Ellen White describes prayer as the “breath of the soul” in her book Steps to Christ. Stephanie Johnson, Forest Lake Academy chaplain, and her team understood this back in 1998 when they started the annual Prayer Conference, which takes place at Camp Kulaqua Retreat Center.
“The purpose of the conference is to teach academy students how to be servant leaders and how to ‘be Jesus’ to their peers through relationship-building,” Johnson said. “This allows students to reach out and meet the needs of their friends through both action and prayer.”
This year, the Prayer Conference took place January 23-26, and Southern played a major role in putting together the event. Jackie James, director of recruitment for Enrollment Services, was this year’s keynote speaker. Rick Anderson, public school recruitment coordinator, took his engage ministries team down to lead out in worship for all the sessions. Fifteen Southern students attended as well, with a few fulfilling leadership roles, such as junior theology major Ryan Becker and senior industrial psychology major Christopher Hudson.
The Tuesday night before the conference began, five student leaders from the various Southern Union high schools arrived for small groups training. Ryan and Christopher were two of six trainers. During this training session, student leaders were taught the nuts and bolts of small groups: how to engage social relationships, guide discussions, and break the ice.
“Small groups allows us to build trust and relationships so people can openly talk about their faith stories and their lives,” Johnson said. “Knowing you’re not the only person who has struggles with their faith and Christian walk is an encouragement.”
The actual conference began Wednesday afternoon. As students arrived they were randomly placed into the small groups that would meet with for the entirety of the conference. Thursday was a packed day filled with group sessions, general sessions, and even a little fun time. Friday evening is known as the “order of the towel” because each year on this night the students meet with their small groups and take time to look at the model Jesus left for leadership.
“Order of the towel involves each student leaving that program with a washcloth to remind them that Jesus washed the feet of His own followers,” Anderson said. “They then return to their own campuses with a new understanding of their role there and an eye for serving those they lead.”
The conference closes out on Sabbath with a church service and an opportunity to visit the retreat’s zoo. There were 48 leaders this year, and close to 300 students who attended the conference.
Ryan Becker has been involved in the Prayer Conference for five years now. Three years as a student leader and two years as a trainer.
“I love seeing God work in the lives of these high school students,” Becker said. “Three years ago I had a student in my group who came to the conference contemplating suicide and left completely changed. God moves powerfully.”
Photo Credit: Tim Floyd