Seven Riverside students gave their lives to Christ, 17 were baptized, and one of our babies was dedicated during youth camp in Daytona.
But the story doesn’t end there. In the youth room Wednesday night after they returned, students and leaders shared funny stories from camp and testified to the love they felt from God, the lessons they learned, and the prayers God answered at camp. The walls were down; it was very clear that these students had experienced more than fun at the beach, more than a week of great concerts, more than endless slumber parties... the passion our kids have for God was overflowing.
Several of the students shared about the lessons they learned and their deepening faith through the week-long experience. Alexis said she learned that she can’t just “stand still,” waiting for God to take the next step. Instead, she needs to be actively running after God, because He is always moving. Crystal was moved by a shepherd story from camp and said she was already able to share the story and message with a co-worker! Another student, Jazzy, shared that she hadn’t been excited for camp. She’d just lost a friend in a car accident. Reflecting on missed opportunities to share her faith, she felt worthless. While in Daytona, she took a walk on the beach with God. She said it was a powerful experience; He confirmed her value and restored her confidence. Terrance said God answered his prayer to grow stronger in his relationship with Christ.
At one point, speaker Louie Giglio challenged the students, asking if they’d been living “dead” and inviting them to stand if they wanted to live “alive.” One student said she had no intention of standing, but then she clearly felt God tell her to stand. As she did, her faith renewed and deepened. Later in the week she was baptized!
A few of the students shared raw testimonies of their painful pasts including domestic abuse, drugs, pornography, and thoughts of suicide. Each shared how worthless they’d felt. One gave his life to Christ at camp! Though the others came to Christ at different times, they all struggle at times with understanding their value. At camp they were encouraged and empowered. One shared how he felt God’s love through his leader. Referring to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross he declared to the Wednesday night crowd, “GOD thinks I’m worth it!” Another student shared a difficult story and recalled how good it felt to have others pray for him at camp. When he returned to his seat, 3 guys from different parts of the room jumped up and immediately came to his side, hugging and reassuring him. Clearly these kids care about each other!
Several of the kids talked about the power of prayer. One of the leaders, Michael, often approached strangers, asking if they wanted to see a magic trick, doing the trick, and looking for an opportunity to share Christ with them and pray for them. They testified to God’s amazing power to heal through prayer—even a lady with a broken leg!
Noah recalled how he and Michael prayed for several people—total strangers—and watched God heal them. He said on Friday night he felt God tell him to approach a man and a woman and pray for them. God told him that one of them had back pain and the other knee. Sure enough, the man said he had a spinal problem and held out his hand for prayer. Afterwards he said his pain was gone! Turning to the lady, she said she had knee pain. She was excited to be prayed for and prayed fervently along with Noah. Her pain was significantly reduced but not all gone, so they decided to pray again. Then, her pain was completely gone and she had full mobility of a previously crippled leg!
The youth leaders shared their experiences, as well. Tony recalled, “The biggest lesson I took away came from a conversation with Devin.” A student, Devin had been on the recent mission trip and said he was homesick for Nicaragua. When Tony asked him to explain, Devin confessed he missed being “in the heart of God, doing His work.” Tony wasn’t able to go on the mission trip, but God showed Tony during camp that as a church body we can be in the heart of Christ every single day.
Many of the leaders expressed their love and appreciation for the kids, saying “I’m so proud of this entire group,” “I’m so glad to be a part of THIS!” and “There’s a joy in dealing with young people I’ve never known.” At camp, some of the guys gave their leader, a man who’s led them for the past 3 years, notes expressing how much he’s meant to them. The leader explained what a blessing that was to him and how much he enjoys his time with them.
A few days before leaving for camp one leader, Heidi, was in horrible back pain and couldn’t even stand upright. She was in charge of the meals at camp, so she pleaded with God to heal her back. After several of the students and leaders prayed for her, God took away her pain during camp! She was also excited to report that, without a kitchen, stove or refrigerator, they served 1200 meals from the hotel parking lot...and no one got sick!
Zach, Riverside’s Middle School Intern, shared that he was in a bit of a rut before camp and was praying that God would restore his passion. Being a Bible student and working at church and a Christian school, he confessed that it can be a struggle to keep his faith from becoming “professional.” During camp God answered his prayer and renewed his passion! “The Bible became alive again—so rich!” It was a real week of revival.
Pastor Ryan thanked the youth leaders and expressed his deep appreciation for the love they continually show their students. He shared that he’s never been in a church like Riverside. Always he’s been in a church that was about numbers... Numbers equal donations and donations are what make the church run. Not here. Pastor Bob and Pastor Ron have never once asked him about numbers. What matters at Riverside is the hearts of the people. He confessed that after being here a year, he thinks he is finally starting to get this. He still struggles at times, worried if their “numbers” go down, but then he remembers that’s not what counts. What he wants to focus on is the students' relationships with God and each other. He told the youth group that God is working on his heart too, teaching him new things and that in the coming year they’ll notice him pouring himself more into his relationships with the youth leaders who tirelessly pour their lives into the students. That’s how God designed it; that’s how discipleship works.
Some new parents were observing that night. They were blown away by the love and commitment the students and leaders expressed. They said when the students got up to share, they couldn’t even tell who the “popular” kids were...everyone was cheered and applauded. Later, when they asked Pastor Ryan what he’s doing, how he has brought this out in the kids, he nodded, smiled and looked down. “It’s God. He’s doing amazing things in their hearts.” He said that he just keeps pointing them to Christ and that he’s seeing some great growth in the group. At camp he really saw the walls coming down and the youth becoming family.
Praise God for His perfect provision, for the hearts of our youth leaders who truly love our students, and for pouring out His love on our youth during camp.
Praise God for Riverside Church, a place where the hearts of our people are what counts!