Youth Ministry

Celebrating God’s Love

Spring Thaw is over. The event that took months of dreaming, planning and building successfully transformed one weekend into 44 hours full of unforgettable games, teaching, laughter, worship, Disney characters and donuts (check out the Spring Thaw photo album!).

Out of the 825 high school students and youth leaders at the event, seven took time to share their Spring Thaw experiences.

springthaw1'It was an encouragement'

Emma Barnett and Amanda Foreman, freshman from Redemptive Church in Duval, Washington, were Spring Thaw first-timers. "I think the event is a great idea," said Barnett "Everyone did a great job organizing everything. And I loved the shows and activities."

Barnett and Foreman agreed that their favorite activity was Library Laser Tag, where they tip-toed, slunk and ran through the darkened MU library with laser guns rented from a local party store. But a theology seminar led by seminary professor Dr. Val Clemen left a deeper impression. Both girls were struck by Clemen's life story, which heavily emphasized the importance of forgiveness. "It was an encouragement," said Foreman.

Barnett agreed. "Her story made me want to love people more,"  she said. "Especially my enemies — because they have it worse."

springthaw2'A lot of growth and bonding'

Millie Dugger, another Spring Thaw first-timer, has been a youth leader at Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon, for six years. As a married woman who works full-time, Dugger has limited time with her youth group each week. Spring Thaw was a refreshing break from normal routine.

"What meant the most to me was having 44 hours of uninterrupted time with my girls," she said. "MU provided and planned everything, so we didn't have to cook and clean up! I saw God reveal opportunities to pray with the girls and be more present since I didn't have an agenda. A lot of growth and bonding happened because of it."

'God's love is always there'

One of the girls in Dugger's youth group, Ashley Smith, also valued the freedom the retreat gave her to build relationships with others. Smith said she expected to meet new people and play lots of fun games during the weekend. But what she didn't expect were the teachings about love and peace that speaker Chap Clark shared with students. "Chap was very motivational and inspirational," she said. "He talked about love in a way we could understand."

The message of hope was just what the senior needed."Society is so caught up with fitting in, but I learned that God's love is always there and that you can find peace," she said. "I've been going through some stressful times, and it was good to be reminded of that."

Smith encourages all high school students to attend the event if they can. "When you have the chance to go, just go for it, and don't be nervous" she said. "I didn't see anyone being left out. Spring Thaw will give you the opportunity to be stronger and make more friends in the Christian community."

springthaw4'It was intense'

Tim Blank, a senior from Abundant Life Church in Sandy, Oregon, also appreciated the sense of community he felt during the weekend. "It was intense," he said. "I learned about how important it is to respect people and to actually act like we're brothers and sisters in Christ."

And although Blank loved the activities and teaching, he was quick to credit the volunteers that made the retreat happen. "I think it's great that MU can open up and do this for us," he said. "It says a lot about the school. I'm glad I got to be here."

Jason Chess, Blank's youth leader, felt the same way. "This is such a great event that our high schoolers can get excited for," he said. "And it's a safe place for them."

springthaw3'God has a place for me'

Eric Irvin, from Mid Valley Community Church in Woodburn, Oregon, thought the weekend was transformative.

"I definitely have different feelings toward other people now," he said. "I'm more accepting because I know God made them in his image."

Irvin especially liked the worship sessions. "Singing songs is one of my favorite ways to connect with God," he said. "This is a place to get away from the worldly things and praise him. MU is not only open and welcoming — God's presence is here too."

As the sophomore prepared for the drive home with his youth group, he felt encouraged. "I've had a lot of struggles lately," he said. "But I learned that God has a place for me in this world."

Spring Thaw is an annual event put on my MU's youth ministry program.

‘Reaching Hearts for Christ’: Volunteers Share the Mission Behind Spring Thaw

image'There's a lot of family out there'

It's Juan Gonzalez's first year volunteering at Spring Thaw, but the Youth Ministry major knows a thing or two about the event — he attended the retreat with his youth group all four years of high school. "I got saved in eighth grade and was surrounded by a great community and a great youth group," he says. "It made me want to provide the same thing for other kids."

Now a freshman at MU, Gonzalez is excited to contribute to an event that changed his life year after year. "When I was in high school, I'd see only about two other Christians at my school," he says. "But when I came to Spring Thaw, I would get so fired up when I saw how many Christians were here. This event shows people a broader community of believers; it lets them know that there's a lot of family out there."

Gonzalez will wear many hats during the weekend event, and he's eager for each one. "I'll be volunteering in the puppy room and helping out with with junta darts and operation underground," he says. "I want to branch myself out in this community, and I'm excited to get to know more youth groups."

IMG_1316'It's quality fun'

Katie MacDonald is busy turning Roger's Café into a Disney-themed karaoke hot spot: New lights glisten from the ceiling, clouds billow from a fog machine and a disco ball winks over the stage. It's the psychology major's second year volunteering at the event, and she's glowing with enthusiasm. "Disney karaoke is going to be super magical," she says. "My friend and I are going to MC and dress up like princesses; it's going to be awesome."

The junior hopes the karaoke lounge — and all of Spring Thaw for that matter — will be a place where students can relax and have a good time." So often high schoolers get so involved in what other people think about them," she says. "I want them to remember that they're still kids and can have fun. They can be real with each other and let God work. We want them to find their identity in Christ and not anywhere else."

DSCN0930'I want to be a role model'

Rodney DeJager, a Youth Ministry major, agrees. "MU is a safe environment for these students," he says. "We've been praying that the Holy Spirit will be working in them."

The senior has a big heart for high schoolers.  "It's a really crucial time in peoples' lives," he says "I appreciated the support and encouragement I got from my youth pastor. Now I want to be a role model."

This will be DeJager's third year  as a volunteer and his second year as an intern. He and a group of five other interns have taken months to dream, brainstorm, budget and plan for the 44-hour retreat. "It's a valuable experience," he says. "We've talked about all  this stuff in freshman and sophomore classes, and now I'm putting it into practice."

DeJager will continue to hone his leadership skills this weekend as he joins the more than 200 Multnomah volunteers that make the retreat successful. "Spring Thaw is great for marketing and publicity, but it really shows our school's heart for people," he says. "MU genuinely cares for these high school students. It wants to give them this gift — and reach hearts for Christ."

Registration is full, but visit the Spring Thaw website for more information about this retreat.

‘A Labor of Love’: Dr. Hildebrand Reflects on the Ultimate Youth Event

hildebrand_mainWhat do Disney karaoke, theology seminars, laser tag, MU’s campus and 825 high schools students have in common? You guessed it: Spring Thaw. The weekend retreat, open to youth groups and individuals, will kick off this Friday at 7 p.m. Every year brings a unique theme, and 2014 is all about medieval knights, fairy tales and Disney.

Youth Ministries Department Chair Dr. Rob Hildebrand has been running the event since its debut five years ago. "MU was awarded a large grant so it could offer theological training to high school students," he says. For years, the University hosted a leadership program called CREDO, which benefited hundreds of high school students. But when CREDO began to decline, MU needed to reimagine the event. That's when Spring Thaw was born.

Although many other Christian universities offer retreats for high school students, Spring Thaw stands out. "Our event is more community-based because everyone who’s volunteering already lives here," says Hildebrand. More than 200 volunteers — composed of MU students and staff — plan, build and facilitate the retreat each year. A small group of students majoring in Youth Ministry take on larger leadership roles and serve as interns. "Our students do well at getting hired after they intern at this event," Hildebrand says. "A lot of people do ministry lazily, but I want our volunteers to develop a good work ethic. I want them to see that when you do hard work, you really can make things better."

Making Spring Thaw better is something Hildebrand is passionate about. "I love being innovative, and I try to make improvements every year," he says. He was ecstatic to secure Dr. Chap Clark as the main speaker. “In my book, he’s one of the top five youth ministry experts in the world," Hildebrand says. Besides the main sessions with Clark, the high school students will attend theology seminars led by MU faculty."This isn't not a shallow, frivolous retreat," says Hildebrand. "I hope the seminars will help students see Christianity as it is and come to grips with who Christ is."

Hildebrand believes that students learn best when they're in a balanced environment, and he injects plenty of activities into the weekend, including comedy skits, a puppy room, bubble soccer, magic shows and a color run. "This really is a labor of love," he says. "Volunteers are going to be tired, it inconveniences staff and students in the dorms are giving up their space. But we’re doing this because we love these high school students. At MU, we're not all about MU — we're about serving and looking beyond ourselves. We care about the Church and the kingdom."

Registration is full, but visit the Spring Thaw website for more information about this retreat.

Portland Youth Leaders to Gather for a Day of Training and Collaboration

Please allow me to introduce...Bridges.

About six years ago, a couple of old guys were sitting in a coffee shop that was way too cool for them in a trendy Portland neighborhood. While neither one of them was likely to be cast in “Portlandia,” both of them were teaching youth ministry in PDX, and both had a deep desire to use their particular gifting and training to strengthen local youth ministries and build the kingdom of God. Read the rest of this entry »