College students Imagine What’s NEXT


Daniel Reffner, a senior at Southwestern College, crafts pottery during a worship time at the Imagine What's NEXT conference for young adults in Atlanta. Photo courtesy NEXT conference

Before he had his turn before 700 fellow college students at the Imagine What’s NEXT conference in Atlanta on Nov. 4-6, Daniel Reffner admitted to some stage fright.

“It was very humbling, and it made me emotional,” said Reffner, a senior majoring in religion and philosophy at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. “I think it made me emotional because … the spirit was clearly moving in that place. To know that I was communicating the love and the grace of God just makes me emotional.”

A ceramic artist, Reffner talked about the connection between his faith and his pottery while on stage at the Tabernacle Theatre. Reffner, a Wichita native, spoke while at the potter’s wheel, and in between his fellow Southwestern students – members of the Worship Outreach ministry program – performed praise and worship music.

“It was a really special moment to share that with all those people,” said Reffner, who often performs musically with Worship Outreach. “It was really powerful. To be in a leadership role in something that big was new for me.”

While backstage, he said he began to grasp the magnitude of sharing his mission.
Members of the Southwestern College worship outreach team lead a time of praise at the Imagine What's NEXT conference in Atlanta. Photo courtesy NEXT conference

“I began to feel the weight of it,” Reffner said. “It wasn’t a burden, but it was like this awesome understanding of the responsibility and the gravitas of the task that was ahead of me. That was to share a testimony and be a witness to what God has done in my life through pottery.

“To be able to share that with people, 700 people, and invite them into that narrative to be transformed, the way pottery has transformed me.”

The biennial gathering sponsored by the United Methodist Student Movement, NEXT brought 700 18- to 24-year-olds together – and about one-tenth of those were from the Great Plains. Two Southwestern students were also a part of the design team for the conference. Another Great Plains student, Wes Gately of Washburn University, was on the design team and was the on-stage announcer.

The Great Plains delegation included students from the conference’s four United Methodist colleges – Baker University, Kansas Wesleyan, Nebraska Wesleyan and Southwestern – as well as representatives from four campus ministries at state schools: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University, Fort Hays State University and Emporia State University.

Nebraska Wesleyan was represented by 11 students, said the Rev. Eduardo Bousson, university minister.

“It was kind of cool to be with 700 other students from all over the nation,” said Bousson, attending his second NEXT event. “It was a great opportunity for them to bond with each other, and bring some great experiences back to campus.”

Bousson said he felt the Nebraska Wesleyan students benefited as much out of the ventures into Atlanta, sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education Ministries, as they did from the workshops and keynote speeches.

Students visited the Civil Rights Museum, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and went to missions that worked with refugees in the Atlanta area.

“They didn’t know as much about refugees and the experience of refugees before going to this breakout session,” Bousson said. “To me it’s fantastic, because we have tons of refugees in Lincoln. I’m planning to help them translate that experience and that passion that they had in Atlanta to apply it here on campus and the Lincoln community.”

Bousson said the students “felt more called to have a faith that is also reflected in social justice. Not just personal piety, but social holiness.”

Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at

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