Josh Hunter, Emily Hunter and Samm Reimer oversee a ministry to youth in Beamsville that meets every Monday at CONVOS Youth Zone in Beamsville. Teenagers from the town are encouraged to meet at 7:30 to worship Jesus, pray, and learn from God's Word. The three youth ministers, who all work at Great Lakes Christian High School, sat down with Faith News last spring to talk about the weekly meeting. This is an excerpt of the discussion.
Where did the youth worship idea come from, why did you want to do it?
Emily: This worship night actually started back in 2009, before we (Josh and Emily) started at Great Lakes. We were still in university at the time, and Dylan (Pyatt, a youth leader working in Beamsville) was ministering to the youth at Great Lakes. He told us, 'I see kind of a need here, could you join me in starting up a youth night near the campus?' It was having, basically, devotions off-site. We kept doing it from that point... and we never stopped, actually.
Josh: It’s kinda had its ups and downs over the years. We've had nights where we've had 40 people out, and we've had nights where only a few kids showed up. But this has always kind of been a key part of our ministry. When we worship, we always pray for the students, or have the students pray for each other. Then we give them an opportunity to respond.
What happens on an average night? How does the evening go for you guys?
Samm: Usually, 7:30 to 8:00 is kinda just hang out time. A lot of times, the kids are upstairs getting soft drinks. We usually launch into some worship songs; usually it's Josh playing the guitar and Emily will be on the cajon. We've actually had one of our students from town, she'll play keys every now and then. It’s kinda cool to have some student involvement as well.
The worship songs that we sing, we kinda vary it up. It's very spirit led. The students are crazy passionate in worship! This past Monday, we spent about 15 to 20 minutes singing one song. It's however the students are responding.
Afterwards, we usually have some kind of message or activity from the Bible, either a passage or story. Sometimes one of us will speak, sometimes we have them read something. But as Josh said, there's always a response time, because we believe that when you experience something, you need to respond to it, and figure out an application for your life. Sometimes we do corporate prayer, sometimes we have chart prayer where they’re writing things on some paper. But we always end off asking, ‘okay how do we take this into our week?’ Then we stick around to see if anyone wants prayer. Sometimes the students really experience something, when they're very vulnerable, and they want to pray and share something. So we’re always available for that.
CONVOS is a youth zone for teens. Do any other kids that just hang out at CONVOS ever find their way down there, and meld in at some point and time?
Samm: That's actually a cool story. We had a band come and join us for the night, and we had prayed beforehand, 'Lord, let our praises be heard, we want people upstairs to hear us and come down and to hear what's going on.' And we actually had three students from town that just heard us, come down. This was back in December, but they've been coming regularly ever since. And slowly, they're bringing in a few friends too since that happened. It's been our prayer for other people to hear, and to come down, to see what's up.
Can each of you give one snapshot moment where God did something in you personally, or something you've seen him do in a student that was there, that is a real highlight for you.
Samm: Every month we've been doing these bigger worship nights, so we have a full band come in. So they come, the kids get excited that they're here, and they know it's gonna be a crazy night of worship. I was standing next to one of our students from Nigeria, and he is such a passionate worshiper, so I always feel on fire if I stand next to him.
We were singing a song called "No Longer Slaves", and there's a part of the song where it's kind of an instrumental time of reflection, and you launch into these whoah-ohs. I could tell that the band was getting ready to fade out into the next song, but all of a sudden I hear the student next to me just start launching into that whoah-oh part again. And I was like, oh yeah! We gotta get back into this again! So I joined him in my deep tenor voice (laughter). And we kind up pushed the band to launch back in and sing the bridge again. It has powerful words: You split the seas so we can walk right through it/ Our fears are drowned in perfect love. As we launched back into it again, it was like this moment of realization, that he had motivated me to worship, not the other way around. So as much as we minister to them and guide them in worship, and in Scripture, they feed it right back into us, and that testifies just to how hungry and how passionate our group is.
Emily: This is a general kind of reflection. This year in particular, we've had a lot of new students coming out. Last year, and in the past couple of years, we've had a smaller group, and it was great, but a lot of those kids graduated. So starting in the fall, we were genuinely thinking, God, who's going to be showing up on Mondays?
Josh: Just to cut in, I think there were a couple of times where we even thought, should we continue doing this? I know I've thought about that.
Emily: One of our core student leaders was one of the kids that would lead worship and lead the devotions. He graduated and is in university now. So there was a lot of doubt and unsettling over the summer, but now we've got more kids than ever. We've actually got 20-something kids coming out. And honestly, I can truly say that it is not our work, because... while we do our best to invite kids, and we do our best to pray that God will bring them... truly, God is doing a new thing, bringing a lot of new kids. I'm really excited about that.
Josh: Kinda going off of that, one thing that's really struck me, especially recently, is it used to feel like we'd go out and invite students to everything. I felt almost overwhelmed in the past, like we're just inviting and inviting and inviting, and hoping that someone would come. This year, I feel like I've done less inviting than ever before! And yet, the students have been on board, and have been catching the vision, and there's a solid group of them. It's almost as if they are setting a new standard, a new normal for what it means to follow Jesus. That comes out in so many different ways.
When we had our revival night -- it's our bigger worship night -- I think we had like 13 students get up and share testimonies. I don't know if we prompted anyone or not, we might have prompted maybe a couple of students, just to say, hey, were going to be doing this, just want to encourage you to do this. But then the students just kept coming. It was amazing to see how the Holy Spirit was connecting the different things that were shared, too. There was one student in particular who shared how in the middle of one of the songs, he felt to say, 'I just experienced the forgiveness of God in my life.' It was very powerful because no one had preached any message on forgiveness. That wasn't even directly the message of the song that we were singing. It just shows us that it's not us, it's the Lord's work and the Lord is so longing to draw hearts unto himself. He's the one who saves souls, and as much as we offer ourselves to the Lord, and we say, Lord use me, it's truly and ultimately up to him, and for his glory.
Another small thing for me, is that there have been a couple of times over the past few weeks where, as we've been worshiping, I can't even hear my guitar because these kids are singing so loud, and it's amazing! That's the best feeling, when you get to the end of a song and you're like, was I even in the same key? Because they're just singing at the top of their lungs with all that they have! Not only as someone who ministers to youth, but also as a worship leader, that's one of the most exciting things in the world.