Left to right: Jessica Landis, Alexander Winkler, Chaeli Austin, Andrew Horvath, Karise Francis, Dillon Austin. [Photo credit: Daniel Mendez]
They accomplish this by hosting retreats geared for ages 12–20. These retreats are especially remarkable because of their approach — they’re led by youth, for youth. Every detail is planned and executed by a group of six teenagers with a passion for leading their peers to a deeper relationship with Christ.
The idea began with a friend’s phone call to Chaeli Austin, a 19-year-old from Newberry, Michigan. Her friend was helping plan a retreat for a local chapter of Adventist Youth on a Mission, a network of youth from North America. “She asked if I was interested in helping to start a chapter in Michigan.”
Excited by the idea, Chaeli prayed about the possible endeavor. Soon, she says she was impressed by God to step out in faith. She started recruiting others, such as her brother Dillon, 16, and her best friend, Karise Francis, 15, to help further the vision. Later, others were added to the team — Andrew Horvath, 17, Jessica Landis, 18, and Alexander Winkler, 15.
The group held their first retreat in October 2021 at the Belgreen Church in Greenville, Michigan, and since then, have held two more retreats, each with increased participation. “There are quite a few people who are so excited to come back to each retreat,” says Andrew, the team’s president.
“A lot of it is building your relationship with God, while also establishing godly friendships with other people,” he explained. “We have morning and evening meetings that are led by young people. The way we’ve done it is that individuals can participate in community projects on Friday afternoon. On Sabbath afternoon, we go door-to-door. We’ve passed out books, prayed with people, and taken surveys about what type of services the local church can offer them.”
The team says they encountered some challenges as they worked to organize the ministry. “There wasn’t much credibility behind us, and I remember at the beginning having to explain who we were a couple times because people weren’t sure who we were and what we were doing,” said Dillon, the team’s vice president.
Andrew says that the team’s faith has grown through their collective experiences. “A lot of youth events are for youth, but it’s all planned by adults. This is completely run by youth; it’s pushed all of us to step out in faith, which God blesses. It’s allowed us to grow a lot.”
Samuel Girven is a student at Northview Adventist School in Cadillac, Michigan, and ASPIRE Academy.