More than 800 youth, youth leaders, and volunteers gathered in Waterloo, Ont., over the May long weekend to worship, learn, and encounter God at the All Ontario Youth Convention. It is the largest annual gathering of Christian Reformed young people.
For many participants, this is an annual trek that continues long after they are out of high school. Julie Kikkert is on the planning team. “Why do I keep coming back? ’Cause life changes here,” she said. “I came as a youth and then as a small group leader. . . . Then I came back as a youth group leader with my own youth . . . whom I had invested in and had spent time walking beside, and I had a new sense of ‘God is doing amazing things here!’”
This year’s theme was “Know.n: Know Fully. Fully Known,” referring to 1 Corinthians 13:12, where Paul said, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Speaker Megan Fate Marshman used stories to help her listeners understand the love of God and to explore the idea of knowing and being known by God.
Lydia Garside, 16, of Clearview CRC in Oakville said, “It’s directed for people our age, so it’s easier to grasp. It’s not hard to stay focused because you’re just so intrigued by it.” The first day, she said, focused on belonging, and how we’re made in God’s image. Through the weekend, “they showed through the Bible and Jesus’ sacrifice, that he took our sins, and we get his perfect life, to be with God.”
Small group sessions (called Reach Ins) and service projects (Reach Outs) are an important part of the convention. Nevada De Jager, 17, of First CRC in Guelph, said, “With the Reach Outs, you actually go out into the community, and you learn from other people; you hear their experience.”
Reach Ins intentionally take on challenging topics, said Natasha Moes, part of the convention planning team. Brad Bootsma of Ancaster CRC led a Reach In on Sunday afternoon. He began, “Since I was 16, I have been passionate about pornography. Only in the last six years, though, has that passion been directed toward spreading awareness of the harm.” He went on to tell the packed room about his years-long addiction to pornography and how it nearly ended his marriage. He described the dangers and encouraged his listeners to be careful about what they choose to take in. “When you give yourself to something, you will be changed by it,” he said.
Diane Bakker is part of a prayer team for the convention and estimates that this was her 20th year. “The whole convention is bathed in prayer,” she said. At the prayer sanctuary, she said, “I see kids come with trepidation, not sure what it’s all about. But they come out with a whole different countenance because they’ve met God. . . . That’s why I come back every year. I get to see kids being transformed by the power of Christ.”