The Rev. Michelle Manuel knew how to make an entrance at The OneEvent.
In each of the sessions in which Manuel, the keynote speaker, participated, she got what she called “hype music” from DJ Big Al Cherry, and threw T-shirts to the crowd in her three sessions.
Manuel, associate pastor of The Loft at The Woodlands United Methodist Church north of Houston, spoke based on John 5: 1-6, the healing at the pool at Bethesda, and repeatedly asked the teenagers what their “mat” was – what was holding them back from living the life that they wanted.
For Manuel, hers began with an addiction to alcohol that began when she was 14, and anorexia by the time she was in college at Texas Tech. “I did things that made me not me anymore,” she said.
Her life changed when she was invited by friends to a Christian retreat in the hills of New Mexico, when she began to give her life to the Lord.
“I gave them a mustard seed of faith,” Manuel said. “Jesus loves you so much, and He wants to see you well so badly, He’s willing to risk it all for you.”
The final time that she asked, “What’s your mat?” to the group on Saturday night, she invited them to come up and write their problems with markers on the 5-foot-tall W-O-R-D letters in the front of the stage.
The next day, she said she was moved by the responses.
“I just sat there, and I cried for a little bit,” Manuel said. “Some of us are hurting, some of us are in need of help.”
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. participated in two of the workshop sessions, thanking youth leaders for their roles in the church.
“Children are mission-critical in the life of the whole church,” said Bishop Saenz, a former youth pastor and Fellowship of Christian Athletes adviser.
The bishop said some churches feel like they have no youth ministry if none of “our kids” – children of church members – are in school. But if they have a grade school, junior high or high school in their community, they need a youth ministry to reach those outside their church.
“I find this work is exhausting, unless we’re committed to the eternal source of strength and compassion,” he said.
The bishop also said conference staff is available to work with youth ministry programs.
“We want to do all that we can to encourage you and support you in this amazing work,” he said.
Bishop Saenz also welcomed the youth at the opening of The OneEvent.
“We’re cementing and making firm your faith,” he told the 900-plus youth and their leaders. “We’re expressing the goodness of Jesus Christ, the goodness of the church and your place in the church.”
The bishop said The OneEvent can have an impact on the youth’s lives whether it was their first time or if they were a multiple returnee.
“Every time we come to an event like this, we encounter God in a new way because we’re in a different place in our lives,” he said.
For the second year, DJ Big Al Cherry – a Christian hip-hop artist, pastor and DJ – returned to provide energy to The OneEvent, with onstage beats that got the crowd on their feet and a late-night Saturday dance party.
But “Big Al” said he wasn’t as big as he was last year – he’s dropped 74 pounds, by limiting breads and sugars and going to the gym five times a week.
The Monroe, Louisiana-based Cherry said he was grateful to return to The OneEvent and see the enthusiasm of the young people.
“My heart is with youth and young adults,” he said. “To see them relax and enjoy themselves and dig into the word is amazing.”
Just because you disagree doesn’t mean you can’t get along.
That was the theme of the workshop “The Word in Relationships,” led by the Rev. Molly Just and the Rev. Lora Andrews.
The workshop leaders talked about differences and gave the youth practical skills and
conversation methods when someone might have differing opinions.
The workshop stemmed from a sermon Andrews and Just did together at Southwestern College in Winfield, where Just is director of discipleship and Andrews is pastor of nearby Grace United Methodist Church.
“I feel like we’ve discovered we disagree about a lot of things,” Just said. “We have a lot of things in common. Our call to ministry stories are similar, but we kind of disagree about theological things.”
Andrews said both of their upbringings and their seminaries shaped and formed them differently.
“It seems like that should pit us against each other, but we’ve learned to have a lot of respect for each other,” she said, “and it’s OK to be different from each other.”
Comedian Daren Streblow entertained The OneEvent audience both in the general session and in a well-attended late-night comedy show.
A father of four, Steblow said when he calls home he never knows if his wife is yelling at him or their children.
“Why are you bothering me now?” his wife has yelled on the phone, he said. “You do not want to make me come over to where you are!”
In disciplining his children, Streblow said, he and his wife go for what he calls “the nuclear option. … We make out in front of them.”
A professional comedian since 1995, Streblow said he remembered well the problems of teenagers.
“I wanted to date girls,” he said. “The feeling wasn’t mutual.”