January 27, 2024

Youth Conference Opens with a Call to ‘Put Ourselves in the Stories of the Bible’

AYC Australia’s annual event draws hundreds of young Adventists to Melbourne.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
The 2024 Adventist Youth for Christ Conference Australia opened January 25 in Melbourne with a devotional by keynote speaker Shane Anderson, senior pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church at Andrews University. [Photo: Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review]

More than 550 young Seventh-day Adventists who traveled to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, for the January 25-28 Adventist Youth for Christ (AYC) Conference received an invitation to “put themselves in the stories of the Bible” as a way of developing a personal relationship with Jesus. It was an invitation from keynote speaker Shane Anderson.

“Put yourselves into the pages of Scripture,” Anderson suggested. “Use your imagination.”

Anderson’s message marked the January 25 opening session of the Australia-based annual event, which connects members and supporters of this lay-led Adventist independent ministry that bills itself as “a counterculture movement” of young people committed to God and His Word.

A Venue and a Movement

The countercultural aspect of the initiative seemed clear by the timing of the event, organizers believe. Every January, the focus of most people in Melbourne revolves around tennis, as the city holds the Australian Open, one of the major tournaments of world tennis. At Melbourne Park, thousands of people spend hours under the sun cheering for their favorite players. January 25 was no exception as four young women players were battling for two spots in the final of the tournament.

But just 2.5 miles (4 km) southwest of the world-famous Rod Laver Arena, a different kind of cheering took place on January 25.  That afternoon, hundreds of young Adventists from Australia and beyond spent time greeting old and new acquaintances at the Pullman Conference and Event Centre. They had traveled from near and far to attend the 2024 Youth for Christ Conference.

A Local Church Initiative

AYC started as a local church initiative on a nearby university campus in 2006 and has grown to embrace an increasing number of young people “seeking a renewed relationship and experience with Jesus,” according to the organization’s description. It is “a generation that exists to be a light, wherever [they] are.” The lay-led movement describes itself as “a generation who desire to be counterculture,” “a grassroot movement of all professions … passionate about sharing [their] faith.”

The 2024 conference includes plenary and breakout sessions, extensive moments of praise, worship, Bible study, socializing, and witnessing. A series of booths provide information about ministries and volunteer opportunities, including an invitation to preach at the upcoming Papua New Guinea for Christ series in late April and May. They also offer inspirational and evangelistic resources and merchandise. The conference also offers free psychological counseling services for those who need it. On Saturday (Sabbath) afternoon, attendees have the opportunity of interacting with the public, including visiting old age homes, meeting passersby on the streets, and acquiring and implementing tools for digital evangelism initiatives.

Devoted to the Core Business

At the beginning of the January 25 opening session, Graeme Christian, president of the Victoria Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, had words of welcome and a special prayer. He reminded AYC members that the event zeroes in on “the core business that Jesus gave us to do.” He added, “That is what we are focused on. That’s why the church exists, to care about others and link them to Jesus. That’s why we are here, because we are His witnesses.”

Christian emphasized that he thinks it’s a wonderful thing that young people have decided to travel to the conference and say, “We are here because … that’s what matters to us.” “I am glad you have made that choice,” he said.

At the Crossroads with Jesus

Later, in his opening devotional, Anderson, who is senior pastor of the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States, called attendees to reflect on the theme of “Crossroads” and the biblical story of the men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 that inspired it.

“One of the most astonishing things in life is that you can be in the presence of God Himself and not know it,” Anderson said. It’s a tragedy, he added, because in John 17:3, Jesus defined eternal life as knowing “the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Anderson said that the original text emphasizes an ongoing process of “continuously knowing God.” So, the key question is whether we know Him, he said, and asked, “Do you know Jesus? Do you have a relationship with Him that is authentic? Is it genuine? Is Jesus your Savior and intimate Friend, or just an acquaintance that you respect from a distance? Are you only making spiritual transactions with Jesus, or is there a dynamic, genuine deepening of Jesus?”

In the next few minutes, Anderson introduced five ways of developing a better relationship with Jesus. Delving into the first one, “Learn to see Jesus through the Bible,” he said, “This is the first indispensable step into a genuine relationship with Jesus.” Jesus Himself did it, as He “expounded to [the men] in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27, NKJV), Anderson reminded attendees. Cleopas and his friend did not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus, but “the absolute best place that Jesus could think to start was the Bible.… He could have quoted famous Pharisees, or He could have shown them His scars right away, but He went to the Bible instead…. He knew that if these poor, blind disciples were in the very presence of God Himself and did not know it, if they were ever to develop an authentic relationship with Him, the absolute best place to start was with the Bible.”

The Role of Imagination

In that sense, Anderson emphasized, the Bible is trustworthy, and he called on AYC members to use their sanctified imagination to reflect on scenes of the life of Christ. “I have noticed over the years that far too often, when people get serious about the Bible and Adventism and the work we have been given to do, they lose their imagination,” Anderson said. “Sometimes, the first thing to go is imagination and creativity…. But imagination is not an evil but an asset,” he emphasized.

Anderson reflected on Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White, who suggested spending considerable time each day “in contemplation of the life of Christ,” (The Desire of Ages, p. 83). In that context, he asked them to imagine what the original recipients felt as they listened and interacted with Jesus. “Spend time contemplating these things, and by doing this, you’ll begin to see Jesus through His Word,” he suggested. “And by seeing Him, you will come to know Him.”