Youth Jam brings life-changing experience to 3,000

Nov 22, 2002 03:00 AM EST

AKRON, Ohio --Amid the stage lights, smoke machine and thumping bass, lives were changed.

And that was the point at Youth Jam, which drew 3,000 youth and youth leaders to the John S. Knight Center in Akron Nov. 15-17.

Sponsored by the East Ohio Conference on Youth Ministries, Youth Jam is a yearly event that began in 1991 as a way to bring young people together for workshops and Christian entertainment. The first event drew about 300 participants. In 2002, the event was sold out.

"The East Ohio Conference really does an outstanding job," said Kara Lassen Oliver, an executive with the United Methodist Youth Organization in Nashville, Tenn. Only a handful of conferences hold such events, and East Ohio's is the biggest. The Youth Jam is "a model of what youth events can be," she said, noting that it has been used as an example for national-level youth gatherings.

Powerful preaching by the Rev. Stephen Handy culminated in an altar call that drew hundreds of youth to the front of the stage. Handy, a staff member of the United Methodist Publishing House and assistant pastor of Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, was the keynote speaker for the weekend.

Handy challenged the youth to make their commitment to Christ "not a memory but a lifestyle."

The weekend was filled with concerts, workshops and worship. Participants could choose from nearly 40 workshops with such topics as dance, signing, prayer, choir, Bible study and leadership development.

"God is here with us. It is an amazing feeling. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. There's nowhere else I'd rather be," said Katie Starling of Kinsman, Ohio.

The event also featured the Western Samoan R&B gospel group the Katinas, the comedy of CPR, drama team Wildest Dreams, musical guests Aurora and Candle Rain, and motivational speakers Laurie Polich and Josh Weidmann. C.J. Jenkins served as worship leader.

"This is the kind of event that can give you hope for the present and the future," said Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton, Ohio East Area.

By Kay Panovec and Matthew Laferty