WILDWOOD – The idea of “going public” with your faith could easily sum up the experience of the 2018 IGNITE Youth Conference in Wildwood. The speakers, the music, the themes all challenged students to step outside their comfort zones and take their faith public to change the world.
Faith in action dominated the conference and anointed youth with a calling they could grab hold of — to enter their churches, schools and communities ablaze to make change.
This year’s headline speaker, Rachel Billups, pierced through to the hearts of students when she shared her personal testimony of being called out for a former life of private faith.
“When my friend had to ask if I was a Christian, it cut me deep,” she said.
Billups, who serves as Ginghamsburg UMC Tipp City Campus Pastor in Ohio and as Executive Pastor for the church’s Next Generation Ministries, challenged the youth at IGNITE to go public with their faith to be world changers for Jesus.
“It’s okay to struggle with fear and doubt and depression,” she said from the stage. “Jesus is where we can find our hope and our identity.”
She encouraged the students to band together so they don’t have to deal with their struggles alone.
“No matter what your story, people want to and need to hear it,” she said, suggesting that the youth stick with God’s story in 2 Timothy 4:5 which calls believers to endure hardships and go forth in ministry.
“This following Jesus stuff is about your entire life, using it to spread the light and love of God to the entire world, and that’s not easy stuff,” she exclaimed with sincerity in her voice to a stadium of students who were quietly transfixed on her heartfelt honesty.
“If I don’t share the good news of the gospel I won’t become the person God has called me to be,” she said.
Scott Hunter, a youth leader at Simpson UMC in Old Bridge said his youth got the most from Billups’ messages.
“She really had them riveted each time she spoke and made a huge impact on them,” he said.
Worship was led by Bread of Stone, a Christian pop rock band from Iowa, and headlined by Christian hip hop and R&B artist, Mr. TalkBox. DJ Vow and Preston Centuolo returned to motivate the crowd and keep the momentum rolling into the next act. The lively performances energized youth and brought excitement to all.
“This was a great, life changing experience for me,” said Ashley Caldwell of The UMC at New Brunswick. “It was truly amazing. We were dancing like crazy and going up to the stage every time a song came on. We all bonded and that was awesome. I hope to go next year and the year after and the year after and maybe even have more teens from my church go. I’m so thankful for this experience.”
On a scale from one to 10, Kayla Eberly of Vincetown UMC rated this year’s IGNITE 10,000 and “would recommend it to anyone looking to find Jesus in their life.” For Eberly, IGNITE “outdoes itself every year.”
“This year was definitely unforgettable for me,” she stated. “Bread of Stone was amazing. Rachel Billups was amazing. Mr. TalkBox was amazing. IGNITE is amazing. This was my 4th year and let me tell ya, it was the best year ever. Lots of tears and lots of memories were made and I can’t wait to change the world and show them what God really does for us. We are world changers.”
Sara Snialkowski, an IGNITE Squad young adult volunteer leader said this years’ experience will stay with her forever. “By far, this year was the best,” she said.
“IGNITE was transforming, life changing, and modeled so much of who we are and our values and goals as a conference,” said Bishop John Schol.
Billups ended her last session with an assurance that the Holy Spirit would enable the youth to live out their calls.
“God hasn’t given you a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind,” she said. “God has a claim on you. Live your best life for Jesus.”
She emphasized the importance of youth conferences and how they impact lives including many of her friends who found their call to ministry during similar events.
“I was so thankful for the opportunity to speak into the lives of young people,” said Billups. “My prayers are with the students who committed to next steps with Jesus and the leaders who will disciple them.”
One student shared that their call to ministry at IGNITE was because “this world needs to understand that God is always the answer and that we should trust God. We should never forget how important we are and that Jesus made us to be us, not anyone else. For me, the time has come. I’m going public.”
GNJ’s Next Generation Ministries is cultivating and mobilizing new generations of enthusiastic disciples of Jesus Christ that connect, engage and lead in their congregations and communities to change the world. For more information about IGNITE, visit www.ignitenj.org