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Youths Party and Pray

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With bell-bottoms flaring and sweat flying, Jordan Harmon spun on the cement floor of the Anaheim Convention Center as he “gave it up” for Jesus to the fast-paced tunes of a Christian band.

Harmon was one of almost 4,000 students partying and praying at YouthLink 2000, a Southern Baptist-sponsored youth rally held in Anaheim this week.

The 2 1/2-day event was held in tandem with New Year’s Eve to provide a Christian alternative to the night’s typical beer-soaked Bacchanalia, according to organizers. It ends at 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

“I’m going to be praising God and dancing right here tomorrow night,” said Harmon, 13.

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The first-time event featured a spate of Christian bands and speakers as well as the opportunity to do mission work. More than 1,000 students volunteered to take Thursday afternoon to help out in the community--the social service time was built into the schedule.

Some teenagers organized block parties in low-income neighborhoods. Others gleaned fields of produce to provide food for homeless shelters. Some held basketball tournaments for local children while others got down on their knees--not in prayer this time--for a beach cleanup at Huntington Beach Pier.

For Tyron Jackson of Tustin, going door-to-door collecting canned goods for the needy was a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

“You can’t be a lazy Christian,” he said.

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According to Leanne Grant, 23, missions coordinator for YouthLink, teenage apathy was exactly what the missions program was set up to counteract.

“We live in a society that teaches kids to be selfish and materialistic,” Grant said. “The world will never know the love of Jesus Christ unless they share it with other people.”

Besides community outreach, the YouthLink program was heavy on Christian music.

Interspersed with the jams were serious speeches heralding the deeper message of the conference: that students should take the message of Jesus Christ back to their schools and reach their non-Christian friends.

Many students took the call to proselytize and hundreds raised their hands in a pledge to talk to three non-Christian friends upon return to their schools.

Chris Lenoir, 16, of Fountain Valley, was one of hundreds of teenagers who made such a commitment.

“I’ve been reading the book of Revelations,” he said. “I know I’m going to heaven and that I’m doing the right thing. But it makes me want to save all my friends.”

Students emphasized the importance--and challenge--of proselytizing, abstinence and worship in their lives.

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For Rachel Nix, 15, of Anaheim, being cool and a Christian aren’t mutually exclusive.

“We get down and we worship God all the way,” she said. “Some Baptists think it’s wrong to have fun. But we don’t.”

It isn’t always easy, though. “I think abstinence is the most difficult part about being a Christian,” she said. “I’ve dated guys who aren’t Christians and they were always pressuring me to do things.”

The YouthLink coordinators addressed the hot issues for teenagers with speakers. In a speech about the challenges of student evangelism, Stuart Henslee, 21, from Jacksonville, Fla., encouraged students to spread their faith

“God isn’t a big boogeyman in the sky,” he said. “He’s real. He’s right here and you can have a personal relationship with him.”

That personal relationship has changed his life, said Luke Roberts, 16, from Bakersville, who passed out brochures and program changes at the doors of the arena.

“It’s good to come here,” he said. “I get refreshed and fall in love again with Jesus.”


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