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“Relentless Pursuit” at Acquire the Fire teen conference

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Local youths join thousands for weekend of challenge

By Patty Unruh

Six teens from Christ the King Community Church in Gilpin County joined about five thousand other young people from Colorado and surrounding states, some from as far away as Texas, in  converging on the Denver Coliseum April 26-27 for “Acquire the Fire,” a weekend of speakers, bands, drama, videos, and opportunities to serve others.

The six local teens, who comprise about half of Christ the King’s youth, included Melanie Unruh, Stephanie Pilcher, Micah Josselyn, Rachel Josselyn, Brian Unruh, and Jacob Cornwell. I had the privilege of being their chaperone for that fun, intense, and challenging event.

Acquire the Fire, a Christian conference for teens put on by Teen Mania Ministries, had as its theme “Relentless Pursuit.” The purpose was to show young people God’s love and passion for them and to call them to pursue him as well.

Acquire the Fire’s website summarizes the ministry’s focus. “For more than 20 years, ATF has been about tens of thousands of youth coming together over 27 hours to be set apart from the distractions and influences of the world, long enough to encounter God in a total revolution of the heart,” the site states. “Many teens today are spending their time, money, and passion on pursuing ‘things’ in order to bring them happiness. However, the best ‘things’ in life are not things at all; true lasting joy is found in pursuing that which is eternal.” Over 2.7 million teens have been reached through the ministry. The conference will be held in 24 U.S. cities from January through May this year.

Our group departed for the conference through Friday rush hour traffic. The kids were pumped, laughing and chattering all the way down. As throngs of young people streamed down the aisles to their seats, the band ATF Live got everyone fired up as they led the teens in singing along to powerful music. It was exciting and moving to hear a whole arena full of young people raising their voices together in song.

Following the music, actors presented the first of several scenes of a drama that portrayed high school students who had been focused on themselves and who were being called upon to “step up their game” and reach out to others.

The speaker for the evening, Randy Olsson, said he had been trapped in a life of drug addiction until God’s love set him free. He told the teens, “God’s always got an eye on you, and not just from the sky, but from ground level. He’s always pursuing you because of his great love for you.”

Olsson challenged the youths to ask themselves, “What am I pursuing: drugs, popularity, attention, romance?” He assured them that they did not have to get their act together to come to God, that God knew their value. Olsson said that sometimes we question God because of pain in our lives, but he stated that God wants to turn around every hurt and disappointment.

“God won’t relent until he has all of you,” he told them. “He is after your heart. Stop running and let him catch you.” Olsson invited anyone who had never received God’s mercy to come to the front of the arena and begin to pursue God. Hundreds made their way from all over the stadium. They were supported in their decision by fellow teens who cheered them on.

After a short night’s sleep, our group congregated at our house Saturday morning at 6:45 a.m. (To translate for teens: it means “in the morning.”) While the girls were getting beautified, the guys jump started their sleepy brains with Coke and pop tarts for breakfast (not my idea) and a rousing game of black jack. As might be expected, the trip down was lively.

After the teens started off with singing and another installment of drama, Randy Olsson again addressed the youth. He said that someone who is only playing at Christianity has a price and will fall away when persecution comes or when the temptations of the culture beckon. Olsson pointed to Judas, who betrayed Jesus for a price. Judas was the keeper of the disciples’ money—the “church treasurer,” so to speak—but he never quite “got it,” never had a heart change, even after being with Jesus for three years. A true follower knows that Jesus is priceless, Olsson advised, and will stay true to him.

After Olsson spoke, the youth heard about opportunities to serve others through missions in the United States and around the world through Teen Mania’s Global Expeditions. After that presentation, they were treated to a concert by the band “We Are Leo,” a Chicago-based rock band with a message of love, hope, and new beginnings.

While the kids rocked out, I attended a parent session led by Doug Cherry, an Illinois youth pastor, who proclaimed the importance of handing off the legacy of our faith to the next generation, much as a baton is handed off in a race. Cherry said that succeeding generations since the Builder generation (1901-1925) have passed on a Christian faith less and less, until at the present time, only four percent of people claim to be Bible-believing Christians. The baton has been dropped, he declared, and as a result, our culture is a mess.

Following the concert and parent session, we had a lunch break. Since the weather was in the 70’s, with a refreshing breeze, we joined hundreds of conference-goers outdoors to eat sack lunches. All over the arena grounds, teens were playing football, hacky-sack, ninja, and other games to blow off steam. Inside on the concourse, others visited booths offering t-shirts, ball caps, sunglasses, and wrist bands, or visited tables providing opportunities to sponsor children through Gospel for Asia and to learn more about mission trips.

The afternoon included another concert, by Christian bands Rapture Ruckus, an award-winning hip hop/rock band from Wellington, New Zealand, and Disciple, a metal/rock band with an eternal focus. The musicians connected with the youth by moving among the audience to high-five and sit with their fans while singing. Forget hymns and organ music. The bass was heart rattling, and I could raise one foot off the ground and still feel it vibrating. My group joined the mosh pit at the front of the stage, while I bravely stayed at my seat to take photos.

Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania Ministries, followed the concert with the provocative question, “How would you like to be guaranteed that you will never get bored with God or fall away from him?” He gave this illustration: “A person wouldn’t join the Army as a private and then stay a private for twenty years. Christians shouldn’t stay at the same level, either.” He challenged the young people that Christianity doesn’t equal just going to church for a certain number of years. If we don’t grow, he told the crowd, it’s like being a baby perpetually. He got the point across by calling on a couple of volunteers to come up on stage and spoon feed them strained carrots and peas. Luce grossed out the audience by cutting up a steak and putting it in a blender, then having a young man who volunteered to drink it.

Luce said it’s not enough merely to believe in Jesus; one must follow him. He gave the youth a practical plan for spiritual growth, including regular Bible study about areas in which they want to grow, and showing this growth by their actions.

He called upon the young generation to stand up for their faith and refuse to be dominated by their culture, at a time when public expressions of faith are becoming less popular. As everyone filed out of the Coliseum, they had his parting words to consider: “Today, are there young people with the backbone to stand up for God in America?”

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