Enthusiastic teens from all over Ontario descended on Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, for the All Ontario Youth Convention (AOYC) on the holiday weekend.
Hannah Schreutelkamp, 17, of Clearview Christian Reformed Church in Oakville, Ontario, has been attending for three years. “I get closer to God,” she said. “It’s always one of the highlights of my year.”
AOYC has become the largest annual youth event in the Christian Reformed Church. Tim Scholman, chair of the planning committee, attributes the event’s success to relationships built over the years: youth who attended and became youth leaders, churches looking for events specific to Ontario and to their denomination.
Kyle Beishuizen, 21, from Brampton, Ontario, is one of the young people who attended and then became a youth leader. He came, he said, for lots of different reasons. “I try to lead, but you learn as much as you lead.”
Plus, said Scholman, “We just put on a good event.”
That was evident again this year, as more than 1,000 young people, volunteers, and pastors set an attendance record for the volunteer-run convention’s 37-year history.
This year, participants took an in-depth look at what it means to live as Christians “24-7,” to “transform the everyday.” Speakers included Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and Shaunti Feldhahn, with Brett Younker as worship leader.
Using compelling stories from their own lives and ministries, Campolo and Claiborne challenged the youth to really examine what it means to follow Jesus. “Make poverty personal,” urged Claiborne. “Let it impact you.” When tempted to ask why God doesn’t do something about the poverty and injustice in the world, Claiborne suggests that God’s answer might be, “I did do something. I made you.”
A variety of discussions and service opportunities helped young people experience that connection before the weekend was over.
Melissa Wolting, 18, of Grace CRC in Chatham, Ontario, was returning for the fourth time. “I really wanted to hear Shane Claiborne,” she said, but noted that “[AOYC] is always a really good ‘God experience.’”
She and many others found the spiritual direction area an unexpected highlight. A relatively new development at AOYC, the area consisted of a few rooms set aside for prayer, reflection, and one-on-one counseling or discussion with members of the prayer team. “So much deep stuff has happened in that space—life-changing things. . . . God is meeting people in there,” said prayer team coordinator Cynthia Stevens.
That was true for Katie Groothedde, 20, from Mountainview CRC in Grimsby, a first-timer at AOYC. Her purpose in coming was “to give the bad things to God, and get the good stuff in.”
Eighteen pastors also attended a pastors’ forum, new this year, to learn more about including youth in the life of the church.
But it wasn’t all work, no play.
The event featured an improv team, a breakdancing group, and opportunities to relax and play games or sports.
Monica Ha, 16, from Vaughn, Ontario, said she hoped to gain a new perspective and a stronger relationship with God.
After the sun-filled weekend wrapped up, Kaitlyn Smit of Clearview CRC said she plans to make daily time with God a priority. “I get so busy,” said the 15-year-old from Oakville. “I guess I’ve been waiting for this weekend to get me kickstarted.”
A Special Trip to Youth Convention
Amy Greve, 19, of Ingersoll CRC was at AOYC two years ago. “I came again because I enjoyed it the first time,” she said. Her favorite part? “Everything! The worship sessions, speakers, meeting new people—oh, and him.” She grinned and pointed to her youth leader, who returned the grin.
Creatively spray-painted on the stage nearby were words that reflected the weekend’s themes. “If I can remember ‘change,’ ‘fix,’ and ‘embrace,’ then I can remember what they talked about,” Amy noted.
Amy has a cognitive disability and learns in different ways than a lot of people do.
That’s why she was a perfect candidate for the “Special Needs SERVE'’ project. Amy first heard about the opportunity from a family in her church. “They told me about SERVE in 2008 and encouraged me to go.” She went, and she’s been going ever since.
Despite difficulties, Amy’s mom has always encouraged Amy to give back whenever possible. Amy has learned the lesson well.
Not only does she work in food banks, soup kitchens, and litter clean-up while she’s doing the SERVE projects, but she has created over 300 greeting cards to sell in order to pay back some of the support money from her church.