Led by Gem Castor, an itinerant missionary based in Berrien Springs, Mich., participants congregate every day at 6 a.m. and lift their lives and the conference in prayer. The sacred atmosphere that envelops the participants invigorates them for the coming day—and pushes them to develop a more prayer-filled relationship with God. [Photo: Samuel Girven]
“We had arrived after a long travel day. I had never been to the prayer room, but it looked interesting. I asked my daughter to go, but she was very tired.” Sendros ended up going to the prayer room with a friend. “We were so moved by what we saw. We saw 800 young people at 5 a.m. by their own will praying and singing.”
Four years later, at the 2022 conference, the United Prayer sessions are stronger than ever. Led by Gem Castor, an itinerant missionary based in Berrien Springs, Mich., participants congregate every day at 6 a.m. and lift their lives and the conference in prayer. The sacred atmosphere that envelops the participants invigorates them for the coming day—and pushes them to develop a more prayer-filled relationship with God.
Keeping in line with long-standing tradition, participants brought in the new year with a midnight prayer session on the evening of Dec. 31, 2022. “This is a time to fellowship in God’s presence, and to give Him the thanksgiving that He so deserves,” Castor said.
Speakers call for a deeper understanding of the Sabbath and Biblical service
On the final day of the GYC convention in Phoenix, speakers called for the over 3,000 attendees to have a deeper understanding of the Sabbath.
“The Bible teaches us that there is an inseparable connection between the Sabbath and our concern for our fellow human beings. We ought to be the kindest, most loving, welcoming people on the planet,” said the morning's speaker, Douglas Na’a, director of SALT institute at Southern Adventist University, as he concluded his series of messages that detailed the message of Isaiah 58. “You see dearly beloved, the Sabbath is not only a memorial that God is our creator, the Sabbath is also inseparably connected to our concern for the welfare of those less fortunate than ourselves. God is calling for this man-made breach to be prepared. Any kind of Sabbath that causes you to mistreat people is a phony Sabbath.”
Sam Walters, the speaker for the divine service, concurred. “The call to serve is a call to love.”
However, Walters continued, the call to serve is also a call for change. “It’s easy to get youth to the homeless shelter, but when it comes to Bible studies, it’s like [hearing] crickets. There’s a cap to how much you can help someone physically if you don’t help them spiritually.”
“Isaiah 58 makes Seventh-day Adventists uncomfortable,” said Steven Conway, the evening speaker, and pastor of the Troy Church in Michigan. “That’s because we don’t want to be confused with the social gospel.”
The social gospel is the belief that Jesus’ coming depends on Christians helping to rid the world of all of its evils as “Jesus will set up his earthly kingdom here and reign for 1,000 years,” Conway said. “You’ll have to excuse me. That ain’t got nothing to do with Isaiah 58. That is a weak excuse. Should we not talk about the latter rain and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit because some have those concepts twisted? No, brethren.”
“To ignore the social ills of our time sounds horrifically familiar,” he later continued, telling participants to imagine if when Jesus was crucified, people did nothing because they said that “God would cleanse the earth when He came, but for now we have to stay on mission.”
“Our inactivity and our excuses for not doing what Jesus himself has commanded us to do sounds eerie,” Conway said.
Fundraising goal is met within hours
During the Sabbath worship service, Allison Cordova, GYC treasurer, shared that after experiencing a financial shortfall, GYC was in desperate need of $100,000.
“GYC has been hit right and left, up and down,” Cordova told the Lake Union Herald in a separate interview. After the appeal, participants donated $94,000 throughout the day. During the evening service, Cordova said that they were still $6,000 short of their goal.
During the time between that appeal and the end of Conway’s presentation, the entire goal was met. “God is so good. I’m so grateful,” said Cordova.
Exhibit hall provides opportunities for youth to serve
Like many conventions, there is an exhibit hall at GYC. The exhibit hall allowed youth to learn more about ways they can spread the Three Angel’s messages through ministry.
Each exhibit at GYC must “connect young people with resources which challenge and inspire them to take sacrificial initiative for Christ,” according to the GYC website.
The exhibit hall allowed several Lake Union ministries to connect with participants. “For us, it’s contacts,” said Greg Morikone, president of Three Angels Broadcasting Network, which is based in West Frankfort, Ill. “A lot of people have heard of 3ABN. To actually get to meet the people, it’s almost like connecting with family.”
“This is our family here. Of course, some people have questions as well,” added Jill Morikone, vice president and chief operating officer. “The primary purpose is just connecting with people.”
Adventist Frontier Missions, which is based in Berrien Springs, Mich., also exhibited at GYC. “It gives people an opportunity to become aware of mission service possibilities that are available,” said John Baxter, human resources director for Adventist Frontier Missions. “There are people who take advantage of that opportunity and go. We need a lot more [people] to go.”
GYC participants reflect on their experiences
After the final day at GYC, several participants reflected on their experiences, and how they made GYC a part of their life.
“It has been reviving, and it has inspired me to go back to my local church and serve. It prepared me for other ministry and roles,” said Zanele, from Indianapolis. “It was very encouraging. We have to share in such a way that it’s not transactional. Sometimes when you’re serving, you can get so bogged down in the details that you can miss that relational aspect.”
“For me, it’s all about service. That’s what I took away. I’m not here just to have fun. I’m here so others can learn about Christ,” said Noma, also from Indianapolis.
“I’ve been going to GYC since 2014. I initially just came because my parents wanted to go. Once I got older, I was like, ‘Why are there so many young people that want to go here? Why do they just want to listen to sermons?’ I found that boring before. But I saw that there must be something here,” said Jhelz Garcia, from Tempe, Ariz. “I remember praying, ‘God, if you want me to hear something in this place, please open my ears.’ God answered that prayer for me. In 2015, when GYC was in Kentucky, I heard the word of God being preached. I saw the gospel like never before, and I made the decision to be baptized. Since then, I just kept coming back.”
“Being a missionary isn’t just being a doctor. It’s also service, and loving other people,” Garcia said, reflecting on the presentations during the convention.
Samuel Girven, 15, is a student at ASPIRE Academy and Northview Adventist School