January 16, 2024

Youth Evangelism Funding Opens Door for Innovative Ways to Share Christ

Various projects across the Lake Union in the US are drawing people to Jesus.

David Pluviose, for Lake Union Herald
The Food Love Outreach, spearheaded by Evansville First Church member Levi Pemberton in Indiana (seated on couch, fourth from right). [Photo: Lake Union Herald]

Youth evangelism throughout the Lake Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (LUC)  in the United States has flourished as a result of the regional bi-annual Youth Evangelism Congress, which provides a dollar-for-dollar match for youth evangelism projects approved by local church boards. The LUC covers Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota.

Since the first Youth Evangelism Congress in 2013, 107 Youth Evangelism Congress–funded initiatives have received a total of US$535,871 dollars in total funding, including all matching funds. 

“It’s innovation, creativity that’s going to take our evangelism impact to the next level,” Lake Union youth director Ron Whitehead said. “And the more we can create entrepreneurial young adults that are thinking about evangelism and sharing the gospel, aren’t we better off as an organization?”

One of the youth evangelism stories that emerged from the Youth Evangelism Congress is a Food Love Outreach spearheaded by Evansville First Church member Levi Pemberton in Indiana. Pemberton recalls attending the 2020 Youth Evangelism Congress and coming away inspired. Ultimately, the Food Love Outreach — an evangelism project funded through the 2022 Youth Evangelism Congress — was born.

Pemberton notes that the Evansville area has a few colleges, and one of the goals of the Food Love Outreach was to be a public campus ministry revolving around breaking bread with students in the community.

“Food is cross-cultural [and] cross-language [around] barriers, and we have a fair bit of foreign students and out-of-state students, so we thought, ‘What if we just reach out to people with food, break the ice in a neutral area, and see where it goes?’ ”

Pemberton recalls that it was the warmth and the hospitality of Evansville First church members that drew him to the church and paved the way for him to join. He says that as members cooked for him and ate with him, “I really loved it. It’s something that really spoke to me.… It really made me feel loved. So, I thought if that’s one thing that our church can do really well, why not play on that and just focus on that — just making people feel loved.”

He said that youth from the church and in the area would play volleyball on Saturday nights and then go out to eat afterwards, “and that’s where the real Food Love Outreach kind of began, with eating Denny’s at 11:00 p.m. with people who would go and play volleyball with us.” And as young people were invited to dinners on Friday nights and invited to go out to eat at Denny’s on Saturday nights, these young people eventually “wanted to start coming to church,” Pemberton said.

And something as simple as taking young people to Denny’s and fellowshipping with them has paid major dividends as youth have come into the church simply as a result of feeling the love as they broke bread with church members.

Pemberton recalls a conversation with a young person reached via the Food Love Outreach who told him, “Levi, never before in my life I have come to a young adult group and just felt loved.” According to Pemberton, that young person said that in prior encounters with church members, they did not feel like the members were truly genuine. “He said, ‘Levi, you’ve given me just an open space to be loved and to really connect spiritually.’ … So, they now go to church.”

Whitehead says that the Food Love Outreach is just one of many innovative Youth Evangelism Congress–funded projects that have reached young people for Christ.

The gas card evangelism event, which took place in July 2022.

“We tell everybody, do evangelism that you think there’s a way you can call people to the gospel. That’s the purpose,” Whitehead said. “Do good, but in your doing good, figure out a way to invite them to hear about the gospel. There’s a lot of different ways of doing that,” he adds.

Yet another innovative evangelism project funded through the 2022 Youth Evangelism Congress was a gas card evangelism project organized by members of the Thompsonville church in southern Illinois. Spearheaded by Thompsonville church member Jonathan Babb, the gas card giveaway was a big hit with the community and beyond.

The gas card evangelism event was held in July 2022, and the individuals reached during that event not only received a free $50 gas card, but they also received books including Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy. Other than the place where individuals received a gas card and ministry-oriented books, individuals also had the opportunity to stop by a prayer station and a station offering health screenings. Ultimately, Thompsonville church members reached many for Christ through this Youth Evangelism Congress–funded project.  

“Obviously, there’s a place for traditional evangelistic series and prophecy seminars and all of that, but from my perspective, especially as more and more, we [see] people suffering on all levels, Jesus’s main focus was meeting the people’s needs,” Babb said. “For churches, even our church, [what] we all struggle with is finding the best ways to meet those needs and conduct effective evangelism, and what the union does with the matching funds helps to spur young people” to think of more creative ways to spread the gospel. 

“My goal was always to try and [meet] people’s needs, and as you meet people’s needs, they’re going to be more receptive to hearing the gospel and coming to church, learning about what you have to present besides the needs,” Babb added.

Whitehead said that even if changes need to be made to projects approved and funded by the Youth Evangelism Congress, “We give permission to the local church to adapt the project if they run into brick walls or can’t get permits.…  It’s not about the union anyway. We’ve already invested our dollars. But the local church is working with the young adult to figure out how to [make it work].”

Reflecting on his work spearheading the Youth Evangelism Congress, Whitehead said that looking across his lengthy career that has been focused on youth ministry, what he has seen God do through the Youth Evangelism Congress stands out. “It has all the components of creativity, innovation, relevancy, and it connects this generation to their local church. We’re not taking them away, inspiring them, training them, and then dropping them back to a place that has no connection to their lives.”

Khai Khai Cin, who serves as coordinator for the Youth Evangelism Congress, said that he has been a first-hand witness of the tremendous impact the Youth Evangelism Congress has had on efforts to spread the gospel among young people.

“I was a delegate, and now being a part of the backstage, it’s a great honor and blessing to me to learn and grow. And with all of the things happening all around us, now is the time to be on fire, to reinspire, to rekindle that [evangelism] desire within young people,” Cin said.

Under the theme “Now Is the Time,” the 2024 Youth Evangelism Congress is slated to be held February 16-18 in Chicago.

The original version of this story was posted by the Lake Union Herald.