Whimsical obstacle courses, lanky wooden structures and exotic Egyptian relics peppered campus. Youth Ministry Chair Dr. Rob Hildebrand and his youth ministry majors had spent months building props, planning games and booking entertainment. Now they waited. Anticipation hung in the air.
Buses and vans packed with youth groups slowly rolled into parking lots. Hildebrand watched as 650 high school students began pouring into campus. Then he began to cry.
“It was beautiful to see their energy and excitement over the work we put into it,” he says. “This event says to them, ‘You’re important to us, you’re important to the church, and we love you.’”
‘A catalyst for community’
For Hildebrand, every piece of Spring Thaw is significant. The wild games, the powerful speakers, the silly comedy sketches and the rich theology seminars each play a distinct role in developing students during the three-day retreat.
“Some people think they should be in classes all day, but you can’t expect them to be able to sit down for 20 hours and listen,” says Hildebrand. “The truth is that we learn from watching people and interacting with them. Activities break down barriers between kids and their leaders. It’s a catalyst for community.”
Hunter Johnson, a junior from Mountainview Church, agrees. “I’ve been bonding with my youth mentor this weekend,” he says.
Students were treated to a variety of activities during the weekend, including bacon bonfires, real-life Mario Kart, a petting zoo, limo rides and a color war. April Fancher-McKinzie, a sophomore from Central Bible Church, loved meeting Curly, a towering camel who visited campus Saturday afternoon.
“Spring Thaw brings youth groups closer to each other, and we get to meet new people,” she says.
‘We’re learning from the best’
But Hildebrand doesn’t stop with games and entertainment. Spring Thaw hosts a main speaker who teaches four sessions during the event. There are also four theology seminars led by Multnomah professors.
“The theology seminars are something I love about this retreat,” says Hildebrand. “Sometimes youth ministry can be shallow. But kids are deeper than you realize; they grapple with tough issues. This is a way they can hear from thinkers who have spent many years studying the deep issues of life.”
Fancher-McKinzie attended Stump the Prof, a seminar where Dr. Brad Harper answered students’ theology questions, which included:
- How do you know if God speaks to you?
- Is war ever OK?
- Does God love something because it’s right or is it right because he loves it?
- Can you be gay and be a Christian?
- How does free will work when God is in control of everything?
“It addressed a lot of questions that come up in everyday life,” says Fancher-McKinzie.
Austin Thompson, a senior from Gladstone First Baptist Church, feels the same way. “The seminar was very beneficial to me,” he says. “It helped me understand the Bible more clearly.”
He was also impressed by the professors’ knowledge. “I feel like we’re learning from the best,” he says. “They are people to look up to.”
Supporting the work of the kingdom
It’s Thompson’s second year at Spring Thaw, and he’s soaking in all the information he can. “I’ve only been a Christian for two years, so everything I take in is new to me,” he says. “I’ve become spiritually closer to God and am learning more of his Word.”
Hildebrand says that’s what Spring Thaw is all about. “This event allows us to utilize the assets the Lord has blessed us with to support the work of the kingdom in dozens of our area churches,” he says. “We’ve had people say, ‘Spring Thaw changed my life,’ but really it’s Jesus who changed their life.”
“You guys put a lot of effort into Spring Thaw,” says Thompson. “And it’s not about getting people to attend MU — it’s a chance for people to come together. I think that’s an amazing, selfless thing for a university to do.”