“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
Throughout the history of God’s people, teenagers have accomplished incredible feats of faith! Jeremiah was a teen when he was called by God to be a “prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) David was a teen when he slew the Philistine giant Goliath. As a teen, Josiah was the most righteous king in the history of Israel. Esther in her teen years saved the entire Jewish nation! The “sons of thunder,” James and John, became Jesus’ apostles when they were teenagers! With this same “ancient faith,” 22 of our movement’s most capable teen disciples gathered in San Diego to initiate I.G.N.I.T.E. – Impacting Generation Next International Teen Explosion!
IGNITE is designed as a spiritual training program to develop, unify and train teen disciples of God’s modern day movement to become the leaders of tomorrow. On Saturday, July 7th, the selected teens of IGNITE arrived in San Diego from all over the world. After gathering, we headed up into the mountains near San Diego to Camp Heise. We spent the first five days of the program on retreat. Each morning, the teens were given a quiet time that was written by a different Evangelist or Women’s Ministry Leader from our family of churches that challenged them to “IGNITE” a different area of their spiritual walk.
One of the most memorable moments of our time at Camp Heise was “The Day of IGNITING our Prayer Life.” After the sun went down, we all gathered in the middle of a giant meadow and had a singing devotional followed by a time of prayer where we all laid on our backs and looked at the stars. As we prayed, we remembered God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15, “‘Look at the stars and count them, if indeed you can.’ Then he said, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” Each star represented another person who would become a disciple of Jesus Christ! At the end of our prayer, God honored us by sending two shooting stars across the sky! I couldn’t help but think that somewhere in the world those shooting stars represented teens who had just been baptized! We went to bed full of faith in our God and amazed by His promises.
My wife Kacie’s favorite memory was the day we took all of the teens on a hike up one of the highest surrounding mountains in 90+ degree weather! (We made sure we took plenty of water!) Though it was a struggle, all the teens made it up the mountain! From the top, the landscape was breathtaking, and we could see the Pacific Ocean some 60 miles away! When Ann Catherin of Stockholm – one of our teens – saw the beautiful view, she exclaimed, “This is like heaven! Even though it was a struggle to get to the top of this mountain, it was well worth it!” She later explained that climbing the mountain is a great metaphor for the Christian life – at the end one “sees” heaven, and indeed, it is well worth it!
Those first five days in the mountains bonded the teens and incredible friendships began to form. Many of our teens are isolated in regions and churches where they are the only teen, so these relationships are so important for them to remain faithful. In a few short days, absolute strangers became best friends! The Spirit is a powerful cohesive! Personally, I was blown away not only by the relationships that were forming so quickly, but I was also inspired by the discipline of the teens as many of them got up at 5AM every day to have quiet times, go on prayer walks, and even work-out!
After our time at Camp Heise, we came down from the mountains ready to do incredible things for God! Thursday, July 12th, we IGNITED our humility on our Day of Service. We served the National Park System by helping to remove destructive plants from the San Diego Water Basin Area. While serving, many of our “city kids” got an “up close look” at (what to them were) exotic animals such as cows and horses! The cows even chased a few of our teens thinking they had food! Friday, July 13th, we IGNITED our relationships on our Day of Fun. We took everyone to the famous Mission Bay Beach and had incredible fellowship and activities! (Though greatly handicapped by my presence, the volleyball team on which God placed me won it all, thus demonstrating 1 Corinthians 1:27 that “God chose the weak, [lowly, and despised]… to shame the strong!”) Also on our Day of Fun, one of our teens even got a tattoo of the word “IGNITE!” Parents don’t be concerned, as it was a “henna tattoo” that will only last a few weeks!
Saturday, July 14th, was a day to IGNITE our evangelism. We all headed to the mall and were quickly kicked out for our zeal! So we took our zeal to the edge of the world’s biggest comic book convention – “Comic Con” – that just happened to be taking place in downtown San Diego. Here we shared with 100’s of the lost! We even had the teens perform a “stomp dance” in the middle of Seaport Village! A large crowd quickly gathered and after the stomp, we invited all of them to church!
Finally on Sunday, July 15th, the IGNITE Teens conducted the entire worship service of the Mission Bay (San Diego) International Christian Church. They did such an excellent job that many hearts were moved! We started the service with our “stomp dance” that our intern, Mason Fetelika, had taught them. Each teen had a distinctive role in the service. Of special note were the three “teen prophets” who preached the sermon Set The World On Fire: Austin Watkins of San Diego, Nate Carrey of Los Angeles, and Austin Broom also of Los Angeles. I was so proud of their courage and faith, and deeply believe that these young men – who most likely will have many more years to serve the Lord ahead of them – will soon be called by God to preach the Word!
On Sunday night, the final evening of IGNITE, we took all the teens to celebrate by playing miniature golf, eating pizza and racing go-karts. At the end of the evening, Kacie and I shared about each teen and gave them each an IGNITE Award for their particular area of excellence during the week. We also gave a special thank you to our incredible IGNITE Interns who each led a team of teens, as well as worked hard to prepare food, choreographed the stomp dance, and did anything asked! The interns were Mason Fetelika, Nathalie Moningka, Adam Zepeda, Tracy Shelbrack all from the City of Angels Church and Aaron Turner from the Portland Church.
We then closed the night and challenged the teens that this was not the end of IGNITE, rather it was the beginning! From here, each of them needed to go back to their home church or region, set-up a meeting with their church or region leaders, and humbly discuss with them plans to start a teen Bible Talk… then by faith make that Bible Talk fruitful! In this way, each one of our teens could IGNITE a fire for God in scores of teens in their city!
The next morning, all the teens left and I was reminded of Acts 20:37 when the disciples wept because their dear friend Paul left them. Many tears were shed as each teen/new best friend departed back to their corner of our movement. I too wept as my heart was “torn” by the departure of my new close teen friends! (Acts 21:1) As Kacie and I drove home from San Diego, we (like the teens) were already looking forward to next year – IGNITE 2013 in Portland, Oregon!
A huge “thank you” goes to all the IGNITE Teens, their parents, and their church leaders who gave us so much support to make our initial IGNITE Program such an incredible success! I’m excited for what the future holds for these tremendous young disciples. Just like Jeremiah, David, Josiah, Esther, James and John, I believe the IGNITE Teens are going to have an impact that will echo not just in this generation, and in generations to come, but throughout eternity! And to God be all the glory!