I went to Impact for the first time in July 2018. Dan, Makayla, Nathaniel and Micaiah all came with me.
Makayla was 10. Nathan was five. Micaiah was two years and five months.
You may be asking yourself why?
To build / grow (you pick the metaphor) the relationship with the girls from our sixth-grade small group and because one of my most precious callings as a Christian is to be a spiritual mother for the next generation. This is not a responsibility I can relinquish when kids go into 6th grade.
What better way to bond as a group than camping in a wide-open field with no shade. In a tent with your husband and two babies, one that is still nursing and one that requires feeding through a tube in his stomach.
Am I right?
I felt like an outsider. There didn't seem to be many adults with kids. There definitely didn't seem to be a 'family vibe' in the air. The girls were great. Everyone was great. I just felt 'out of place'. At the same time, I felt that I was where God wanted me to be, so yeah, if you can relate, you know the struggle.
I left early every evening before the fun and exciting worship to give the boys a bath in a Rubbermaid tub (And yes! I would do that again in a heartbeat! the quiet time in the field with those babies was something so so Good!) Then I would go to bed before dark in a tent with the two boys on an air mattress, listening as off in the distance the drumbeat, and the crowds worshipped.
That was Impact for me then.
Impact this year:
Makayla is 15. Nathan is 10. Micaiah is 7.
When I first worshipped at Impact, I prayed that I would be back year after year watching as First Lights became youth and joined us on this Adventure. I imagined them growing in faith and boldly worshipping -praising God freely with love and joy.
When I 'thanked God' at Impact 2023, I looked down at the stage where Cora had Nathan on her back, Katie, Makayla and most of our group (including some of my current sixth grade small group girls who were in 1st grade the first time I came to Impact) were jumping up and down, spinning, twirling around and shouting:
"HELL LOST ANOTHER ONE AND I AM FREE'
It was everything I'd imagined. An answered prayer! What a blessing to see the next generation of FUMC in that Valley worshipping God because that is who they are - Jesus is their everything. Faith is the air they breathe.
I do thank God for the ability to survive the frigid water of the Little Juniata River and for the passion to help kids experience moments with Jesus. I pray that kids and youth know that Jesus is not a make-believe story. He is real and He is there for them.
There is plenty of discomfort and misery waiting at Impact if you are looking for it. But I asked God to help me look through His eyes:
I saw Illuminate youth worshipping boldly without reservation. I saw Illuminate youth spending time alone on the hillside connecting with God. I saw Illuminate youth connecting with leaders beyond small talk and superficial words. I saw Illuminate youth reaching out to others with help or encouragement. I saw youth leaders emerge to mentor other youth. I saw a lot more younger kids. I saw more parents. Our Illuminate group had two moms with little ones (they didn't sleep over in tents but maybe next year) join us. This meant that First Lights had 4 kids in attendance at this year's Impact. I saw relationships. I saw trust. I saw discussions. I saw Jesus.
One day no matter how much I want to be, I won't be there for the worship, the drama, or the campfire conversations that only happen in groups of people who have real relationships based in trust and faith in Jesus. But we don't have to be at Camp Green Hills in the middle of July to help people encounter Jesus.
When we come together as a church family, whether as a youth group, as the Hungry Hearts team at the food pantry, in worship on Sunday morning, or at a small group lunch at Stoner's, when we are together, united in love for Jesus and love for one another with a genuine desire to share that love with everyone we meet, we are radiating the light of Jesus to those around us and making an IMPACT.
Father, may we always surround the next generation with an atmosphere of faith, of prayer, and of
encouragement, so that your kingdom will move from glory to glory to glory to glory until the day of Christ. This we pray in Jesus' mighty name, amen.