Last week we got back from Ireland on Thursday night, spent the next day scrambling to write a message for the weekend, spoke on Saturday and Sunday, then SOS ‘09 kicked in on Monday. Summer Of Service is a weeklong servant-oriented student conference. Over 900 students and leaders from fourteen states came (we cap it off at 900); it’s an amazing combination of passionate worship and serving others.
Sounds curiously like “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.”
SOS pursues that combination for middle school and high school students. In this me-first, über-consumeristic, entitlement-driven, earth-bound culture that we carbon-based bipeds have created, try to imagine the spiritual booster rocket it takes for a young person to escape this powerful inward-focused gravity. SOS is designed to be that.
This year the theme was What About Now? and focused on Micah 6:8: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Nearly 1500 adults volunteered to make it happen.
Typically, each day began at 9am in the main auditorium with one of our own student ministry worship bands (these guys were amazing…including a killer thirteen-year-old drummer!). And, of course, some fun stuff. I’ve never seen jelly-filled doughnuts shot from a water-balloon launcher at a youth leader in catcher’s gear with two cops and a radar gun clocking it at over ninety-miles an hour. And then the outreaches for the day started.
All students cycled through four different kinds of outreaches throughout the week: First was participation in a huge free block party in a lower income area—we held eight of these. Second was building walls for four Habitat for Humanity homes and then passing out free water bottles at busy intersections. Third was participation in a program we’ve been doing in the public schools called Be The Difference…a self-revealing encounter focused on respect, bullying and how to treat fellow students, breaking through stereotypes. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen students break down and weep over buried issues in their lives. And then last, everyone had an E2 session: the Evangelism Experience. In this segment, each group of students learns how to hear God’s voice. They learn to pay attention to impressions and pictures. After being trained, they’re given a list of five questions to ask God, the group prays, listens, compares their “words” and then their leader attempts to design an outreach on the spot...then they take off with a certain amount of money given to them.
The stories were amazing. After feeling led to visit “tent city” (a homeless camp on the river in Cincy), one group of kids from Michigan pooled the money they had saved to go to Cedar Point amusement park on their way home…and drove back down there to give it to them on their free time. Regardless of outcome, you have to admire any student that denies themselves anything for someone else. When it comes to giving, we obviously want to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, as Jesus said. But I think we spend way too much time worried about getting ripped off rather than the danger of selfishness.
Check out Student Ministries Director Pete Bryant recapping the stories and watch this amazing band of students leading worship in this weekend's celebration.
After the afternoon outreaches, students would come back for an evening of fantastic worship music (Phil Wickham, Jeremy Riddle, Robbie Reider and our own Zak Stegman). To see nine-hundred students and leaders all singing to Jesus at the top of their lungs is brilliant. A short teaching followed that.
One night, instead of worship we held a luau for over seven hundred special needs adults, complete with games, dancing, a pig roast, dinner and more. It was fabulous watching students escorting our special needs friends around the building, dancing and playing games. Our guests had the time of their lives.
We finished the week on Friday night with baptisms; it just doesn’t get any better than that.
It makes me wonder: what would an SOS for adults look like?