February 13, 2020

Investing in Our Youth Is Energy Well Spent

For more than 10 years, Laurel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Laurel, Mississippi, United States, has made a dedicated and intentional effort to reach young people for Jesus. It has become an integral part of the members’ identity as a local church, and it’s working. 

Young people who are affiliated with the church have an experience with God that will not soon be forgotten. Children, teens, and young adults are introduced to a relationship with Jesus that sticks with them wherever they go.

“Not only do they make it fun, but they make it so easy to learn and fall in love with Jesus,” says Laken Merritt, young adult teacher for the Laurel church. Young people carry this introduction to Jesus with them, even if they grow distant from the church. While they may cease attending church or in other ways depart from God, they remember the Adventist Church as home. And, when the time is right, they return.

Rick and Laken Merrit snap a photo before Rick’s baptism in 2019, at the Laurel Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mississippi, United States. [Photo: Gulf States Conference]

Merritt attended the church when she was younger, departed for a time, and then returned. “When I met my husband, he was eager to learn about the Adventist Church. So we started doing Bible studies with Uncle Renny and Aunt Judy. And, as this was all happening, I knew God had brought me back to where I was meant to be,” she shared.

Now with children of her own, Merritt states that they “love and look forward to going to church and telling me all about what they learn.”

It was Merritt’s experience as a student that inspired her to become a young adult teacher, along with her husband, Rick. “I want to make an impact on their lives, like Ms. Kathy and Mr. Kelly did for me.”

Merritt isn’t the only one to have a story like this. Others who attended the church’s youth programs in the past have now returned with their families and have taken up leadership roles in the Pathfinder club, the weekly community Vacation Bible School-style program, and more.

The church has prioritized these programs and has emphasized growing younger by constructing a family life center on their property, with ample space in a gymnasium, classrooms, and a commercial kitchen. A consistent mid-week program allows for community children to attend and play games, have a snack, and learn about Jesus in an engaging environment. The church even offers a busing service for the community children to get them to free programming.

The church didn't construct the place and leave the burden of its payment on future generations; they endeavored to pay it off quickly. Twice a year, rummage sales are conducted to raise funds for paying off the building and providing scholarships to summer camp at Alamisco in Alabama. The members raise thousands of dollars every year, and the principal on the construction loan has been reduced quickly.

Jim Stewart (second row, second from left), pastor of the Laurel Adventist church, puts his arms around his sons and poses with members of two of the local church families after their baptism. [Photo: Gulf States Conference]

When local pastor Jim Stewart arrived in 2017, he praised the church for its ongoing emphasis on youth and community programming. His children quickly became recipients of the church’s ministry, and near the end of 2019, two of his sons, along with four other young people, officially joined the church membership by baptism. When asked about the feeling of being able to perform the baptism for his children, Stewart stated, “I usually don’t get emotional, but that got me. It was incredible.”

With Pathfinders, summer camp, Vacation Bible School, and weekly community programming, countless hours are dedicated by church members who teach, drive, cook, pray for, and love the children. The members show the children who Jesus is and how much they are loved. It is not an easy task, and many of the volunteers have been faithful in their duties year in and year out. This compassion, however, results in no energy wasted, because the results show that every positive impression on the children is valued and may ultimately make the difference for their place in eternity.

The original version of this commentary was posted by Southern Tidings.