When Mary Beth McDowell went to Haiti earlier this year she saw for the first time what it means to really be in need. She saw people living in poverty and their desperate plea for help.
McDowell also saw something she had not expected: hope.
“You could see Jesus through people living there; they love the Lord,” McDowell said. “I got a bigger glimpse of His faithfulness.”
McDowell, a senior at Appalachian State University, met people who had few material possessions but loved Jesus Christ above all else.
McDowell served in Haiti alongside Merrie Johnson, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) senior consultant for student evangelism and ministry, and other members of Johnson’s summer staff. Johnson coordinates BSC summer youth weeks at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell, which draws nearly 7,000 middle and high school students each year.
In Haiti, the team partnered with Change This World to help distribute meals students packaged last year during the youth weeks. Last year the students gave more than $62,000, making it possible to send 200,000 meals to Haiti.
BSC photo by Melissa Lilley
This summer during youth weeks, students raised $75,000 and helped prepare 300,000 meals for Haiti, the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere.
This year, students gave $75,000, making it possible to send 300,000 meals to Haiti.
“The students are the ones driving the increase in the number of meals and the size of the offering,” Johnson said. “They came back this year saying they wanted to do more.”
Johnson said that after students participated in the mission project last year they came back ready to make a difference. Students saved money throughout the year to bring to Caswell, and some led their churches to do fundraisers to help contribute to the offering.
The idea to use the youth weeks offering to partner with Change This World came from Johnson. She decided about two years ago that she wanted to do more to help students realize what it means to have the identity of Jesus Christ. She wanted to help them find a way to give to others, and to share the gospel.
“Youth want their life to count, but they don’t know how,” she said. “They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. We are helping them understand what it means to sacrifice, and to love as Jesus loves.”
Ever since Johnson began coordinating youth weeks 11 years ago her goal has been to help youth understand that if they want their life to count for eternity, they must live for God’s glory.
“I wanted youth weeks at Caswell to be a place where the Bible was taught and where people were equipped to be leaders,” she said. “I wanted it to be a fun place, but [also] a place with a deeper purpose. I wanted students to know that their choices matter, and that those choices will take them closer to God or farther away from God.”
This year during youth weeks more than 600 students responded to God’s call on their lives to full-time vocational ministry.
Students are also coming to faith in Jesus Christ during youth weeks. Dennis Bain, youth Sunday School teacher at Macedonia Baptist Church in Gastonia, came as a chaperone for the third time this year. He shared about a student in the youth group who came to faith in Christ last year.
Bain said the student went home last summer and shared his faith with his parents and siblings. They began going to church with him, and his stepfather prayed to receive Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior and now participates in the church choir and praise band.
“His stepfather told me that if it hadn’t been for Caswell he wouldn’t be saved,” Bain said. “Stories like this help me remember what I’m doing and why I’m here.”
A firm foundation
This year’s theme was “He’s got an app for that” and the theme Scripture was Colossians 3:17. Students learned to look to God’s Word for help in any situation.
Wes Hamilton served as the camp speaker one week in July. He taught students that they must build their lives on the foundation of God’s Word.
“Jesus applies His Word to every area of life; His Word transforms every part of our life. We are either building on that Word or building on the sand,” he said. “It’s the sand of our own opinion or the rock of God.”
Hamilton explained to the youth that if they fail to apply God’s Word to their lives they are just going through the motions of the Christian life. “You can be religious and rebellious at the same time,” he said.
“You can be moral and good and have a good reputation, and still be building your foundation on what you think is right – and not what God thinks is right.”
Hamilton challenged the students to live for God and not for themselves, and to live for Him even when no one around them is walking with God.
“It’s in those moments when you and God are alone that your character is shaped; those moments form you and sanctify you,” Hamilton said.
“You must still treasure God and worship Him even when it buys you nothing from the outside; even when no one is watching you.”
To learn more about youth ministry and events, visit bedotell.com.