This week thousands of Nazarene teens will gather in Louisville, Kentucky for a concentrated time of spiritual commitment and fun. It takes me back to 1966 and Estes Park when I completed the local and district interview process that gave me a place on the 16-member team from the Kansas City District. Going to International Institute (as it was called) had been a
dream ever since I heard about it. The idea of a gathering of my peers with a focus on how to grow as a disciple of Jesus was better than anything I had experienced at summer camp.
What I wasn’t prepared for and wouldn’t even know about for many years, is how so many of the attenders would come back into my life in impacting ways.
My husband attended that event. I don’t remember meeting anyone from Georgia. Yet we both talk about how that event shaped our lives.
I met a lifelong friend who would become a heart sister to me. Mary Kaye from South Dakota was one of 6 in my room. How surprised I was to find her next door to me when I moved into the dorm at Bethany Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University). Even though we haven't been able to spend much time together since college (she's in Florida and I'm now in Oregon!) distance has never separated our hearts. And it all started at International Institute!
And who would have thought that I would write a long-standing Q & A (Ask Debbie/Ask Dan) column with out-going, ever-smiling Dan Croy.
Something else makes me nostalgic about the opening of NYC this week. When I left my teaching job at Olivet Nazarene College (now University) to accept the position as editor of the Nazarene youth magazine (Bread), it overlapped the last youth gathering at Estes Park in 1977. Eleven years after I attended as a teen, I arrived early to welcome the Nazarene teens
who would gather for their experience. This time, I was staff. I lead a writing workshop and met a young writer whom I would connect with as a young adult when we pastored in St. Louis. I directed the dramatic presentation "The Singer" (L-Rick Power,R-Debbie Salter/Goodwin) with actors from the NYI traveling group "Lost and Found" I worked with. But probably the most personally satisfying result of that NYC was serving as editor for Reuben Welch’s To Timothy and all other Disciples, the text of his outdoor sermons on the rock.
I attended one more NYC, this time as a sponsor. It happened in Phoenix, Arizona when our daughter was eligible for the gathering. Seeing her world widened and her faith grow deeper was priceless.
A gathering just to have a lot of teenagers who want to have fun is one thing. A gathering where so many hear good truth presented in a way that captivates youth is quite another. The decisions, the relationships, the opportunities to serve have impacted many who are now our pastors, teachers, leaders, missionaries, and dedicated laymen.
These great gatherings from International Institute to Nazarene Youth Conference shaped me, planted me, encouraged me, broadened me.
I am praying that it will happen again this week in Louisville.
Whether you have or know a student going, would you join me praying for them? Just think what thousands of eager disciples could do if they stay grounded in a faith they cannot keep quiet about!