Ministry Highlights: Winter Youth Summit

 |  Ministry Highlights  |  Ben Winder

This past weekend our students and adult leaders joined with their peers from across the Southeast for an awesome event we call Winter Youth Summit.

Winter Youth Summit (WYS) was born as an idea in 2014 for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) churches in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee to gather for a student conference. It has expanded since then and is now a biennial event hosted by First Baptist Huntsville for churches in those original states plus more, and sister events have launched in Virginia and North Carolina. Youth ministers and CBF leaders lead the planning and we are able to combine our resources to have an event that is different and bigger than any one church could do by itself.

As with all large gatherings these days, this year's WYS was planned with all the uncertainty of COVID surrounding us. Some churches decided the current situation would not allow them to proceed in participating, and the events in other locations had to cancel. However, balancing the physical, mental, and spiritual health of our students, the leaders of the Huntsville location decided to continue with the event this year with COVID protocols (including testing and masking) in place. I am so very grateful we made that decision! 

It was so good to be back together with our brothers and sisters in Christ from around the Southeast for the weekend of worship, breakout sessions with a variety of topics and activities, mission engagement, goofy fun, and invaluable time in community together. I would encourage you to catch a student in the hallway at church and ask them what was their favorite part of the weekend.

As we gathered for WYS 2022, I was reminded that one of the last big things our student ministry did together before the pandemic began was the WYS in January 2020. When we gathered then, we had no idea what the next two years held in store for us.

Our preachers for the weekend were Chelsea and Darien Waite. During his sermon on Sunday evening, Darien took us to the early days of God's people in the wilderness in Exodus 16. He reminded us that for God's people then, Egypt, though it had been a place of slavery, was also a place of comfortable and easy familiarity. Still they could not go back there. God led the people to the wilderness, a place of discomfort and unfamiliarity, because it is in the wilderness where God provides manna and sometimes God does God's best work in us. 

The two years since the last WYS brought us a seemingly never-ending pandemic. It has certainly felt like the wilderness to me at times. There have been days I have longed for the way things were before. So it was a powerful reminder for me when Darien said that for us coming out of the pandemic, like for God's people coming out of Egypt, "The old ways are gone, but God is getting ready to do something new!"

So much has changed in the last two years. Among so many other things, two years ago I could have never imagined asking for negative COVID test results along with permission slips before a student loaded on the bus for a retreat.

Though so much has changed in the last two years, I was reminded this weekend that there are some things that never change. God is faithful. God still calls us to be a family of faith, worshipping God, following Jesus, and known by our love. And, God is at work among God's people, even in, especially in, the most difficult of days.

If you feel like you have been trudging through the wilderness, because of the pandemic or any other reason, know God sometimes does God's best work in the wilderness.

Thank you for your prayers for our students during the weekend, and your consistent support of our Student Ministry throughout the years. It was wonderful this past weekend to do something familiar from the "before times." And even as we did it, to recognize God is always up to something new!