being ‘strange’ or ‘different’ because we wanted to minister to our young people truly resounded with me,” said Captain Dan Sawka, Muskegon, Mich., corps officer. “If wanting to reach out to young people is strange, I don’t want to be normal! I look forward to continuing the ministry we are doing, but approaching it with new vigor and excitement.”