The screens are on behind me as the "campus roll call" video plays:
Michigan State University . . .
North Carolina State University . . .
Virginia Tech . . .
The sound system pumps bass into a ballroom crowded with hundreds of Cru college students. Energy is high in the room for a number of reasons: the worship band just played about 5 songs that whipped the crowd up into a God-glorifying frenzy, most of the people here spent the day enjoying warm weather for the first time in 6 months, and when their college showed up on the big screen, they cheered as if it were a football game.
It's dark on the stage and my excitement is building in sync with the rhythm of the role call video, played just loud enough to shake my chest inside.
Then it ends. Video fades to black.
The spotlight rises, hits me straight in the face and the crowd roars with anticipation of what comes next.
The main meeting baton has been passed to me, the emcee of this whole big thing, and now it's my turn to help the students enjoy what they've signed up for.
They are here for Big Break, Cru's spring break evangelism conference in Panama City Beach, Fla. and they are ready to soak up all that the week has to offer.
My job is to entertain, make them laugh, keep the meeting from getting sluggish, and, yes, maybe even sing to them every now and then via goofy parodies I wrote just a few days ago in my living room back at home. If I can help them to enjoy their Big Break experience during the large group meetings, then I've done my job the best way it can be done.
It's the first night of the conference and about 95% of my jokes have hit the comedy target in my opening monologue. That's pretty good for the first night.
It's hard to make a bunch of college students laugh second after second when you've got a variety of people in the room from all parts of the country. What one sophomore from North Dakota might find hilarious could leave the freshman guy from New Jersey with an un-amused eye roll.
It's a rough crowd, but I'm up for the challenge.
Why? Because now's the time in the program when I introduce the guy who offers them the opportunity to have their lives changed forever.
Now is when I introduce Ben Rivera, Cru staff member and the outreach coordinator for the week, who tells them something that will most likely frighten the entire room at once. I introduce the man that says we are going to spend this week going out, onto the beach, talking to other people about how they can have a personal relationship with God.
Some people knew this was coming when they signed up for the Big Break weeks ago, but to some, this is news that no doubt carries with it a lot of fear.
"You want me to spend my entire spring break sharing my faith with complete strangers on the beach?" some of them ask silently.
Almost reading their minds, Ben answers from the stage, "Yep."
But this is when the conference gets good. Sure, Big Break is about worship, community, fun, learning, and even getting a break from the grind of college studies.
However, the primary thrust behind why this conference even exists is evangelism.
In March of 1996, I found myself as a freshman on the sugary white sands of Panama City Beach for Big Break without a clue that I would be talking to people about Jesus all week long. I, myself, had placed my faith in Christ only 2 months previous to my arrival in Florida.
I can truly say that my view of God had the doors blown wide open on it when I experienced what the Lord had for me at Big Break.
It changed my life in a radical way, and now, many years later as the emcee, I get to see how it continues to change lives over and over again.
Just a few days after Ben tells them that they will be having conversations about God on the beach all week, students -- once terrified by the idea of talking to complete strangers about their faith -- line up on both sides of the stage by the dozens.
They're lining up to participate in what we've called "sharing time." It's kind of like God's show-and-tell from the last 4 days.
Sharing time testifies of what God does when our students trust in Him and take steps of faith and leave the results to our Maker.
This year, God has used the students involved with the Big Break to lead 1,003 people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. It's incredible to see how these timid college students have been used by Him to usher people into the Kingdom.
It's now the last night of the conference and I'm once again on stage. This time, however, it's to say goodbye.
I recap the week with all its funny little quirks, but I also talk about what God did through them and how now they are different people. The room is quiet with agreement, so I take the moment to pray for everyone and thank God for how good He is and how amazing the week has been.
I introduce the band for one last worship song and the energy meter in my chest skyrockets again as the crowd cheers. After the song, I hop up on stage one last time and lead the spiritually charged group of 20-somethings in our familiar ending to every meeting. "WE ARE OUTTA HERE!"
But the real beauty is, the conference doesn't end that night.
Dusty Hoffman works with the campus ministry at North Dakota State, and he wrote an e-mail to me, just 8 days after returning from Big Break.
On his campus, 20 students agreed as a group to start 54 spiritual conversations every week for the rest of the year. And they're doing it.
Students' lives changed that week, and will continue to change in years to come. I'm living proof of that.
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