Reformed young people may sometimes feel as though they are a minority in the world. However, after attending the Reformed Youth Services Convention in Newberg, Oregon, perhaps they felt like Elijah when he discovered that there were seven thousand that were still like him (1 Kings 19). Just fewer than seven hundred Reformed people gathered for the convention that took place from July 12 to July 16. It is a difficult task to capture in a short article the incredible week of RYS Convention 2010. You really had to be there! However, since most of you were not, this summary will give you a glimpse into what took place.
On Monday, July 12, 2010, 532 high school students from fifty-five Reformed churches flooded the George Fox University campus for the tenth annual RYS convention. Add to this the 161 adults acting as sponsors, speakers, committee members and board members, and you find yourself in the midst of 693 likeminded Reformed Christians! This constitutes the second largest convention ever. Everyone seemed eager to come together to hear God’s Word and to be challenged to stand firm on the Rock Solid foundation.
This year’s theme was ROCK SOLID, based on Matthew 7:24-27, which states: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Rev. C. J. den Dulk and Rev. Ed Marcusse led our enthusiastic group in a series of five main sessions, one each day, in which they preached from God’s Word found in this passage and other related Scriptures.
Rev. den Dulk spoke at the first session, preaching from the theme text. He clearly showed from the passage that building a house on the Rock involves putting the words of Jesus into practice. This includes the words Jesus just finished speaking in the Sermon on the Mount. Rev. den Dulk then took us through each Beatitude, focusing on how differently life in the Kingdom looks from the ways of the world. He challenged all conventioneers to pursue the true blessedness found only in our Rock, Jesus Christ. The idea of higher goals and priorities resounded in our hearts and minds as we left this session.
Session two had Rev. Ed Marcusse take up the Rock Solid theme. He taught that Matthew 7: 24-27 was the summary of the entire Sermon on the Mount, setting forth Jesus’ imperative to listen and recognize the two alternatives described as two gates, two trees, and now two foundations. We can hear Jesus’ words and put them into practice, or we can hear the words and reject them. He impressed upon the young people that they were at an age when they enjoy new independence, but they also have the responsibility that goes with it. He boldly warned that those who reject Christ and His words should be prepared for the full wrath of God to come barreling down and totally destroy them. Rev. Marcusse challenged us to stop being pretenders who build nice-looking houses on the outside but who have shifting-sand foundations. The penetrating question he finished with asked, “Is the house of your soul firmly built on Jesus?”
Our attention was directed to a Rock Solid life necessarily being rooted in prayer during the third session with Rev. den Dulk. We read from Matthew 6, which contains the Lord’s Prayer within the Sermon on the Mount. Rev. den Dulk reminded us that the catechism calls prayer the chief part of thankfulness and encouraged us to develop an “attitude of gratitude” in prayer. He proclaimed the amazing wonder of a God who allows us to come to him as our Father because of Jesus’ astounding work on the cross, and this forced us to consider how much time we actually set apart to pray and draw near to God. Emphasizing the importance of prayer to withstand the storms of life, we were pointed to Christ the Rock, our only and our eternal hope.
Rev. Marcusse proclaimed God’s Word to us again on Day four, session four. He stated that the storm and winds described in the text were much more than life’s trials and tribulations. The Solid Rock will surely stand fast during these, but ultimately, the tempest in Matthew 7 depicts the storm of God’s final judgment. He charged us to be “intolerant” of religious pluralism, clinging to the Rock as the only way to salvation. We were also warned not to fall for the devil’s lie that makes young people believe that they have forever to turn to Christ. Reminding us that for some, tomorrow never comes, Rev. Marcusse pleaded for us to realize that today is the day of salvation!
Friday, July 16 was the final day of the RYS Convention, and everyone gathered in the auditorium for the closing session with Rev. den Dulk. He took us to the end of Matthew, reading from Matthew 28:1–10, a resurrection passage. He unfolded four truths that the empty tomb can help us to understand. First, because of the clear evidence that the tomb was empty and that Jesus himself prophesied His death and resurrection, we trust that all Jesus taught and proclaimed is true. The one who preached the Sermon on the Mount is God himself, and He is the only Rock. Secondly, the risen Lord shows us that Jesus was raised for our justification; He is the Rock of our salvation. The empty tomb thirdly means that we have the resurrection power to live a new life, not one built on shifting sand. Finally, the risen, ascended, and glorified Lord guarantees our citizenship in heaven because Christ, our firstfruits, is already there. Rev. den Dulk ended our week together with the assurance that for those with a Rock-Solid foundation, the glories of heaven and eternal life with the Father are ours in Christ!
These main sessions clearly centered on the Word of God, and the singing at the start of each session truly helped to prepare our hearts to receive that Word. Mrs. Julie Bussis, Mr. Rip Pratt, and Mr. Brent Cooper led the singing of many hymns and other songs having a strong Scriptural basis. Listening to these young people burst into jubilant song and hearing the beauty of the words was truly uplifting.
Another main part of the convention was the various workshops that were held. Each participant selected five from a possible eleven workshops ranging in topic from Reformed worship, personal devotions and forgiveness, to controlling emotions and a biblical perspective on Facebook. The speakers for the convention were Rev. Jeremy Veldman, Rev. Harold Miller, Rev. Bill Boekestein, Rev. Eric Tuininga, Rev. Michael Schout, Mr. William Godfrey, Rev. Jason Tuinstra, Pastor Jeff Doll, Rev. J. Lucero, Mr. Jon Bushnell, and Rev. Jeff De Boer. The leaders of these workshops and sessions confronted our young people with the truth and subsequent consequences in a bold way. The students spoke highly of the workshops, learning much from the very practical emphasis of each one.
The RYS motto is, “Committed to the Spiritual and Social Nurturing of our Covenant Youth.” In keeping with this, the central focus is on the spiritual through the sessions and workshops geared at training our young people. However, the social aspect is also prevalent and vital to the success of the convention. All conventioneers could choose between a whitewater rafting trip on the Clackamas River or a visit to the Oregon Zoo in Portland. Six hundred and six people went rafting, making it the largest rafting group ever to hit the rivers in Oregon, according to our guides. The beauty of the surroundings on this ride prompted us to thank our Creator God for his handiwork. Many also discovered the refreshing nature of cold river water as well, after making an unplanned dip into the Clackamas. These outings increased the camaraderie and helped release some of the pent-up energy that accumulated after periods of sitting and thinking!
Other activities included choir, basketball, volleyball, soccer, a five-kilometer run, dodgeball, Bible Jeopardy, checkers, and other games. Seeing these students mingle and forge new friendships was a joy to witness. Another major social event centered around the mealtimes when we sat down together and conversed as we ate the excellent food prepared by staff of George Fox University. The talent show on the final night saw the auditorium packed with young people, pulsing with energy, cheering on those brave enough to show their God-given talents. Our young people developed a new and expanded sense of belonging to our larger Reformed community.
Each day was hemmed in by morning and evening devotions in Son-rise and Son-set groups. In the morning, mixed groups of ten students and two leaders met together, but at the very end of the day each church gathered with its own young people to discuss the sessions and have devotions. This set the tone for each day or concluded the day with a focus on our purpose of glorifying God.
It was a great blessing to observe the spiritual growth, fun, and excitement that developed over the course of the week. The young people of our churches had a wonderful time, but so did the sponsors! Convention 2010 was a well-organized, exciting event planned by a hard-working committee that ensured that everything was in place and ready to roll from the moment the youths arrived. This committee worked under the leadership of Mr. Ed De Graaf, the RYS director, and is accountable to the RYS Board with current chairman, Mr. Glenn Hop. This board, in turn, is accountable to the consistory of Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI. These people are dedicated to bringing our covenant youth together in an ever-changing world, helping them build spiritual houses firmly anchored on the Rock of Ages who never changes.
The location of the next convention is always a well-kept secret, revealed only at the closing session of the current convention. The suspense was finally relieved when it was announced that RYS Convention 2011 will be held at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa from July 25–29 with the theme of “Under Construction. “ To all of you covenant young people: you really have to be there!
Mrs. Anne Konynenbelt writes about the 2010 RYS Young People’s Convention as a sponsor and a mother. She is a math teacher at Immanuel Christian High School in Lethbridge, Alberta. She is a member of the Trinity Reformed Church (URCNA) in Lethbridge.