Every year our church puts on a Youth Leadership Conference for our region. It has been a longstanding tradition for our region; young men and young women, aged 14-18 attend this conference for 3-4 days. By the time they are 18, they likely will have attended 4-5 conferences (if they are fortunate enough to attend every year).
The conference is generally held on a University campus where everyone stays in residence and we use the cafeteria, sports fields, auditorium, lecture halls and main halls for all the events. I grew up attending a form of Youth conference, and it was an amazing experience- but it was not on the same scale of this one. This years was held at the University of Waterloo (about 1.5 hours away from us). There were around 600 youth, with an additional 125 or so adult leaders.
Everyone arriving. You could feel the excitement in the air!^^
What is quite incredible is the conference is put on completely voluntarily – everyone helping to organize this massive event does so on a volunteer basis. They divide the work up; for example, there is a registrar, a main director, then the social events are divided up between regions – our region was in charge of the opening dance.
Then there are “general leaders” which are usually have attended YLC’s many times before, and usually are serving in “callings” (voluntary jobs in the church that you are asked to do) related to youth. Although I’m not serving the youth right now (my official role is to serve in the Women’s Organization), our local youth leaders were not able to attend and given I had 3 kids going, and was willing to, I went. My role was a “house leader” – which basically meant I was in charge of 8-10 girls overall. Our rooms are next to each other, we go to places in a group (well, at least I am supposed to know where they are), have a morning devotional with them, and basically be there to ensure their safety and help out wherever needed. Each house is grouped together with 5 other houses (3 boy houses and 3 girl houses). They call that a branch – and the branch is the group that we are with the whole time when we go to the smaller workshops. At night the branch is divided into two groups for a wrap up for the day and an evening devotional.
Every year there is a theme for the youth. Then, for YLC, this theme becomes the YLC theme. This year’s theme was about service: “O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength”.
Although YLC is totally a spiritually anchoring experience, most of the kids look forward to it as being a social highlight of their year. There is so much fun stuff going on and so many friendships being made! There is a ton of learning happening too – learning about certain topics, but also learning about themselves. It is a supercharged period of growth for these youth in so many ways.
The format is quite simple: Every day everyone gets up, gets dressed, has breakfast and then meets with their “house” for a morning devotional on a certain theme. Everyone then walks over (with their branch) to the auditorium for the general session.
What’s cool about the walking, is that they need to escort each other. Typically a boy will escort a girl (and typically a boy will ask the girl, but in this day and age there was a lot of girl asking boy too) although many preferred to just walk on their own or the girls link arms with each other. They link arms (yup, seriously) and then are encouraged to get to know each other while they walk by asking each other questions and getting to know each other. It is a tradition that at first kids balk at, but every year it is the one things that the youth committee in charge of helping organize YLC (they have that too!) says they do no want to do away with the tradition as it becomes a favourite thing! You can quickly see friendships start to form.
Loved catching moments like this with my kids ^^^
General assembly is usually composed of 2 youth speakers talking about the year’s theme, music and a keynote speaker. This year during the 3rd session, Gabe was a youth speaker!! Speaking in front of 700 people! He did an awesome job – I recorded the whole thing for Rob:)
At the end of every session we all sing a song called the “EFY Medley” (Especially For Youth) which has a female and male part that you sing separately and together. It might have been some of my favourite moments all conference hearing those voices sing. I recorded it too:) It simply is incredible and usually there is not a dry eye in the house. Every day.
They always have keynote speakers come in to speak at these. This year we had a EFY youth speaker called Curtis Jacobs who did 2 keynotes and the kids loved him. We also had Maren Ord, an amazing musician and Amy Whitcomb (from “The Voice”) also speak on different days (Amy also graced us with a performance at our variety show). These guys were incredible. The theme for each address was service – so it was a variation of that topic where they shared a lot of personal experiences about their lives and gave some advice and words of encouragement.
The workshops were also super. Two of them were about “creating your own adventure” – setting goals, working towards them, figuring out what you want to do with your life etc. Another workshop was about unplugging from technology. This was a favourite for many of the kids. Another favourite was about the pursuit of Happyness – how to find join and get happy in your life (all about building relationships and bonds). Lastly, there was one about seeking and listening to the spirit (he did this one in a very interesting way comparing it to learning a new language), and finally one on the effects of pornography on your brain. Surprisingly, this was also a favourite one as kids said it wasn’t what they expected. He spent a lot of time discussing what happens to your brain when you engage in pornogrpahy.
A highlight of the week was the service project. I think every single person felt the same way. We worked with an organization called “Free the Starving Children”. This was the first time they have done a project in Canada so we were happy to be the first! We packaged meals for children in Haiti. We were divided into 3 groupings: 14-15 year olds, 16-18 year olds, then an interfaith group from the community. All together we packaged 272,000 meals; this is enough to feed 750 children for an entire year. I was with the 16-18 year old group (my house was 9 16-18 year old girls). It was an incredible experience. That night at our nightly devotional and review of the day, almost all the kids said that the service project was a highlight (not just of their day, but out of all of YLC).
Every night there is an activity put on by various regions. The first night was a dance. The kids always love a dance – as apparently they play the right mix of fast AND slow songs…. Believe it or not, the snack for the dance was grilled cheese. Yes, we made about 500 grilled cheese. Unfortunately the Univeristy wouldn’t let the grilled cheese be cooked in the hall where the dance as held, so we had to make them in residence and transport them over….it was quite funny. The next night was a fantastic talent show. There were some amazing talents! The kids in the audience were so supportive of everyone. Loved the phone flashlights coming out for the songs! After the talent show, they had some salsa dance lessons and the kids all learned to salsa!
Stalking my boys like any good mother would ^^^
YMCA still going strong at dances! ^^^
Instead of lighters like back in my day….cell phones, for the talent show.
The last night is the night that everyone is anxiously awaiting: The formal. Tradition is that the guys have to do “an ask”. They need to come up with some creative way to ask the girls to dance. It usually involves some foodJ Ours involved a song where they asked the girls to dance and “showered” them with chocolate. (We had suggested fireworks, but they weren’t able to pull it off!)
It was pretty fun to be there to feel the buzz of everyone getting ready for the formal, then to find all my kids and see who they were escorting to formal (and annoy them with taking pics!) I only got Zandra at the beginning and couldn’t find her with her escort:( I found the boys. They were less than thrilled to pose for me, so many of these shots are from other people.
Getting ready ^^^
Some of my branch heading over to the dance ^^^
My kids at various stages of the formal ^^^
The last day was a powerful workshop, followed by a “testimony meeting”, which is an opportunity for the kids to share their feelings about the event. It is a truly amazing to sit through one of these meetings and feel the energy and spirit in the room.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go as a house leader. Hopefully I’ll do it again. It is absolutely exhausting, but it is such a unique experience. I especially loved the de-brief with my kids as we drove home (they opted to ride with me rather than take the bus back to Toronto).
The only proof of my attendance and a terrible picture of us!! ^^^
A super few days… justna quick 48 hour turnaround before we head out again!