By Kara Witherow, Editor
About 3,700 young people from 42 states and 274 churches gathered on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., July 13-16, for Youth 2011.
A project of Young People’s Ministries, a division of The General Board of Discipleship, Youth 2011 is a national youth gathering for the United Methodist Church that convenes once every four years and is the largest single gathering of United Methodist youth.
Among the 3,700 were 10 youth and young adults from Morgans Chapel United Methodist Church in Townsend. Rev. Melissa Traver, pastor of Morgans Chapel UMC, took the group of six youth and two young adults to experience the four-day conference’s worship, speakers, Bible studies and workshops.
Rev. Traver recalls her experience as a 14-year-old student attending Youth 1991 in Columbia, Mo., and wanted the Morgans Chapel UMC group to have a similar life-changing, eye-opening encounter with God.
“Youth 1991 is part of my story, and why I am where I am today started there,” she said. “It really developed in me a real appreciation for the Church and helped me see the Church as bigger than just my local church. There were all these kids from all these places that I had never been, and they had lives that were different than mine, but what united us was our commitment to Christ and our commitment to make a difference in the world for God. Seeing all these other people doing that in all these other places in all these other ways really made me love The United Methodist Church and really gave me a sense of the connection, and that’s still how I see the connection. That was the power of the experience for me. It really opened my eyes about what the Church was doing in the world.”
Judith Ann Douglas, 11, a sixth grade student at McIntosh County Middle School and a member of Morgans Chapel UMC, says that she’s grown in her faith through her Youth 2011 experience.
“I’ve grown a lot as a Christian from this trip,” Douglas said. “I got closer to Jesus and God and closer to the people I went with.”
Douglas said that her favorite part of Youth 2011 was the worship.
“My favorite part was that we sang a lot of modern Christian songs. It was exciting to be there and be in a big crowd and to worship with so many other kids my age. It was a lot of fun. I will definitely go back in four years.”
Not only were the students’ days full of worship, workshops and speakers, they also had the opportunity for on-the-spot mission and service opportunities.
Each day, attendees were able to volunteer their time, money and even hair for people in need. During the event, 20,022 meals were packaged for Stop Hunger Now, more than 150 cards were written for Kairos Prison Ministry, $8,200 was raised for Youth Service Fund, 100 boxes of toys were collected for the Methodist Health Foundation to be distributed to children in area hospitals and 265 locks of hair were donated to Children with Hair Loss.
Jessica McLeod, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student at Martha Puckett Middle School in Jesup, had 10 inches of her hair cut off while at Youth 2011. She, Maddie Bailey and Rev. Traver each donated their hair to Children with Hair Loss, an organization that provides free real-hair wigs for children who have experienced hair loss for various medical reasons.
“It makes me feel really good to know that I helped someone else, and to know that I helped someone who didn’t have hair have a wig,” said McLeod, daughter of Revs. Marty and Kathy McLeod of Epworth United Methodist Church in Jesup.
Each Youth 2011 participant was given a New Testament Bible with a 90-day reading guide, McLeod said, and she has been inspired and challenged to read through it since returning from the trip.
Rev. Traver says the students’ excitement and enthusiasm hasn’t waned.
“We’re from a small church in a rural area, and I really wanted to give them a sense of all that the Church is doing and what they are a part of, and I think it did that for them,” she said. “They still talk about it. It was so good to see them so excited. I hope it settles in their soul and gives them that passion for worship that will last their whole lives.”