"More sermons, more Bible studies, more evangelism…and we as a staff are trying to figure out how to make it happen,” says London Lee, Gem State Adventist Academy chaplain. He’s talking about the students’ response to Youth for Jesus, an ASI-sponsored program just concluded on the GSAA campus. For over five months, students, faculty, churches and the community have experienced a powerful renewal and transformation.
Kevin Sears, Youth for Jesus director, speaks about the program which is in its second year and focuses on a series of classes designed to encourage Christian lifestyle and prepare students for evangelism.
“When young people get into college, many of them lose touch with the church,” says Kevin. “We believe if we get them involved with soul winning early, they will be more likely to stay connected.”
At first it was a challenge to get students on board. London recalls, “The number one theme I heard was, ‘Are we going to be required to preach and give Bible studies? Because that’s not my gift.’ The Bible workers had a great response for this. The first thing they said was, ‘Pray about how God can use you. We need help with other things as well.’ They really encouraged students to find the place God was calling them to be involved in, and to remember every role is important.” As the official program concludes, it’s evident a culture change will continue to reverberate throughout the GSAA campus. God is still at work in the lives of numerous students, just as He was long before they realized it.
From Buddhism to Baptism
Before Hoai (pronounced "Why") Nguyen came to Gem State Academy the only experience he had with Christianity was attending a Christmas mass at a Catholic church in his hometown in Vietnam. Five months later he simply cannot stop sharing about the way his life has been transformed through a deeply personal relationship with God.
Hoai found himself at Gem State Academy by a series of events he now describes as miracles.
“My mother wanted me to go to a Christian school in Idaho because she has a friend in Twin Falls. The only school certified to accept me was GSAA.”
Days before leaving for the United States Hoai says a Christian friend challenged him to “seek the truth.” When ASI Bible workers joined the Gem State campus in September, that search became even more real. “As people shared their stories and their faith it was amazing to see how God could work in people. I thought, ‘Why don’t I just give Him a try?’”
The defining moment came when Hoai and a group of GSAA students attended the Generation of Youth for Christ convention in San Jose, Calif. For Hoai, a special appeal spoke directly to his heart. “They had a call for people who had grown up in other religions. I’m from a Buddhist background. They invited us to let go and follow God. I decided ‘Yes, that’s what I want to do.’ I want to follow God 100 percent!”
As GSAA prepared for a student-led Revelation of Hope series, Hoai was invited to be one of the speakers. “The Bible workers told me I had potential, and I wanted to do something special so I decided to just try for it,” Hoai says. “The hardest part was the language. I would get excited and not say the words clearly. The Bible workers and a teacher helped me practice pronunciation and style. I was worried I would be uncomfortable when preaching but you can’t overestimate how comfortable I was.
“I used to be very independent,” remarks Hoai. “But as I have learned about God and have gotten to know Him personally He has become my compass.”
Josh Finds A New Path
For Josh Hester, GSAA sophomore, a dramatic change has come in where he applies his leadership skills. While studying with ASI Bible workers, Josh felt encouraged to speak during the series. Doing so forced Josh to re-evaluate how he was using his time, and ultimately lead to a decision not to play on the school’s basketball team this year. “It was one of the hardest decisions out of this whole thing,” Josh says. “But I wouldn’t be the same person without that choice. I learned about commitment and trusting God to lead you. You have to be willing to go where He leads you.”
As the Bible workers encouraged Josh to study and pray, he felt a growing desire to be baptized. “There’s a point where you decide to follow Christ and then a point where, to move forward, you get baptized,” he says.
In taking that public step, Josh found himself used by God in everyday interactions. “My friends and family are opening up to me, and I can see God working in those interactions,” Josh says. “I get up at six every morning and go have devotions with some friends and the dean.”
Josh says he has noticed a change in the atmosphere on campus as well. “Last year you could tell it was a Christian school, but now when you walk on campus students are having studies and praying.”
Not About Me Anymore
When it was time for Ellissa Nelson, GSAA freshman, to give her message at the meetings she felt God work in a real and personal way. “When I preached I was nervous for about the first 30 seconds,” Ellissa says. “After that it wasn’t about me anymore, it was about the message. When you are working for God and the Holy Spirit is working through you it’s the most wonderful feeling you will ever have.”
Ellissa also felt the Holy Spirit work when she conducted Bible studies. "I worried that, being only 14, adults would not listen to me. I had the privilege of giving Bible studies to a girl of 13 in my community. I was able to relate to her without fear of rejection."
Perhaps just as wonderful is the response of those who were sharing in the program. Friends, church members and the community related as well. London Lee comments, "I had one church member come up and tell me, 'I never really understood the 2,300 days until I heard it explained by a 16-year-old.'"
The impact of changed and inspired youth is not lost on church leadership. Steve McPherson, Idaho Conference president, comments, "I know many pastors who are afraid to make a commitment call with a card, but I've seen kids do it and do it well. It's motivated me to want to preach God's message more than ever before."
GSAA Campus Culture Change
Beyond the public, nightly aspects of the evangelistic series, the Youth for Jesus program has had a subtle, personal phase that appears in glimpses throughout the campus. Quiet moments of prayer, study and honest, open dialogue among small groups of friends; quiet decisions and lifestyle changes punctuate this program with greater intensity and impact than any altar call. London Lee reflects on one example. “The other day I found a note someone had dropped. The person was talking about feeling depressed and going through some difficult struggles. Then someone had responded with words of encouragement. 'God loves you. I’ll be praying for you…’ That’s ministry!”
“This has made Christianity real for our students,” observes London. And Peter McPherson, principal, agrees. “Giving our young people a chance to be really truly involved in sharing the good news of the gospel is a unique and powerful experience,” he says. “Perhaps even greater than seeing the community impacted is the effects this program had and continues to have on our own students.”