Christian teens gather for national conference

Stacy Jo

Sarah McKenzie

Wearing blue ribbon name tags, Christian teenagers from across the country repopulated the usually quiet campus Tuesday for a week-long gathering and spiritual celebration.
The University is hosting the 47th annual National Youth Conference, which is sponsored by the Churches of Christ, through Saturday. Nearly 2,000 students and 200 counselors from 18 states will attend informational sessions on topics ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to racial issues.
“There was an urgent need for young people from various geographic locations to assemble together,” said Orum Trone Jr., whose father founded the national conference in Detroit in 1941.
Different college campuses host the conference each year. This is the group’s first appearance at the University.
According to a Churches of Christ World Wide Web site, members believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible; their faith focuses on strengthening family relationships.
The theme for this year’s conference is “Building Christian Bridges Into the 21st Century.” Throughout the week, students will participate in workshops, devotions and a community service project at St. Joseph’s Hospital. With monetary donations from each student delegate, two busloads of teenagers will purchase and deliver school supplies to young patients Friday morning.
The student delegates will encourage patients to participate in Christian fellowship.
“They take what they learn in the classroom and put it into action,” Trone Jr. said.
The conference highlights keynote speakers throughout the week. Tuesday night, Dallas resident Demond Coleman addressed the crowd with the topic, “Our Responsibility in Using our Influence to Persuade Others to Become a Member of the Church of Christ.”
In addition to the service mission of the conference, students have a chance to experience social and cultural aspects of the Twin Cities.
A highly anticipated Thursday trip to the Mall of America, along with a sightseeing tour Saturday, will round out the week’s activities.
Conference directors plan to honor select student delegates in a Friday pageant.
A Mr. and Miss National Youth Conference and a Mr. and Miss Congeniality will be crowned. The winners are obligated to speak about their faith in their home states throughout their reign.
The conference will culminate with an all-conference choral songfest Saturday.
In spite of some of the lighthearted activities, conference attendees are focused on the reason for their gathering.
“The main purpose of the conference is to help (the students) grow spiritually,” said O.J. Williams, a counselor from Memphis, Tenn.
Many of the conference’s student attendees return annually and later become counselors for the event, Trone Jr. said.
Quante Cole, a sophomore at Tennessee State University who has been attending the annual event since 1990, called the conference uplifting. He thought the University’s accommodations were above average, but he did complain about the food. Cole said the residence hall cuisine featured hot dogs and leftovers.
Conference counselor Pat Teamer chatted with Cole across from Centennial Hall, which houses some of the male attendees. She criticized the residence halls for their lack of air conditioning. Cole escaped the heat with an umbrella cap that shielded the sun’s rays from his face.
“The kids are here to motivate each other. It’s really their conference,” said Teamer, who said she has grown up going to the conferences.
While used to cramped conditions at various conference sites, attendees said the University’s large campus afforded them ample accommodations for their huge flock of followers.