In the beginning, and right up to the end, was the “WORD” at the 2016 Peninsula–Delaware Conference Youth Rally, Jan. 8-10. And it came bursting forth with prophetic power, undeniably touching lives and healing young hearts throughout the Ocean City, Md., convention center.
Nearly 5,000 youth and adults–a tenth of them coming from the Eastern PA Conference—filled the vast venue with their energy as they reacted to the WORD shared in sermons and scriptures, righteous raps, tearful testimonies and songs with life-affirming lyrics.
The WORD seemed to pulsate in, around and through them like a Pentecost Spirit setting hearts, minds and tongues a loose.
Fellowship Creative, a young, talented, energetic Christian rock band from the Dallas area, brought the stage to life and the youth to their feet, as they connected with their rapt audience through inspirational lyrics and songs that varied from the kinetic to the contemplative. Two other Christian groups, Disciple and Moriah Peters with her Fierce Females band, performed evening concerts. And West Coast poet and rapper Propaganda riffed and rhymed on various topics while bantering with his young audience.
But the deserving headliner who inspired the most reaction—from laughter to tears, from sing-a-longs to call-and-response shout-outs—was the incomparable Reggie Dabbs. This virtual prophet and perennial youth rally favorite seemed to speak into the hearts of his attentive listeners—both youth and adults— offering scripture and dramatic true stories of lives redeemed from tragedy to triumph because of God’s grace.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he quoted repeatedly, assuring the youth of their promised victory in Christ and offering a popular axiom that’s as good as any mantra: “No Jesus, No Hope. Know Jesus, Know Hope.”
Dabbs ended his Saturday night sermon with a passionate, persistent altar call that drew thousands of youth to the front and sides of the darkened hall and into the embrace of pastors and youth leaders waiting to receive them and their confessions for Christ.
Much more happened besides those big moments. Daily devotions focused on listening, relating and responding to the Word. And lively breakout sessions helped youth and youth workers explore networking, wisdom-sharing, effective youth ministry, mission opportunities and other topics, including:
There was the “Battle of the Youth Groups,” a raucous team-building tournament, and also this year’s encore of “Spittin’ the Word,” a preaching competition won by Hopewell UMC’s Grace Puy.
Bishop Peggy Johnson ended the weekend rally, as always, with a moving Communion service and a parting WORD of faith and hope before her benediction.
For the “WORD Play” session, Piltz, who also directs the Open Door Campus Ministry at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, invited Drexel student Jenny Kang to come talk about her faith and reliance on God that enabled her to overcome daunting family burdens, alienation and depression in her youth.
“It was tough, but I learned that no matter what I have to face, God is always there for me, even when no one else is,” Kang told several hundred youth and adults, the largest gathering she had ever addressed. Evidently, she touched a chord, as many responded to her testimony, asking numerous questions about how she coped with her struggles.
“God is always there for you, too” she told them, adding a WORD of encouragement that many youth need to hear repeatedly: “Just don’t give up.”
Story and photos By John W. Coleman