Youth Challenged to Reject Destructive Patterns

Huddled in a circle, arms draped around each other, 4 teenage boys make a commitment: Church youth group isn't enough. Neither is going to church. Today they will start living for Christ.

"Tonight woke me up and opened my eyes," says Justin Brown, 15, who attends youth group at First Alliance Church in Billings, Mont. "Before, I acted like I was always good, but [outside] church I messed up and did the wrong things."

Justin and 2 others recommitted their lives to Christ that night, and Travis Peterson prayed and received Christ's forgiveness for the first time.

"We can all help each other stay on the right track toward Christ," says Travis, already aware of the importance of accountability and holding each other to the life-changing decision they just made.

The boys were 4 of 2,000 teenagers, preteens, parents, youth pastors and pastors who converged on Hoffman Dome, the gold, half-bubble basketball arena in Sheridan, Wyo., for Josh McDowell's Beyond Belief to Convictions campaign.

While kids stood in long lines for popcorn and hot dogs, Christian rock band Superchic[k] took the stage, beginning the 3-hour event. Blending music, drama and videos, Josh McDowell, head of the Josh McDowell Ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, recounts the story of his faith journey.

PowerPoint slides flash on a big screen, each recounting a specific prophecy Jesus Christ fulfilled. Josh, wearing a black and yellow jersey, explains that this evidence of Christ's birth, and the odds that one man would fulfill every prophecy, led to his eventual decision to place his faith in Jesus Christ.

Through the presentation, Josh makes conceptual truths understandable for teenagers. He wants Christian teens to recognize that Jesus' claims are not only real and relevant to their lives, but they are also true.

"In today's culture, all truth is relative [to teens]," says Josh. "But there is truth apart from yourself whether you believe it or not."

He has dedicated his life to helping youth-and their parents-understand that Jesus Christ is the source of truth. Josh wants to bring young people beyond belief in religion to Bible-based convictions about the personhood of Christ.

This goal has taken Josh's traveling team across America. Tonight they are in Sheridan, a coal-mining town of 16,000 people at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in northern Wyoming. It takes 2 hours to drive to the nearest mall, but statistically, Sheridan's teenagers are on par with the rest of the nation.

In the 2003 Youth Risk Behavioral Study, half of Sheridan teenagers polled admitted to engaging in sex. Another 50 percent had alcohol in a 1-month period, and 28 percent did drugs.

"Being in high school, surrounded by people, it is hard to always keep my eyes on the Lord," says Katlyn Witherspoon, 14. "People are just interested in partying."

Katlyn attended Josh's event with her mom, 3 younger siblings and her church youth group.

With months of planning invested in the event, expectations were high.

"We've been praying this would bring hope, focus and conviction for the youth," says Janel Witherspoon, Katlyn's mom, who was satisfied with the evening.

Youth pastor Bob Fabey of First Alliance Church was excited about the evening but also cautious: "We'll see how the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of these kids over the next several months."

His youth group, which traveled 2 hours to attend the event, spent the night at a church in Sheridan. At midnight Bob found the 4 boys, who had huddled in a circle just hours ago, in an empty room reading their Bibles aloud.

The change has begun.