Summer 2009 marked the launch of a new model of senior high camping for Epworth Forest Conference Center in North Webster; it’s simply called That Thing. The new program aims to not just connect students to Jesus Christ through evangelism, but also to challenge students in developing an outward and expressive faith that engages the world for Jesus Christ.
At the conclusion of the 2008 summer, the camping board decided to launch the program, then in development, in response to a multi-year decline of students and churches at Impact 2818’s senior high level. That Thing is coordinated and programmed by Epworth Forest staff members Ryan Gernand and Matt Poorman.
That Thing is developed with a vision of students:
- Loving God beyond just acknowledging God,
- Inspiring change throughout their communities by living as Christ, and
- Engaged in overcoming injustice and oppression through faith, hope and love.
The overall response from this first year has been extremely positive.
Dr. Stan Buck, pastor of Sonrise United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne said, “God did a new thing at That Thing this summer! For the last several years our students have traveled to Florida to experience Big Stuf but they found an even better experience right here in Indiana at That Thing and we plan to return.
“A new generation of Senior High campers are experiencing God’s mighty power at Epworth Forest and as a long time camp enthusiast, I am excited to see what will happen in the coming years through this dynamic camp experience! I’m “pumped” about That Thing!”
Program Director Ryan Gernand said, “I’ve been in student ministry for 13 years and I’ve never been so impressed by student responses as I was this summer.
“We made some major adjustments to the norm of what students and leaders expect from a camp experience and they adapted and thrived in the environment. The primary evangelical experience is early in the week. We then jump headfirst into discipleship and living out faith in an active and intentional way.”
The staff collected response cards each week dealing with commitments, discipleship steps, full-time ministry and a final question – “I have discovered that God needs more people living out agapé (love) in homes, malls and workplaces. I am going to be one of those people.” Eighty-four percent of the responders at That Thing affirmed this statement.
The corporate worship times serve as a launch pad at That Thing.
Gernand said, “We develop a spiritual journey that’s going to help students understand God’s love and passion for them and then challenge them beyond just going to church. There’s more for our students and they want more, we’re trying to help spark them to go back home and, with their faith communities, bring better days to everyone with whom they contact. This generation is really motivated when there’s a purpose, and they’re engaged in it.”
Damien, a sophomore student at That Thing took a vow of silence on Thursday, the final day, in response to the Wednesday evening worship service dealing with injustice and oppression. On stage he shared how he needed time to allow God to speak and for him to simply listen, so he could better respond to others. He was part of a silent offering near the close of the service. His passion inspired students as they raised more than $650. His pastor and congregation were so inspired by him as well that they doubled this donation, which was given to Heifer International.
Students from Muncie responded to a need they discovered in an organization called Destiny Rescue, which frees children in the sex trade. They were able to raise the funds to provide for a young girl’s hospital bills in giving birth to her child. Students are beginning a pen-pal relationship to continue being involved with her spiritual and physical needs.
Students are responding to needs and responses with opportunities like wells in Africa, hunger and poverty campaigns, nets for malaria, and modern day slavery. As well, they are locally impacting food banks, families in their communities and discovering how to be Jesus to people in their homes and schools.
“I’m looking forward to the future,” said Gernand, “God has really blessed us this year, and I know we are definitely changing lives. I’m excited at how we’re a part of changing and impacting culture where these students carry Christ’s love.
To learn more about the Indiana Conference That Thing, visit www.gotothatthing.com.