This past week I had the privilege of helping sponsor 114 teenagers to the Christ In Youth conference in Tennessee. My students had talked about their CIY experiences there in the past, but I had no idea it was as life-transforming as it was.
Picture 2,000 uninhibited students gathering to praise Jesus. "With arms high and heart abandoned," as the song lyrics read, these teenagers demonstrated what most churches lack: a musical love-fest between them and God.
Contagious? You betcha. But more importantly, very humbling.
One of our sessions was a documentary video about the persecution of the Christian church -- certainly not in our country, but in other nations where those who follow Jesus are losing their lives because of their faith. I must admit, there were parts I could not watch, so cruel was the torture inflicted on those who, while being beaten, cried out these simple words: "Jesus, Jesus." Those who survived went right back to preaching, with their congregations demonstratively praising, much like our teenagers.
There was no blandness about it, no one staring at those who were bold enough to raise their hands or close their eyes or bow in reverence or even tear up as they worshiped their King. The songs were not just words intended to fill time to meet the mandatory hour-long church requirement. Instead, they were melodic, cleansing prayers offered to the One seated on the throne.
I was deeply moved and again, humbled, as it became clear that too many times I had sung worship songs with one eye on the lyrics and one eye on my watch.
On Tuesday night, as the Fort Scott contingency met as a group, our teens were told to find a quiet place to pray. We adults were to go amongst them, lay hands on them and pray for them individually.
I found myself choking back tears as we walked from student to student, asking a blessing on their lives. I was not, however, prepared for the following night when the roles were reversed. I had been forewarned to take a Kleenex, but no one told me I would need an entire box.
We sponsors were asked to find a quiet place so that the students could lay hands on us and pray. Some knelt down to hold my hand. Some even offered hugs. But the majority simply placed their hands gently on my back, patting me as they prayed. Wow!
I returned home late Saturday night and attempted to describe to Dave what the week had been like. Impossible.
How does one recount the image of eight teenagers standing in a packed auditorium, declaring their decision to ask Jesus into their lives? Or the 40-plus others who rededicated their lives?
How could I possibly communicate the emotional evening where we learned of Rahab and then had an opportunity to tie our own red ribbon onto a cascading rope, representing our own private failings in our Christian walk? What about the late-night evenings when students sought out sponsors, weeping over decisions they had made in their pasts? There were no words. No words.
But I did know one thing: this year, when students talk about their life-changing encounter at CIY, I will be able to say, "I know. I know."
And I will pray that others I meet will be the recipient of what I gained.