Below is a report from the Rocky Mountain Regional Outreach Youth Conference:

Let’s see. I’m a new youth leader? What kind of conference could get my students out of their comfort zone this summer? How about a conference doing outreach in Greeley, Colorado? Really? Greeley is known for the smell of agriculture products, low income jobs for immigrants and gang violence. It’s culturally diverse and hard-working but certainly not glamorous or hip. One South Park episode jokingly refers to the city of Greeley as “the opposite of Hawaii.” Sounds like just the place for Vineyard youth to get shaken up by the love of Jesus.

It felt like it might be a hard sell to get students signed up and paid up, but nonetheless this past August, 180 students and leaders claimed a residence hall at the Colorado State University campus in Fort Collins, Colorado for Impact Summer Youth Conference 2012 with the intent of doing outreach in Greeley. There were high-energy worship sets, heart-wrenching talks, prayerful ministry times and giant games but the biggest Jesus stories were happening in the Greeley neighborhoods.

Each day Vineyard youth loaded up into buses for the 45 minute drive to Greeley and within minutes of their arrival they were giving away groceries and flower pots just to have an excuse to interact and pray with people. Instead of paying a dollar, car owners received shiny Sacajawea dollar coins with a car wash and a reminder that Jesus loves them. A playground donated by the Greeley Vineyard church years ago at a low-income apartment complex was refurbished and repainted. Art projects, skits, talks, candy, music, games, and “Jesus loves you” signs were all a part of it. Pretty much anything was used to get people’s attention and point them toward the love of the Father.

We were in small little ways giving people a glimpse of the kingdom of God. It’s then that we really began to feel the Holy Spirit breathing life into our efforts. Underneath the blazing Colorado sun it was the water fights that brought the most laughs, connected the most people, and led to some of the more memorable Jesus moments. Youth were trying out Spanish and Somali and spontaneously stepping out to pray for strangers. On the last night students were lining up to talk about how they finally have their own Jesus stories and so many of them happened right there on the neighborhood streets of Greeley.

Days passed. Now weeks have passed. It’s back to school we’re all back home trying to deal with regular life. Most of my students are from Fort Collins and the surrounding area which sometimes can be pretty homogenous and a lot of the same. Sure, Fort Collins has had a few blips on the screen. We’re the home of balloon boy, a big state college campus, and a few famous micro-breweries. Yes, we’re “Fort Fun” and we’re a pretty comfortable town to raise a family. Can this also be just the place to get shaken up by the love of Jesus?

If Jesus is the Sherpa who can take you on a mountain-top experience at a summer conference he’s also the deep sea dive instructor who can take you through the lowest point in the ocean like the mundane and ordinariness of regular life at school. Looking back on the time since the conference I realize that so many student’s lives were changed. At the same time it was only days after Impact Summer Youth Conference that I was getting phone calls and seeing Facebook status updates indicating that students in no time were having to deal with some of their same sin patterns and hurts. Helping my students walk through this feels like something Jesus would do. It feels like the life of a youth leader. We can invite Jesus into the emotional high and the adrenaline of immediate obvious need. We can also invite Jesus into the emotionless funk of apathy and excessive comfort insulating us.

No matter where we are on the journey; no matter where we are on the altitude graph of our experience of God; it’s always these little opportunities in the middle of the messiness. It’s letting God control the big picture and saying ‘yes’ once again to stepping out in some small step of risk.  I’m so thankful that Jesus is here. Come Holy Spirit and be near to our youth in the middle of all of it. Father send your love.

Impact Summer Youth Conference is hosted by Rick O and Becky Olmstead and Vineyard Church of the Rockies. For a glimpse of some of the fun in Greeley this summer go to the Greeley Tribune online newspaper link here.