NASHVILLE, Tenn. --Nearly 6,500 teenage girls and their leaders representing almost all 50 states and 19 countries gathered at the Nashville Convention Center July 29-Aug. 1 for one foundational purpose -- to gain a broader perspective of God's activity in the world during the National Acteens Convention sponsored by Woman's Missionary Union.
"SyncroNations," the theme for the four-day convention which is held approximately every five years, is the eighth such gathering since WMU launched Acteens in 1970. Acteens is a missions organization for girls in grades seven through 12.
During the opening session of NAC, Kym Mitchell, WMU design editor of the new Acteens curriculum, "The Mag," encouraged the girls to "unpack everything on your mind and put it away." She continued, "Allow God to speak to you. He brought you here for a purpose. Spend this week focused on Him."
And that's what the girls did.
Each of the five general sessions opened energetically as Nashville recording artist and songwriter Celia Whitler led the girls in inspirational, contemporary praise music. Whitler even wrote a couple songs specifically for the event, which the girls readily learned.
Each session focused on a different part of the world: Tuesday was Latin America; Wednesday was Africa and the Middle East; Thursday was Europe and Asia; and Friday was North America. NAC participants engaged in an experiential journey around the world as various field personnel from the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board, among others, shared their inspiring stories and testimonies.
In addition to their "journey" abroad through the general sessions, the girls were able to experience "the next best thing" to being on mission through the "Global Village," a series of interactive, virtual encounters with missionaries and various cultures spread out across the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel to multiple floors of the Tennessee capital's convention center.
With the help of missionaries, Woman's Missionary Union staff, local volunteers and props, the Acteens experienced a house church service in China, wrote prayer requests and placed them in a Jerusalem Wailing Wall replica and scribbled faith-oriented graffiti on brick walls in New York City. In all, more than 10 cultures were represented. Outside each room, a television played the "JESUS" film in the respective culture's language.
"In the planning process, we recognized that while these girls are growing up in a global world, many will not have the opportunity to experience different cultures or countries firsthand," said Trudy Johnson, WMU's special projects manager who co-chaired the Global Village team. "Therefore, our dream became to create the 'next best thing to being there.' The Global Village lived up to our expectations, and the response to the missionaries was encouraging as girls enthusiastically considered how God can use them in missions."
On Wednesday morning, July 30, NAC participants assembled to walk five blocks to the capitol for a prayer rally to pray for Nashville, the state of Tennessee, the nation of America and the world. The girls marched a designated route to the capitol where they sang praises and prayed for God's blessings.
Allison Saleeby, a 15-year-old Acteen from Troutman, N.C., described the prayer rally as an awesome experience. "It was a real encouragement," she said, "to see so many Acteens who truly care and want to make a difference."
And make a difference, they did.
The following morning on July 31, the girls fanned out across the community helping to prepare 68 schools for the return of students by unpacking and organizing textbooks, cleaning school property, beautifying school grounds, assembling mass mailings, setting up classrooms and more.
"We put feet to our prayers by going into the public schools and doing community service projects in whatever capacity they needed us," said Kristy Carr, volunteer connection specialist for WMU and chair of the National Acteens Convention ministries.
Damon Cathey, principal of John Early Paideia Magnet Middle School, said he was "extremely happy and thankful" to get the help. "We have textbooks for all grades scattered throughout many classrooms. These girls have come in, sorted textbooks and accomplished in a few hours what would have taken me days and days."
The Acteens also brought school supplies with them to NAC to fill 3,000 donated backpacks that will be given to elementary students who come from needy families. Additional school supplies also were boxed and given to Mississippi River Ministries and the Nashville Baptist Association to assist in future outreach to schools. "We hope and pray that through our example a door will open for the local associations and churches to carry on the work," Carr said.
Evening activities took the excited teens to the ballpark to enjoy a Nashville Sounds baseball game on July 30 and contemporary Christian artists Out of Eden rocked the convention center on July 31. Other special guests during the week included the Zambian Acapella Boys Choir, a group of 12 boys ranging in age from 11 to 19 from Zambia, who sang both native African songs and songs learned from missionaries; Souljas 4 Christ, a Christian step team from Fremont, Calif., of 18 young women between the ages of 12 and 18; and 20 girls from the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention who performed Christian hula.
With the theme SyncroNations, NAC organizers planned for a truly international event. Although several girls from other countries have attended previous National Acteens Conventions, this year WMU welcomed a record number of 20 girls representing 19 countries. Evelyn Tully, who chaired international guest relations for NAC and formerly served as WMU's international initiatives strategist, said, "We see this opportunity of having these girls here going beyond simply adding a dimension to the conference. We see this as an opportunity to establish these young ladies as Christian women of influence in their respective cultures."
Olena Kofanova, 16, of the Ukraine said, "This week has been an opportunity for me to get a vision from God of what He wants me to do with my life. I'd love to be a missionary to Ethiopia. But first I'll go back to Ukraine and be a mentor to the other girls in my youth group. We have a new church there and I want them to know that there are Christians from all around the world who have a passion for Christ."
"It's so cool to be here and with all these other girls and learn what God is doing around the world," said Samara Joy Hoey, 18, a third-generation missionary kid from Australia. "There is so much that Christians need to be doing in the world but are not. But God wants us to go and reach people for Christ."
Also during the convention, the new curriculum designed by WMU for Acteens was officially released. "The Mag: A Kaleidoscope of Missions Awareness and Growth" is the result of two years of research, planning and preparation and replaces "Accent." Teaching materials, including the also newly released leader piece, aptly named "Acteens Leader," are being distributed across the country.
Over the week, 181 girls turned in cards indicating they felt God was leading them to make certain decisions. There were eight who made professions of faith, 37 who rededicated their lives to Christ; 40 who felt a definite leading or calling into ministry vocation; and 12 who felt called to volunteer missions opportunities.
Allison Henderson, a 15-year-old Acteen at Eagle's Landing Baptist Church in Port Richey, Fla., said, "It has always been clear that God wants me to serve. I'm still not sure about where but feel like I'm getting closer to discovering where God wants me to be." Henderson said she was very encouraged by some of the missionaries' stories. "Through all of their experiences, God proved that wherever He calls you to serve, He will always be with you, will equip you to do His work, and will provide your every need."
In the closing general session, Mitchell reminded the girls that God "calls each of us and God's call is continuous." She continued, "We are called to be God's light in the world and we can remember that it only takes one person to make a difference in the life of someone else."
Then she again issued a challenge to the girls. "As you pack your bags to return home, remember to pack your memories, your decisions, your commitments and your passion for God and sharing His love with others. Go and be God's voice."
Wanda S. Lee, WMU executive director/treasurer, closed with prayer, acknowledging that God's work was apparent all around the city of Nashville during the week. "You're already waiting on us to answer Your call to be a part of Your great plan," she prayed. "Strengthen our resolve to answer Your call to bring the light of Christ to all those we meet ... to be a friend to the friendless and bring hope to the hopeless."
"Our prayer is that the girls learned more about their world, about themselves and about God's plan for their life," said Andrea Mullins, WMU's co-leader of leadership development and chairman of the NAC steering team. "This generation of girls is truly amazing, and I know they will accomplish great things as they seek God's will for their lives."