Spring Thaw kicked off last weekend, and attendees filled MU’s campus with the contagious energy only 650 high school students could bring. From Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, the weekend was packed with activities, including a comedy show, paintball, a game truck, sports tournaments and a photo booth.
For the past six years, Multnomah has been hosting a weekend-long retreat for local high school youth groups. The theme changes from year to year, but there’s always dynamic speaking and teaching, interactive games, and limitless space for students to experience God outside their usual routine.
This year’s theme, PDXperience, brought almost every Portland stereotype onto one campus. A swarm of camping tents were pitched in the North Bradley lawn, an array of food carts circled the gym parking lot, and the main stage was propped with iconic Portland symbols like the White Stag sign. At night, Roger’s Cafe was transformed into a hipster coffee shop. A live piano filled the room with jazz while students fueled up on caffeine before competing in Nerf challenges and Library Laser Tag.
“It’s super fun; the whole thing is enjoyable,” remarked Julia, a student from Grace Point Community Church in Tigard, who said there wasn’t one thing she didn’t like.
Youth Ministry Department Chair Dr. Rob Hildebrand has been running Spring Thaw since he dreamt it up in 2010, but he decided to take a well-deserved hiatus this year. Luckily for youth groups everywhere, Director of Auxiliary Services Bobby Howell stepped in to fill Hildebrand’s shoes. A team of volunteers from the Multnomah community and Central Bible Church worked hard alongside him to produce this year’s event.
When students weren’t noshing on food cart fare or darting around the pitch-black library with plastic laser guns, they were soaking up the wisdom of A.J. Swaboda, a local pastor, professor and author who served as the event’s main speaker. Swaboda pushed the high schoolers to examine their faith more deeply by candidly explaining what following Jesus really requires. The students thought he was relatable and straightforward.
“It’s nice that A.J. is addressing what it’s like to be a Christian,” said Kaylea, a sophomore from Grace Community Church in Gresham. “He’s addressing a reality.”
Brianne, who’s also from Grace Community, agrees. “I like how honest A.J. is,” she said. “He doesn’t sugarcoat things.”
Youth ministry major Brian Hall has been involved with Spring Thaw for the past four years. Aside from garnering skills and experience vital to his field of study, he truly enjoys seeing the impact the retreat has on students. “They’re getting real life stuff from people other than their youth pastors,” he said. “And it’s a fun time for the Kingdom.”
Youth Director Michael Calquhoun from Gladstone First Baptist brings his youth group back every year for that very reason. And because they don’t stop talking about it once they’ve left. “It’s a good way to build community,” he said “We get to know each other better and share common experiences. And we fall more in love with God.”
Words like that are music to Howell’s ears. “We wanted to provide a setting with quality teaching, where any youth group from any denomination could attend and enjoy the camaraderie of being with other youth groups,” he said. “I want students to be energized to take up the cross past this event — to take it back to their everyday lives. I want them to be the light of Christ.”