The Perfect Storm – the Aftermath of COVID-19

Guest blog by Gary Blackard, President, and CEO for Adult & Teen Challenge USA, a faith-based addiction recovery organization located in Ozark, Missouri. 

Humanity is facing a crisis unlike any in recent memory. The virus is pernicious, it is insidious, and it is deadly. The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic – how long it will last and how severe it will ultimately be – only makes things worse. But there are some certainties, some things that we can expect and predict and prepare for. After COVID-19, we will most likely witness a surge of mental and behavioral health cases, including substance abuse and addiction problems, that will dwarf the opioid crisis and strain communities throughout the nation.  

How can we predict this? Immediately following the Great Recession, suicides rose by 13% and were attributed to skyrocketing unemployment. Over the past four weeks, more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment, the highest number of claims in U.S. history. To put this in context, this is significantly larger than the entire population of the state of New York, which is currently 19.45 million. Anxiety, loneliness, personal loss, job loss, financial ruin, and an uncertain future are often precursors to both mental illness and substance abuse. The virus is creating the perfect storm for an already vulnerable demographic; the current economic shutdown posits the very real possibility of an unprecedented rise in “death by despair.” 

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We are already seeing signs of the increasing mental health burden individuals are feeling across the country. The Department of Health and Human Services reported an 891% increase in calls to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMSHA) crisis hotline between March 2019 and March 2020, with a 338% increase from February to March 2020 alone. Legal sales of alcohol and marijuana in March 2020 have skyrocketed. 

Those of us working in the addiction space must recognize the strengths of all types of treatment and recovery programs, including the strengths of the faith-based community.  In addition to that, we must look for new ways to reach those in need. According to research by Haiden Huskamp, only a small proportion of people with a substance use disorder (SUD) receive treatment. The shortage of SUD treatment providers, particularly in rural areas, is an important driver of this treatment gap. Telemedicine could be a means of expanding access to treatment. By implementing evidence-based long-term solutions to these problems, utilizing better technology that will take “virtual care” to the next level, and using both predictive and prescriptive technologies to leverage artificial intelligence, telemedicine, deep learning, and precision treatment, we can increase recovery capabilities. Now is when addiction service providers need to figure out how to put hope truly within reach of those who need it most. 

It is every provider’s responsibility – regardless of approach or affiliation – to both recognize and address the underlying issues with which every person suffering from addiction struggles with- questions of identity, worth, value, and purpose. Our centers and their successes suggest that faith should be embraced as another critical component of care if we are truly interested in fostering life-long recovery and personal resilience. Working with those struggling to overcome addiction requires compassion, patience, empathy, and determination. In the era after COVID-19, how we choose to care for those struggling with mental health and substance abuse dependency will determine how many lives we save, how quickly we recover, and how future generations will define us.

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The Cross-Cultural Power Of A Song

Here is a response from a German girl to a For KING & COUNTRY concert that interlinc arranged for the Willowcreek Association’s BASE CAMP Youth Leader Conference in Erfurt, Germany.

Hi, I just have to say THANK YOU Yesterday night when I saw you in concert at the Willow Creek Base Camp I found God because of you.

You have to know that I had something like a faith-crisis since round about a year. First I wanted to believe in God and be a Christian but I was not able to (don’t know why), then I wanted to stop believing in God because I could not stand the inner disruption, but something did not allow me to “leave” God and Jesus. So I started to search a way for me, and I decided to believe in a God above but I did not pray or speak to him. I believed in a passive God, that just exists. So, I was not a Christian anymore but I created something like a new religion. My own, not really satisfying religion.

I continued going to church and make music there, but I did not believe what was said in the songs and preachings anymore. My life was horrible at this time and I gave up trying to get back to life with Jesus.

Now I come to the present: This weekend my life has changed in a way I would never imagine.

On Friday and Saturday my life was like all the months before, but then you sang the song “Let my life be the proof of your love” and at this moment I understood what faith is all about. It is not about having a relationship with God because of the things I do but about doing the things God wants because I have a relationship with Him and He loves me and His love never fails. I don’t know why but I needed this simple sentence to understand this. Megan Fate Marshall and the other preachers that spoke at the seminars before said this all the time, they said exactly what I wrote, all the time! But I didn’t understand it. I just heard what they said in the knowledge that I will never be able to believe like this.

But then you sang that song. And – I can’t explain it – my life changed! I found God and I found Jesus and I invited Jesus to live in me. I gave my life to Jesus because of one little sentence that just repeated what the preachers said in seven seminars before.

Can you believe it? I cannot. I am so excited about this and I am so happy that you sang this song. I am sure that you didn’t plan this, but God did. God had a plan, a masterplan!

But nevertheless, I thank you, because you made God’s plan become true. And I can’t thank you enough.

And I want you to know that music has the power to save people like me, that gave up already and never thought that they could believe in God (again).

So please, continue writing songs that touch people. And once again: THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Best wishes,
Jordis

We want to help you use the power of music in your ministry! For less than the price of a pizza, we will load you up! Give us a chance to serve you!

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Woke Or Awakened? Thoughts On July 4th

By Jeremy White • Valley Church • Vacaville, California

Jeremy is a long-time member of Team interlinc, both as a youth leader and as a pastor. He has written tons of YLO Bible studies and his article  “Why I’m A Pastor And Still A YLO Member” was featured in our 30th-year edition of YLO.

As July 4 approaches, and in light of the turmoil on display in America’s streets right now, I’ve been re-reading and reflecting on the U.S. Constitution. 

In the preamble (which I still know by heart from memorizing it back in middle school) one of the key phrases about the intent of the Constitution is to “form a more perfect Union.”

It is important to always keep in perspective that these wildly imperfect framers were not making any claims of a perfect union, but of aiming for the creation of one “more perfect” than that from which they had defected. 

While we can and must decry the hypocrisy of various evils and inconsistencies such as slavery, misogyny, etc. (so that we never repeat them again), I pray we do not lose gratitude for the profound fact that these founding documents of the American experiment were thankfully by nature a breeding-ground for self-correction. 

Ironically, America’s founding ideals, (enshrined in such documents) became the very basis upon which such societal and personal hypocrisies eventually began to be called out and corrected.

Is observing Independence Day a wholesale affirmation of the entire history of America? Of course not. Do you celebrate your own birthday? If so, are you affirming or justifying or minimizing every poor decision or self-destructive action in your entire past? No, and the same is true for anybody’s birthday you choose to celebrate.

To truly love, according to Scripture, involves “keeping no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Of course, this truth is revealed in the context of human relationships, but what is America, if not a nation with a history of very imperfect humans, in need of forgiveness, seeking to form a more perfect union?

To “keep no record of wrongs” does not imply that we overlook or gloss over past sins, mistakes or injustices…even in the context of collective or systemic failure. Rather, it simply means that we as believers in Christ do not hold onto past sins (whether personal or collective) with an attitude toward retribution.

This humble posture is one I’m seeing right now in many of my black friends who follow Christ. And as a white guy who doesn’t always say things perfectly or understand things completely, I’m grateful they do not see me as a target worthy of their anger over things that happened long before any of us were ever born, or even over current blind spots that may still exist in my own life right now.

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When I celebrate America’s birthday (and this has been true for years), I give thanks for God’s mercy upon us as a nation…that from day one of our many imperfect endeavors, the One who created all men equal has seen fit to allow this country to improve in ways that would not have been possible if not for the ideals laid out in the very Constitution we have never perfectly lived up to.

Thankfully, people of all colors have rightly pointed to this Constitution and other relevant founding ideals to continue that original quest of attempting to form “a more perfect union.” It appears that in some areas, we’re crushing it. In other areas, we’re stumbling along. And in still others, we are failing miserably. 

In today’s America, the fact that 10-20 black youngsters are dying by gunfire on the streets of Chicago every weekend right now should be breaking the hearts of every decent American. It is equally outrageous to consider that nearly 40% of abortions in America are performed on black women who represent only 13% of the female population. This is not a political statement, but a moral lament, because the fact that such a high number of black women are unable to celebrate pregnancy and motherhood joyously for a multiplicity of reasons is horrifying, to say the least.

I could go on, but these are things I think about often as a pastor. And even as I prepare to celebrate my gratitude for America this July 4, realities like these remind me that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly the only hope for mankind. 

I believe that the American idea is worth fighting for…worth risking our lives for…not because we are or ever were a “perfect union,” but because we are afforded the daily opportunity to pursue becoming a “more perfect union” today than we were yesterday. 

Unfortunately, many politicians drunk on power want to pit us against each other to garner support at the ballot box. Americans…and especially Americans who claim to follow Christ…should not be sucked into this. 

As a Christ-follower, I believe that racism (or any other societal ill) is ultimately incurable outside of spiritual heart transformation found in Jesus Christ. It was Christ who defied the racism of his day by befriending Samaritans and proactively loving Gentiles. And it is that same Christ living in and through me (and you) that the world so desperately needs to experience in action.

So on my list of things to be thankful for this July 4 include:

  • My American brothers and sisters of all skin-colors
  • The freedom I enjoy as an American to live and express my faith without fear of serious persecution
  • The fact that my son felt compelled to serve his country in the US Air Force as he begins his adult life
  • My WWII veteran grandfather who is with Jesus now
  • The daily opportunity to participate in forming a more perfect union based upon the Bill of Rights
  • Most importantly, my freedom in Christ, which I share with all believers the world over, transcending national borders, political affiliation, socio-economic circumstance or any other barrier between us

Today I hope you feel encouraged to keep loving and living your daily life as an expression of Christ to every person God brings across your path. It’s not about feeling like you’re woke enough, but rather about being awakened from the death that once bound you to the despair of a Christless life and future, and pointing others to that awakening.

As our Savior said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart and be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!”

I’m celebrating my American citizenship this weekend, but as I’ve said many times publicly, I will never confuse Kingdom with country. My earthly citizenship is an important part of my life, but my heavenly citizenship – tethered to my relationship with Jesus – IS my very life.

May I never forget it… and if you agree, may you never forget it either.

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The Prepositions Of Mission

By Joel Van Dyke • Street Psalms/Urban Training Collaborative • Sarasota, Florida

One of the most profound lessons I have learned working with high-risk young people is that I must give serious attention to the prepositions of mission. Prepositions are small words that connect thoughts or ideas. Prepositions are relational connectors that show the relationship between things such as “The ball is over my head.”

When considering our work in missions, we must learn how to pay close attention to the prepositions we use. 

There are really three main mission prepositions. The first one is “TO.” Ministries using this preposition tend to locate power in very specific and small places – like the pulpit. They often deal with those they want to reach paternalistically – meaning they hoard power and position themselves in a place of superiority over those they feel called to reach. 

An example of this was a televangelist I once heard saying that he wanted to “impregnate his viewers with the Word of God.” Over and over throughout his message, he yelled, “I am going to get you pregnant tonight.” His ministry was something he did “TO” people. Ministries that see “mission” as something they do “TO” others are oppressive and do harm to the name of Jesus. Many Christians are trapped in churches and deeply oppressed by a ministry that is done “TO” them.

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The second preposition often used in missions is “FOR.” These are ministries that do things FOR others. Contrasted to being paternalistic, these kinds of ministries often fall into the trap of being maternalistic. Many of us have grown up in families with mothers who tried to do far more FOR us than was healthy. In youth ministry, we tend to do far too many things FOR young people – things they should be doing for themselves. These are the kinds of ministries where the people have to consistently seek approval of their leader/pastor for everything they do because they lack the confidence to think for and act on their own.

A third preposition used in the mission of the church is “WITH.” This is the incarnational preposition – Emmanuel (God with us). When this preposition drives the mission of one’s church or short-term missions project, both the leaders and the people they seek to serve are transformed. There is a cost to using this mission preposition in ministry because doing so takes a lot more time and relational energy – and demands that leaders give up power instead of guard it. We shy away from using the preposition “WITH” because we do not have the time and do not like paying costs (like having to empty ourselves) to minister effectively to others. 

A great exercise for your youth ministry team would be to sit down with these three prepositions and examine your own church/ministry/mission project. What preposition drives or best illustrates your ministry? What can be done to practically move you to become a ministry that uses the preposition “with” in the way you live out your mission? 

PrepositionCharacteristic Leads To…
ToPaternalisticOppression
ForMaternalisticCo-Dependence
WithIncarnationalTransformation

One of the most effective transfers of prepositions that I ever saw lived out happened in the community of “Los Brasiles” from the barrio “San Francisco” in Managua, Nicaragua. Pastor Tomas Ruiz has faithfully lived and served there for more than 20 years. He started with 25-30 members, and the church stayed at this size for the first 6-7 years. Tired of so many years of hard work without much tangible fruit, he began talking with and listening to the neighborhood residents around his church. In his first meetings with residents, Pastor Tomas realized that in many occasions he and his church had offended the community by judging and condemning them. He called a community meeting and asked the neighbors for forgiveness on behalf of the church.

Then the members of the church inquired of their neighbors, “What can we do as a church to serve and bless you?” The response was a request to rid the streets of garbage and mud holes that were causing many problems and health issues. This was the first step in moving from doing the ministry “TO” others to doing the ministry “WITH” those the church wanted to reach. The clean up took three weeks to complete. The church decided to use their Sunday morning worship time to clean the neighborhood, thereby showing their solidarity with the community during the first fruits of their time as a congregation. By choosing Sunday morning, they could use the picking up of garbage as a real and genuine act of worship before God.

Seven years later that church, Faro de Luz (Lighthouse), has 250 “disciples.” They have a multi-use church building, a school with 300 students, a computer center, a gymnasium, and they recently bought land to build the community’s first baseball diamond and soccer field. They have built 22 homes for families in the community.

Because of the trust and respect that has been built, the community recently named Pastor Tomas as their legal representative before the government. The church has successfully planted several other churches in neighboring communities. 

What are the prepositions of your ministry?

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The Un-Mission Trip: Serving When You Can’t Leave Home

By Rick Bundschuh • Kauai Christian Fellowship • Kauai, Hawaii

Let me assure you that taking students to third-world countries for exposure to missions is a very valuable idea on several levels. The trips get them fired up about missions in general and make them very appreciative (at least for a while) of all the things they take for granted at home. A mission project infuses the kids with a sense of responsibility for the poor that they will never shake and often brings a wonderful sense of purposefulness and comradeship.

There are lots and lots of great reasons for going on mission trips – which is why I take a group of kids to Tijuana ever year.

But seldom – very, very, seldom – are mission trips truly effective in reaching those in far off lands for Christ. Yes, by our presence and efforts we may be supporting a ministry that is active in evangelism, but let’s get really honest with each other here; mission trips usually do far more good (in the short run) for our kids than they do for those in foreign countries we visit for a week or two.

Oh, I know that sometimes, after the skit or presentation (if you do that kind of thing), lots of hands went up or people came forward. But, most of the time we have no idea if the locals are just being nice to the Yankee kids, or if they have a culture that responds in this way to every invitation. (No, I am not denying that God can move, but as one who has lots of friends in foreign missions who host youth groups, let’s just say I am aware that all is not always as it seems.)

And then, there is the money.

Usually, thousands of dollars per student are spent to go to a place – where the money spent by our youth group to get to this place could feed and fuel the economy of an entire village for a year.  Most of us are aware of the huge discrepancy between wages in poor countries and the USA. Many of us have, sitting in the midst of poverty, felt acute embarrassment at our own over-the-top wealth and careless spending habits when just a few less luxuries at home could put the village kid we were playing soccer with through school.

So here is an idea: this year, don’t go. Don’t have a mission trip at all; have an Un-mission Trip.

Do your fundraisers, get the bucks together, make a goal that is exactly the same as if your crew was jumping on a plane or doing the road trip to Mexico on the bus. And then send all the money to the mission that you were going to work with. The money can be used to hire a local evangelist, to feed a family, to buy Bibles, to pay bills, to send a hardworking local missionary couple on a surprise weekend trip to the big city and their first-ever stay in a hotel with some spending money in their pocket. Or, bring someone from the mission you visited last year to your town. Help them get their visitor visas, buy them Wal-Mart, or even Macy’s gift cards and let them go nuts. Give them the vacation of their lifetime. Let them try to minister to your church this year.

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True, some kids will not be motivated by this idea. (You may have better luck with kids who have already had their eyes opened in prior mission trips) Some are only willing to work hard if they benefit from it. But it won’t take much in the way of math or graphs to make the case that perhaps this year, unlike other years, the goal of your mission efforts is to get as much Kingdom bang for the buck; and that by staying home, working hard, and sending the cash (okay, okay, pick one kid who worked super hard and send him or her down with a staff person to present the gift), the good things that can be done are multiplied.

And we all can still have fun working toward that purpose.

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COVID-19 Ministry: What A German Youthworker Is Doing

By Alex Zoeller and Mike Vlajnic, CCA City Church, Andernach, Germany

Alex and Mike at their June 9 “Corona distance meeting”

When this Covid-19 crisis started to spread over Germany I asked myself what is my role in all of this. Should I hide somewhere waiting till it is over? It came very clear to my mind. The Holy Spirit was moving me by saying, “This situation doesn’t surprise Me. I called you 18 years ago into this ministry. I gifted and educated you. I led you through some valleys and deserts to be prepared for this time.” He showed me two pictures: first, a 9/11 firefighter carrying a person through all the dust and then a person sitting on the couch just watching the news. God said, “Don’t just watch the news. Fight to save desperate souls. People need hope. Church services are not allowed and all the churches are closed. Kids and youth have to stay home where parents cannot handle the situation well because love is a foreign word. This is your time! FIGHT!”

How Do I Fight?
As youth pastors-church leaders, the first thing we needed to do was to TAKE THE CHALLENGE! When you have never worked with a virtual tool it’s NOW or NEVER! Let’s learn how to use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Skype, HouseParty, and other stuff offered here in Germany. Honestly, I was not motivated to do it and had a fear of all that virtual stuff – fear of failing and missing it all. But the biggest fear was to lose all the students from our groups. 

How Do I Overcome This Fear?
Just take the challenge and start running. Begin to trust Jesus with everything. So, I did. I learned the computer stuff and collected all teenagers in our virtual rooms. Played games with them, prayed with them and the most important I talked about LIFE with them and found out about their fears. You can only open the hearts of teenagers when you are honest and open about your own life. Your own fears. I did it and they opened up and didn’t care about virtual rooms at that moment. Did everything go so easy peasy? Nope. The 13-17-year-olds liked the first two sessions and then disappeared. The 10-12-year-olds celebrated and accepted the program but not the older ones.

The Creator’s Creativity
In CRISIS, pray for The CREATOR’S CREATIVITY! The ideas came pretty quickly! We invited the youth on Saturdays to an event called “the CRAZY THING”. On five platforms, youthworkers were waiting for teenagers to come into a virtual room and spend time there. First, Platform WORSHIP, then Platform FIFA20 PS4, next Platform GAMING, then Platform GROUP GAMES, and finally, Platform THE LOUNGE. The lounge was open all night to come back and check out who’s there, chill a bit, and leave for other platforms. What happened was that the same teenagers who didn’t want to hang out Wednesdays anymore hung out all night at the LOUNGE – sometimes even until 3am. After some weeks, some teenagers wanted the Bible time.

Give ’Em What They Want!
We started “BiblePower” and “TeensPrayer” once a week. Study the Bible for an hour and pray for 30 minutes together in a virtual room was all of a sudden great and a bunch of people visited those programs.

Daily and Personal Connection 
The “2 Minute Message” was effective for us. Every day we shot a crazy, funny, and spiritual 2-minute video to say “Good Morning” to the kids.

I wanted to have a one-on-one connection with all the teens. But, how can I do it with 30 teenagers? A personal contact? The answer was involving our co-workers (we have eight wonderful helpers). We divided up the teenagers and gave every worker 4-5 to connect with.

Last Thoughts
When I was running as fast as I could, I had no fear at all. The rest is history: Jesus took over, used me, and helped me lead teenagers through this crisis. No fear when the Creator is running with you.

The “Never Fear Always Trust” Song & Video
In 2013 our youth group went through Max Lucado’s Book “Facing Your Giants: God Still Does the Impossible.” For this series, I wrote a song called “Never Fear Always Trust.” It says you always have the option to trust in the Lord instead of fearing the enemy. This song became a hymn for my youth group, and the church at home sang it as well. Now, after several years, this song became more current than ever before. People from my youth group remembered the song because everybody had the same giant called “COVID-19” standing in front of them. The song encouraged them to fight instead of hiding.

The song “Never Fear Always Trust” was heard in a lot of youth groups again. I was asked to produce a lyric video for churches which, by law, were not allowed to sing during the crisis. But they watched the video to be encouraged by the simple truth: When you are scared – start singing! Now, all that matters are the lyrics, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you – You are mine” is a wonderful encouragement from God in Isaiah 43:1-2. The song tells the story of this real hope that God has everything under control and never loses track. The faithful God does not leave your side in a crisis. He is faithful.

Check out Alex’s band WEMODIFYETERNITIES, get the music video, and do the youth group session with your group!

The song, video, and youth group session that Mike wrote are available on the interlínc Youth Leaders Only platform as well as on Spotify and other streaming services and are being used by ministries globally even in orphanages in India where kids are watching the video on mobile phones and finding new hope during the COVID-19 isolation.

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Greg Stier Guest Blog: National Senior Sendoff On May 28

By Greg Stier • Dare 2 Share Ministries • gregstier.org

Note: We at interlinc are long-time colaborers in student evangelism with Greg Stier and Dare2Share. His vision for the National Senior Sendoff is exactly what we have been focused on with the ConGRADulations! Grad Gift. Please join us For KING & COUNTRY, Tobymac, Bethany Hamilton, Peabod, and others in this virtual baccalaureate service on May 28.

Several weeks ago it started becoming clear that proms were gonna be canceled, graduations were going to look different and high school seniors, instead of getting their diploma handed to them in the traditional way, were going to get the short end of the pandemic stick. My heart broke for these frustrated high school seniors, who’ve been robbed of a normal, public celebration by a horrific virus.

My life has been devoted to ministering to teenagers. For the last 29 years, I have sought to inspire, equip, and unleash teenagers to spread the good news of Jesus through the ministry of Dare 2 Share.

Over the last three decades, I’ve talked to countless teenagers who have struggled through broken relationships, shattered dreams, and sinful choices. And, when I’ve talked to these teenagers at our Dare 2 Share events, I’ve been able to place my arm around their shoulders, pray with them, and do my best to encourage them through whatever their struggle may be. 

But this pandemic is a global one and I don’t know how to put my arm around the shoulders of the twenty-seven million teenagers across America or the one billion teenagers around the world.

My heart is broken for teenagers, as I’m sure yours is. This already-struggling-with-anxiety generation is having their inner pain exacerbated exponentially by the frustration and desperation that erupts from the kind of isolation they are experiencing as a result of this pandemic.

Dr. Harold Koplewicz, an adolescent psychiatrist and President of the Child Mind Institute said this about these teenagers in an interview with Time“They are stressed now because of the lack of structure of school, missing big chunks of their lives—whether it’s dating, graduation, proms, classes—and there’s worry about their parents’ finances and there’s worry about everyone’s health.”

What teens are going through globally, especially high school seniors, breaks my heart.

IMG_1651

But my heart is broken for another reason, my son, Jeremy, is a high school senior this year. I feel bad as a dad because you only get to graduate from high school once. It’s just not going to be the same for him as it was for me and my wife when we graduated.

My heart goes out to every high school senior as they try to make sense of this whole thing and every parent and teacher who is seeking to make the best of a sad situation.

About a month ago I began to ask God what I could do to help encourage, not just my son, but every high school senior. And the Lord answered my prayer.

The answer came in the form of two words, “Baccalaureate ceremony.” According to thespruce.com “baccalaureate is a non-denominational spiritual service that allows for public school graduates to find spiritual meaning that aligns with their personal beliefs.

Although these kinds of services aren’t held as often today, I began to ask myself, what if I was able to help pull together some kind of national baccalaureate service for high school seniors across the nation to encourage and inspire them?

So I went to Mr. Hasz, the superintendent at Faith Christian Academy where Jeremy is graduating from this year, and shared with him the idea. He was all in. Then I went to my old friend Allen Weed who runs a music and media ministry to teenagers and youth leaders called interlinc and he was all in! 

It also happens that Allen’s ministry provides the number one grad gift in the nation, the gift of music and encouragement, ConGRADulations! These gifts of music have been given to over 1.3 million graduates! Allen told me that he was so excited about the idea of this service for seniors that interlinc was making this service their official streaming event!

Over the last few weeks, things have really started to come together. We gave this event a name, “The National Senior Sendoff“, secured a website (nationalseniorsendoff.com), and started putting together the program.

It feels like everyone has jumped in to help pull it off!

Gabrielle Odom, a high school senior from Minnetonka High School, who has spoken at many national events, will be doing the senior address. She is a one-of-a-kind teenager who is not only on fire for God but being used by Him to set teenagers across the nation ablaze with a passion for Jesus! She boldly declared, “A global pandemic will not stop us seniors from changing the world for God!

Musicians, athletes and ministry leaders are coming out of the woodwork to encourage these high school seniors! For KING & COUNTRY, David Crowder, Bethany Hamilton and others will share words of encouragement on this amazing night!

Tobymac will be sharing as well! Here’s what he had to say, “I know the Class of 2020 has looked forward to prom, spring sports, and graduation. Everything’s changed. But where there is change and hard times, there is God and He is going to get us through this.”   

I will be giving a sermon that night as well. You can be sure that the gospel will be given and every senior and their families will be challenged to embrace the message and mission of Jesus (after all I am “the Dare 2 Share guy!”)

The National Senior Sendoff will end with a time of prayer led by my friend Reza Zedah, who happens to be the chaplain for my favorite football team on the planet, the Denver Broncos. Reza, an Iranian born follower of Jesus who converted to Christianity in college, will lead every family watching online in a time of prayer over their high school senior. It will be his prayer and the prayers of these families that will commission these high school seniors for what lies ahead.

The National Senior Sendoff, an inspirational virtual event for High School Seniors and their families during the Pandemic will be held on May 28th, 6:00 – 7:00 pm MDT.

Partners have jumped on board like crazy! They include Dare 2 Share (of course!) Faith Christian AcademyinterlincCampus AllianceProfessional Athletes OutreachSports SpectrumPromise KeepersClaim Your CampusEvery Student SentStudent Leadership UniversityGo2020Winter JamColorado Christian UniversityLifefestYouth AliveAssemblies of GodReach Out SolutionsMoms in Prayer (there’s nothing more dangerous to the kingdom of Satan than an army of praying moms!), How to Life Movement and a growing list of others!

This whole event is a labor of love for me and for all of us helping to make this happen. Yes, I am a ministry leader, but I’m also a dad who wants his son to have the most meaningful night possible, along with seniors across the nation and around the world. That’s exactly what Mr. Hasz, Allen Weed, and Reza want as well! That’s what Matt, who’s been working tirelessly behind the scenes to do the tech side, wants too. That’s what Gabrielle and every artist and athlete speaking that night want! That’s what every partner listed wants!

We want to bless seniors and their families with a night of inspiration and encouragement that is rooted in the Gospel and focused on Jesus!

I hope you tune in to nationalseniorsendoff.com as a family on May 28th from 6-7 pm MT. I’m praying it’s a night that high school seniors and their families never forget!

For press inquiries and interview requests, please contact Heather Smith, heathersmith@dare2share.org

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10 Ways To Pray For Your Grads

By Todd Pearage • New Hanover UMC • Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania

  1. Pray for clear direction and wisdom. About 80% of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Pray that they will trust in the Lord with all their heart and not depend on their own understanding. Pray that they will seek His will in all they do and that He will show them which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  2. Pray that they will form good spiritual habits right away. For many, this will be the first time they have the freedom to make decisions on their own. Pray for them about their spiritual habits, study habits, disciple, and balance. Pray that they connect with a church and/or a campus ministry quickly.
  3. Pray for their roommate(s) and new friendships. As students leave their high schools, many will also leave their friends behind. Pray that they will meet friends who will encourage and support them in their faith journey. Friends who will “spur them on to good works” and not “corrupt good morals” (Hebrews 10:24,1 Corinthians 15:33)
  4. Pray for their finances. Many students will have to pay for insurance, travel expenses, clothing, food, entertainment, etc. Pray that they budget wisely, avoid credit card debt, and look to God to provide.
  5. Pray for them as they face temptations. Whether students continue formal education or go directly into the job market, they will encounter people of all ages, backgrounds, beliefs, and worldviews. Pray for them to be an example of a Christian in what they say, in the way they live, in their love, their faith, and their purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
  6. Pray for their health and safety.
  7. Pray that they will recall what they’ve learned in youth ministry. The veracity of their faith will be challenged. They need to be able to recall the sermons, the Bible studies, the conversations, and the experiences of the high school years – and stay strong.
  8. Pray for their teachers, coaches, professors, and counselors. They will encounter many new people in positions of influence. Pray that those people will build into them strength of character, an ability to think, and a sense of purpose.
  9. Pray for their parents and siblings. College may be the first extended absence that many will experience. Pray that their family bonds remain strong and that they continue to honor their family.
  10. Pray for their witness. They will have incredible opportunities to show an unbelieving world what God is like. Pray that they are bold, confident, and willing to talk about spiritual issues with those that they befriend.

Tobymac, For KING & COUNTRY and other Christian artists have a message of hope and music you can give to your grads!


This “Top 10” is part of the two-step “Adopt A Graduate” plan:
1) Identify and commit to pray for a graduate in this year’s class
2) Give that graduate a copy of the ConGRADulations! Class of 2020 Music-Media Grad Gift as a reminder that you are praying for him or her (available at grad2020.com)

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ConGRADulations! Gift – A YouthWorker’s Story

Editor’s note: For years youth leaders have been honoring their graduates with ConGRADulations! Many of you received ConGRADulations! as a student and are now giving it to your seniors. Here’s the story of one such youth leader and now lead pastor – Nathan Ensz, Kingwood Bible Church, Salem, Oregon.

Nineteen-ninety-six. Now that goes back a ways! It was the year 7th Heaven and Everybody Loves Raymond were released. Home Improvement and Boy Meets World were two of my favorite TV shows. Long hair for guys was in, and skinny jeans … what were those?! It was this year that also stands out to me because it was the year I graduated from high school.

I still remember my youth pastor calling the class of 1996 up on stage in front of our church family. We pretended to smile while he probably said some nice things about us. Then, I remember him giving us a graduation gift (this had not been done for previous senor classes). I was a bit surprised to find a cassette tape (yes, I said cassette) of Christian music compiled for the graduating class of 1996. Little did I realize at that moment that I would keep that cassette for life (yep, still got it!) Christian music was a huge factor in my spiritual life and I’m so thankful for the artists and bands who have spoken truth into my life through music.

On my first day on the job as a new youth pastor, there was a stack of mail on my desk for me to sort through (oh how fun!) As I began to trash most everything, I came across a renewal notice from interlínc. The youth pastor before me had been a Youth Leaders Only member. A check to interlínc was the first request I made from my youth budget to keep the good music coming! Little did I know, the cassette tape I received in 1996 as a graduation gift was put out by interlínc.

Since my first day in ministry, I have given my teens the gift of God-honoring music. And that graduation gift I received from interlinc… yeah, I’m still giving that away too!2

We LOVE hearing the stories of the 1,300,000 graduates who have been given ConGRADulations! over the years! Great to see Nathan now leading the ministry at Kingwood Bible Church. Click here to check out this year’s ConGRADulations! Music & Media Gift for seniors.

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Humor, Perspective, Community

By Ken McCoy • JumpStart Ministries • Charlotte, North Carolina

I walked downstairs this morning and heard Jeannie giggling at a video someone had shared on social media. It was about the weirdness of conference calls. Of course, after I fed the dog and made my coffee, I watched too. And laughed!

You can see it here. I think I laughed so much because of the many “conference calls” that COVID-19 has forced on all of us.

Then, Allen Weed and I had a text conversation about this blog article. He asked, “What is the Lord saying to you that would be encouraging to our fellow youthworkers? For instance, I just am reading Proverbs 21 and v5 is interesting: The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty. Principles: be diligent in uncertain times, plan and be intentional in what you do, but don’t be hasty and unfocused. We all need God’s Word as the bedrock each day. Just a thought.”

Starting the day off with a bit of humor and some eternal perspective isn’t bad!

Since ministry happens person-to-person, not program-to-person, we are all scrambling to create authentic ministry these days. Our kids are SO over having Zoom meetings. Our volunteers are too. We are tired of being stuck at home!

Here is one way that Jeannie and I have created a little bit of community where we live. We’ve noticed that a bunch of our neighbors are walking the neighborhood in the evenings – especially since the weather has been so nice lately. While we were walking one evening before sunset, we heard a guy playing acoustic guitar on his front porch, and around a couple of corners, a college student was playing cello. So we wondered if all the musicians in the neighborhood would come outside at the same time and play. We set Saturday, 5:30-6:30pm as the time, and used our networks to get the word out.

What a GREAT experience! There were TONS of people out, enjoying the music and the sense of community. It was SO needed, and we’ve done it twice now – and will continue while the weather holds.

Humor, Perspective, Community – it’s what we need to get through these weird days!

For KING & COUNTRY and other Team interlinc artists want to help add excitement to your virtual youth group meetings. TOGETHER…Kinda Youthworker Guide is a four-week series plus playlists and additional resources. It’s FREE to YLO Members!

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