For the last three years The Reformed Youth Service Convention has been the one thing that I look forward to most in the year and fortunately, I have never been disappointed. This year was no different in that case. When I arrived at Biola University in La Mirada, California, for the RYS Youth Convention, I was absolutely buzzing with excitement for the upcoming week. Between the music, the fellowship, the community, the workshops, and the sessions, I knew that this week was going to be amazing. The theme for the week was centered around the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, which happens to be in October this year. The sessions were dedicated to the “5 Solas” of The Reformation which are: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Fide, and Soli deo Gloria. Rev. Jon Bushnell of Prinsburg, Minnesota and Rev. Ed Marcusse of Salem, Oregon, were the designated main session speakers, and as we headed into the week I was anxiously anticipating their sessions. Aside from the sessions, I was also enthused about the workshops and the time I would get to spend with friends. Something about the main session speakers this year really drew me in. Both Rev. Bushnell and Rev. Marcusse have drastically different exhortation styles. Each session I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat. Whether it was the gentle voice of Rev. Bushnell or the authoritative voice of Rev. Marcusse, I was completely absorbed and I left each session with my spirit soaring.
Session #1, was chock full of amazing illustrations from Rev. Bushnell as he explained to us the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura,” which means “Scripture Alone.” One such illustration involved Rev. Bushnell dumping a bag of soil onto a table and asking us what the difference was between the dirt and a poor unfortunate conventioneer in the front row. Rev. Bushnell’s responded by saying that the only difference between them was the breath of God. Using 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5 and this illustration, Rev. Bushnell enforced the authority of the Bible and the proper usage of the Bible.
Session #2 on Tuesday morning was led by Rev. Ed Marcusse who spoke on the doctrine of “Sola Gratia” or “Grace Alone.” Rev. Ed Marcusse began by emphasizing the magnitude of our depravity and comparing it with other views in our world. Using a piece of paper, he demonstrated the difference between being slightly wrinkled (not completely depraved) and a burnt pile of ash. This emphasized our need for a Savior and our need for a complete outpouring of grace. Without Christ and God’s grace on us, we are incapable of contributing to our salvation. Another example that resonated with me was the story of John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace.”John Newton was raised as a Christian until his parents died. Afterwards, he began living his life “to the fullness of his sin.” Rev. Ed Marcusse has a way of absolutely blasting through my sin to convict me and make me shrink in my seat. After his conviction he raised me up out of my guilt with the promise of God’s grace and how it is by grace alone we are saved.
Session #3 brought us back to Rev. Jon Bushnell, who spoke this time on the doctrine of “Solus Christus” which means “Christ Alone.” Throughout the session Rev. Bushnell talked of the importance of Christ in our lives and how it is through him alone that we are saved. He began by expressing the supremacy of God in our lives and how he is in all and over all. Everything we do is for his glory. Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross was to break us free from the Covenant of Works and place us into the Covenant of Grace that Christ earned for us. Christ was raised so that we may receive the his grace. Rev. Bushnell said a lot of great things, but one thing that stuck in my head was, “My infidelity was crucified on the Cross and Christ’s perfect life was imputed onto me.” He then moved on to instruct us that since we have been given this grace, we must reconcile our sins with God and live for him.
Session #4 allowed for us to hear from Rev. Ed Marcusse again as he spoke about the doctrine of “Sola Fide” which means “Faith Alone.” This session spoke to me on a really profound level. Something in the presentation and content of this session made my chest heave. Rev. Marcusse stressed the importance of this doctrine and impressed upon us that we must take ownership of our own faith. We cannot rely on our parents, our church, or friends to maintain and strengthen our faith. We must do this ourselves; otherwise we will perish. He depicts our faith as a canvas and we must use God’s Word as the paintbrush to create a beautiful painting that displays our faith. He emphasized that in order to have a blossoming faith we must have the “Three C’s”: Content, Confession, Commitment. Content pertains to the knowledge in our brain that we have about the Bible. We must have strong biblical knowledge because knowledge is the platform upon which our faith stands. After gaining Content we must Confess the content in our hearts. The most profound sentence of the entire RYS convention came from Rev. Marcusse when he said, “Don’t die 18 inches away from heaven.” Of course this is referring to the distance between someone’s heart and mind. If we do not confess the truth of the Bible in our hearts, then we are going to die eighteen inches away from heaven. After this we must Commit our lives to Christ and living for him. Finally on the last day, we entered into
Session #5 where we learned of the doctrine of “Soli Deo Gloria” which means “Glory to God Alone.” Rev. Bushnell began by explaining that all the other solas point to this one. In all the others, each gives glory to God. Rev. Bushnell spoke to us about how all things come from God, live through God, and all things are to God. He emphasizes that our worship is not about us or how it makes us feel. It is how it gives glory to God. Every decision we make should be to the glory of God, and to God all things are due. Our lives are in service of him.
Outside of the main sessions each conventioneer signed up for five courses that a different pastor would teach: These are called workshops. More often than not there is a mandatory workshop for men and women. This year there was “Act Like Men” by Rev. Mike Schout of and “The Biblical Woman” by Mrs. Katie Pratt of New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido, CA. Both workshops were phenomenal and reassuring to us as young men and women. There were other great workshops like “How to Read the Bible” by Rev. Angelo Contreras of the Zion URC in Ripon, California. Overall, all of the workshops were amazing and I have heard nothing but positivity about all of them and their leaders. The workshops and sessions are all available for listening on the Reformed Youth Services Website.
On Thursday night, there was a talent show that allowed for many people to give glory to God through the gifts they have been given. There were many amazing acts and a few stood out. There were many piano players, a bunch of singers, a karate demonstration, a magician, and a few comedy skits! Each act did an amazing job and it was an amazing night. Rev. Bradd L. Nymeyer did a form of karate that in the end had the entire auditorium on their feet! A group of conventioneers led by Emily Lieffers from Little Farms, MI, and Willem Pettit of Hudsonville, MI, did a funny comedy sketch that had many people dying of laughter. There were a few singers who sang with ukuleles! Kees Kiledjian of Chino, CA, and Kaiden Tolkamp of Demotte, IN, did a fun mash-up of songs whose themes had to do with saying “hello.” I also did an act, that involved a ukulele. In my act I sang a song called “The Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog. I accompanied this song with a little bit of comedy and a few impressions of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy! In the end everyone had a really great night at the talent show and we finished it all off with a beautiful song from the choir.
Each of the main sessions were sandwiched by a time of singing that allowed for the magnificent chorus of 853 believers to rise from our souls and give glory to God. On the first evening we sang the hymn “How Great Thou Art” and as the song progressed the entire auditorium was filled with this feeling of, “RYS is here at last.” The singing is honestly one of the best parts of RYS because it can move you to tears, which was not uncommon. At the last session it is custom to link hands and sing a benediction that goes “My friends, may you grow in grace.” This song is really difficult to sing because for us it means that RYS is over and we must say goodbye to the friends that we have made. This convention, for some of us, is the only place where we feel like we belong. Where we feel that we can be ourselves, and where people are accepting, loving, and genuinely interested in you on a personal level. I know I’m not only speaking for myself on this matter when I say this. I have made lifelong friendships even though I have only known some people for 4-12 days. The friendships made at RYS are unlike any in the outside world and it is beautiful. I for one cannot wait for the next year, and I eagerly await the opportunity to learn and to spend time with people who believe the same as I do and who love in the same way I do.
Mr. Tate Kiledjian is a seventeen-year-old from Chino, CA, and is a senior at Ontario Christian High School and has been in the Reformed church all his life. He enjoys writing and playing volleyball. This is his third RYS youth convention.