By Tamica Smith Jeuitt, Communications Specialist, Mississippi Conference
Photo right: Spoken word artist Lo and Big Al the rapper entertain the youth. Photo by Jasmine Haynes.
Photo below right: There was no shortage of students willing to assist presenters at The Gathering. Photo by Jasmine Haynes.
Photo bottom right: Illusionist Harris "the Third," shocked attendees when he made a table float. Photo by Mark Melvin.
A-list presenters used their unique ministry styles to encourage youth from across Mississippi to imagine the possibilities of God's greatness at the annual United Methodist youth conference, The Gathering. The 2017 theme was "Imagine." Roughly 1,500 students joined at the weekend event at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.
The high-energy worship band Zealand from Tennessee provided teaching moments through song and testimony. Phil Joel, the band's lead singer recalled one of his many connections with his young audience.
"He looked like the kind of kid who could easily be slipping out the back to have a cigarette as soon as he could. He said to me, 'Thanks man. I really enjoyed everything you shared on stage. It made sense to me more than anything else. So, that was kind of cool. It is not about Sunday. It is not about youth group. It is about inviting the Lord into every part of our life and that is what worship is to me," said Joel.
A returning favorite, rapper Big Al, took the stage with new beat patterns that flowed with his rhyme around the theme. He shared that he attempted suicide as teenager-a fact that moved one of the older attendees, a youth leader."He walked over to me and he had tears in his eyes and he said 'Al you don't know how much your story blesses me. To know that God can bring you through things he has brought you through and use you in the way he uses you and draws people to you. I will always remember that," Big Al explained.
For a 15 year old named Lydia, she will always remember the award winning illusionist, Harris "the Third." He made a table float and objects disappear as he talked to the crowd about lies and deception that they have been tricked into believing. "I thought it was amazing how he put all of his speaking together with his illusions and I thought it was interesting," said Lydia.
Former All-American soccer player, Mo Isom tugged the hearts of young people with her testimony around a whirlwind of events. From struggling with an eating disorder to the suicide of her father, she talked about how Jesus was constant in the midst of her journey.
In closing worship, Bishop James Swanson Sr. delivered a thunderous sermon about blessing others.
"Whatever you have God didn't give to you strictly for you, but for you to share with somebody else. God wants you share what you have been given that the world might be blessed."
Organizers believe students left empowered and excited to imagine God in the world.
Click here to see more photos from The Gathering on Flickr.