Seventh-day Adventist academies proactively involve students in outreach and service, and most organize annual mission trips. The Rocky Mountain Conference (headquartered in Denver, Colorado), however, has taken the call to train young people for evangelism to a whole new level.
Rather than each individual academy organizing its own evangelistic endeavor, Rocky Mountain’s youth evangelism coordinator, Jamey Houghton, unites the academies in a combined evangelistic initiative called the Kaleo Project, referring to the Greek phrase “to call.”
“The program offers a call to our young people to spread the hope of Jesus and equips them to do evangelism,” Houghton explains. “The young people are the ones who do the preaching. Kaleo has even been made part of the Rocky Mountain schools’ official curricula.”
Created when a layperson donated funds for a three-year “experiment” to involve Rocky Mountain youth in evangelism, Kaleo is now in its second year. In 2013 some 20 students from three conference academies—Mile High, Campion, and Vista Ridge—traveled with Houghton and other sponsors to Ecuador and Honduras for 10 days of witnessing and sharing Jesus in 11 sites within that region. In addition, another group from Wyoming led by local pastor Gary Force went to Honduras and held five evangelistic series. By the end of the two trips more than 200 people had been baptized. Then in March of this year a third group comprising 42 students and 13 sponsors went to Costa Rica and led out in 15 separate evangelistic events and conducted two construction projects. The result was 175 people accepting Jesus as their Savior and being baptized.
“The program is still in the growing stage,” Houghton says, “but we’re learning how to make it work in the most effective way.”
This article explores the program from the perspectives of various people involved: the conference program director, an academy principal, a pastoral sponsor, and, of course, the students. The various viewpoints and perceptions will help present an expansive picture of the Kaleo Project.
No one would label Jamey Houghton, Rocky Mountain’s youth evangelism coordinator, as lacking in enthusiasm when talking about “his kids” and the conference’s newly established Kaleo Project. His energy and fervor are
contagious, and obviously help induce youth to become part of what he calls the “three-year experiment” with conference-wide youth evangelism.
“The dream was to get as many kids as possible in the Rocky Mountain Conference—Wyoming, Colorado, and San Juan County in New Mexico—involved in evangelism,” Houghton says. “When a person in Rocky Mountain donated the funds to develop a conference-wide program for student-led evangelism—something that I don’t believe has ever been done on this scale before—I jumped at the invitation to come out here from California and head the program. The scary part was that it had never been done before. It was all new territory.”
Houghton envisioned perhaps 10 kids from the conference’s three largest academies being willing to preach for an evangelistic series that first year. He would have considered that “a raging success,” he said. Instead, 21 youth preached for 16 separate series held in Ecuador and Honduras.
“Two hundred nine people were baptized through student-led evangelism,” he says. “I was blown away!”
Houghton’s faith in God and the students themselves likely inspires the confidence needed for success.
“I believe they can do it,” he says. “I believe that God blesses and uses our kids, and that they’ll be a big part of finishing the work before we go to heaven.”
Houghton recognizes four main benefits of the project: 1. The Bible studies held with the students help them formalize and internalize what they believe. 2. The learning and experience provide the foundation needed for sharing. 3. People come to know Jesus. 4. Young people become equipped to serve others and make a contribution to their church, not only during their school years but after they complete college and enter adulthood.
“We learn so we can share, and we give the students that opportunity to share,” Houghton says. “And when a kid preaches an evangelistic series, something settles and solidifies in their heart. . . .
“It makes a big difference to these kids when they realize that God can use them—even though they’re young—to lead others to Christ,” Houghton adds. “Even some of our ‘preachers’ have given their hearts to Christ and been baptized, along with parents who weren’t Christians or members of the church.”
Houghton also acknowledges the importance of adequate training and appropriate follow-up to the mission trips. Along with Bible studies, each student who preaches is given a mini-iPad with an adaptor that connects to the projector, and they’re instructed on how to use it to incorporate their sermon notes.
“They have their notes right in front of them. They also get used to preaching before they go because they practice with each other as well as a translator, and, if possible, we have them preach in a local church,” Houghton explains.
Houghton coordinates with the Quiet Hour ministry in California to hire Bible workers and translators to work in the region several months before the students arrive. They also stay for several weeks following the student-led series and work closely with the local pastors in strengthening and discipling the new believers.
“We don’t just show up, preach, and leave,” Houghton notes. “We work with the local pastors and Bible workers in order to ‘sandwich’ our evangelistic series with both prework and postwork to make sure it’s a lasting experience for the new members.”
Now in her second year as principal of Vista Ridge Academy—a 100-student, K-12 day school located about 25 miles north of Denver—Deborah Trevino says the school focuses strongly on outreach and evangelism. So when Houghton described the Kaleo Project to her, it didn’t take much convincing to solicit her support.
“We have a lot of ‘cultural’ Adventists,” Trevino says, “but at Vista Ridge we’re committed to teaching our students that that’s not what it’s all about. It’s really about the Great Commission and that everyone everywhere needs to hear the Word of God.”
Trevino accompanied 12 Vista Ridge students on the 2013 trip to Ecuador, which, she says, was life-changing for them.
“They came back with a deep-seated understanding that it isn’t good enough to just warm the benches,” she says. “If we truly are going to share with others what we know about Jesus, we must be active Adventists.”
Houghton, together with retired pastor/evangelist Philip Jones, visits the schools weekly for three months prior to the trips in order to take the students through a series of Bible studies and to help them develop their sermons. Trevino views this training as vital to the program because the students “have to first know what they themselves believe before they can teach it to others.”
“It was amazing to see the transformation in these students as they really began to understand the Sabbath and other Bible beliefs more fully,” Trevino says. “They internalized the beliefs for themselves. . . . Two of our students and their mother, who were of a different faith, were baptized as a result of last year’s trip.”
The challenges of traveling to a different country and sharing their faith from “up front” with people they’ve never met before, Trevino says, help the youth to grow spiritually and increase confidence in themselves and in God.
“These kids were thrust into a community where they didn’t know the language, the people, or the churches—and they preached in these churches every single night. And not all of them are extroverts,” she says. “I saw a big change in each one of them. . . . God’s power is in this.”
After 43 years in ministry—28 of them as an evangelist holding campaigns in about a dozen countries—Philip Jones brings experience to the table as a Kaleo trip sponsor.
Jones says that even though he often took youth groups with him on evangelistic trips to places such as Russia, Hong Kong, and India, he always did the preaching. “The kids did the greeting and visiting and leading out in various projects, but this is the first time they ever did the preaching,” says Jones, now residing in Boulder, Colorado. “They were very adaptable and committed. They exceeded my expectations.”
Jones sees the interchange between students of various academies as a definite plus. Students make new friends, and camaraderie is developed among the schools rather than rivalry, he says. “You also get a flavor of the larger Adventist family when you have a mixed group and involve multiple schools; there’s more diversity,” he adds. “And, too, it increases support among the local church pastors and members.”
Jones helps the students raise the needed funds for the trip—the greatest challenge of the project, he concedes. The initial donation for the program pays the salary of the conference youth evangelism coordinator, but money is raised separately to fund the other expenses, including the annual mission trip. Letter-writing campaigns and group fund-raising projects help finance the project.
“Economic times are difficult,” Jones says, “and raising funds is becoming more of a challenge.”
When Vista Ridge Academy eighth grader Annabelle Spiers stood up to present her sermon in Ecuador during the Kaleo evangelistic series there, the power went out—and she felt a moment of panic. Not only was Spiers unable to use the microphone, but as with all the students, her sermon notes were on a mini-iPad synced with a slide projector. So she turned to God for help.
“I thought, This is going to go bad, and I can’t really preach. But I decided to rely on God. I knew He would help me,” Spiers says. “About five minutes later the power came back on, and everything was perfectly fine.”
Spiers, who participated in th
e 2013 Kaleo trip, says she was nervous the first time she got up to preach. Once she started speaking, however, the nervousness left her and she felt that she “could share anything.”
“It was a great experience, telling people about God’s Word and sharing His love with them,” Spiers says. “I just loved doing it!”
Vista Ridge Academy freshman Cassie Carr agrees.
“Once I got started and began feeling more secure, I had a lot of fun,” says Carr, whose congregation numbered about 50. “The people were so kind and always smiling. They made me feel very welcome. And I had a wonderful translator. By the end of the series, we had become really good friends.”
Former Mile High student Ernesto Valdez says he was able to be a part of Kaleo only because of God’s intervention.
“I saw God’s power,” he says. “He worked a miracle with the money situation so I could go on the trip. . . .
“And then I saw people getting baptized! I know that happens with strong preachers at big conventions, but when people were getting baptized after listening to me, I thought, Wow, this isn’t really me. It’s God doing this!”
Losing a passport and having to return home without even entering the country you’re planning to visit would cause anyone to throw up their hands and say, “Never again!” But not so with Vista Ridge eighth grader Katia Morquecho, whose passport went missing en route to Ecuador last year. Undaunted, she signed up again for this year’s trip.
“At first I was crying my eyes out,” Morquecho says, “but then one of the customs officers was very nice to me, and we began to talk about God. She didn’t attend a church or know how to pray, and so I showed her. For other students, their experience was seeing people come out of the water; mine was teaching a customs officer how to pray.”
Going on mission trips wasn’t new for Campion senior Matthew Tomeny, who had previously helped to build a cafeteria for an orphanage and hold a Vacation Bible School for children in Honduras. But preaching, he says, took him out of his comfort zone.
“It’s an eye-opening experience,” Tomeny says. “Going to another country, meeting different people—you get a new outlook on the world. You see firsthand how other people live and view life.”
“It taught me a lot too,” adds Campion freshman and budding photographer Hunter Odenthal. “You learn to view people differently. Just seeing how happy they are and yet not having a lot in material things, and then looking at how much others of us have—it reminded me how thankful I should be. The experience brought me closer to God because I felt like I was actually making a difference in people’s lives. I was changed after that trip. God changed me.”
Jamey Houghton doesn’t want to see the Kaleo Project restricted to the Rocky Mountain Conference. If it works there, he believes the Lord will also bless other conferences if they develop similar programs.
“Our kids are fearless,” Houghton says. “They want to make a difference, and if we challenge them to make a difference for God, I believe they’ll do it.
“It takes a little bit of creative thinking, but kids can help get the message out around the world and truly hasten the coming of Jesus.”
More than 17,000 Adventists worship in 100 churches in the Rocky Mountain territory, amid a population of almost 6 million.
To learn more about the Kaleo Project, contact Jamey Houghton at [email protected].