NEWS | Rick Gage stood in front of nearly 1,000 students and leaders meeting at the Prairie Capital Convention Center for the Youth Encounter evangelism conference. The room was much quieter than it had been just a few minutes earlier, when the Dec. 29-30 event kicked off with high-energy music, improv comedy from Team WordPlay, and a performance by illusionist Bryan Drake.
When Gage took the stage, he spoke first to leaders who brought students to the annual event, thanking them for investing in young people’s lives.
“We’re here to meet with God. We’re here to do business with God. And it’s our prayer—it’s your prayer—that God would use these next 24 hours to impact not just the teenagers’ lives, but all of our lives.”
A few minutes later, after preaching a message on what it means to have an authentic relationship with God, Gage called students to the front who felt led to make a decision for Christ. They streamed down the aisles. Almost 300 people crowded near the stage (above) as the evangelist prayed over them and instructed them to head backstage to meet with counselors.
All told, 92 people made decisions to trust Christ at Youth Encounter, and 205 recommitted their faith. During the two-day conference, 20 students also answered the call to ministry, and 33 committed to pray for lost friends or family members.
“God has his hand on some guys and when they preach the gospel…I can’t explain it. I just watch it happen and shake my head, but when they preach, people respond to the gospel,” said IBSA’s Tim Sadler. “There’s an anointing that’s on their lives, and it’s just a powerful thing.”
Gage knows how to “draw the net,” said state evangelism director Sadler, who also directs YE. The decision to invite Gage was strategic because of his experience as a youth evangelist, Sadler told the Illinois Baptist.
“And I’d also add into that, I’ve heard several of our youth leaders, our local church youth leaders, talk about how they intentionally sought to bring unsaved kids to Youth Encounter this year,” said Chad Ozee, pastor of Journey Church in Bourbonnais and YE’s backstage manager.
“And that’s the key. If they just bring their core kids, then there aren’t people here that don’t know Christ, to hear that message, to have that net drawn.”
‘I’m changed now’
Jay Huddleston brought 19 students to Springfield, and all 19 made some kind of spiritual decision at Youth Encounter. The pastor of Herrick Baptist Church said the group’s Bible study after the Monday evening session got so intense, the students didn’t even finish the pizza they’d ordered.
Huddleston knows personally how Youth Encounter can change lives. He answered God’s call to preach shortly after attending the event as a leader in 1996. He’d actually realized God was calling him years earlier, but still hadn’t responded. But when some young women from his group came back from YE ready to surrender their lives to God’s purposes, he knew he had to make a decision of his own.
“The girls were standing up there talking about how they were going to make a commitment and give their life to Christ, and I’m running.” He pastored two churches before coming to Herrick Baptist, where he has been for nine years.
One of the students he brought this year was 15-year-old Michael Mey, who made a decision to trust Christ during that Monday evening session. Mey went to YE last year, so he was more used to the event this year, he said. What drew him to respond was what Gage said about only having so much time to respond to God.
When asked if there are things he’ll do differently after his decision, Mey said, “I feel like I’m changed now.”
Arrested my soul
During his message in the first session, Gage told the story of how his own life changed when he was a football coach in his 20’s. In the same vein as the Apostle Paul, Gage listed his religious qualifications:
“I was raised up in a Christian home. I was raised up in Bible-believing churches. My father, Freddie Gage, who preached the gospel for more than 50 years around the world, saw more than a million people come to know Christ. I had a very godly mother. I’ve been surrounded by great men of God all my life.
“I mean, if anybody should have been a champion for God, it should have been me.”
But he wasn’t. Gage told students how he had walked the aisle as a child, but repentance hadn’t taken root in his heart. “For nearly 18 years of my life, I professed to be a Christian because of what I did when I was eight years of age. And on top of that, my father’s Freddie Gage. And I did OK for a while, until I learned how to do bad.”
The only thing that set him apart from his classmates and teammates, Gage said, was his presence at church on Sunday—until he went away to college. Drifting farther from God, he finally found himself at a church service where a family friend preached on repentance.
“And God used that service and that message that night to reveal to my heart and my mind that I had never truly repented of my sin,” Gage told students. “And when the invitation time was given there that night…the Holy Spirit of God that night arrested my soul.”
At Youth Encounter 2014, hundreds heard a similar message—and responded. Standing near the stage on the conference’s last day, one young man asked if the group going backstage after the invitation was going for the same reason he had the day before, to repent.
With confidence, he said, “I did that yesterday.”
In 2015, Youth Encounter moves to three regional events, each held on Columbus Day Weekend, October 11-12. For more information, watch http://www.IBSA.org/students.