By Stan Friedman
KNOXVILLE, TN (July 16, 2012) – Buses from across North America rolled onto the campus of the University of Tennessee Sunday carrying 5,000 teenagers, some of whom had waited years for the opening day of CHIC 2012.
The students seemed unfazed by the long-distance travel or the muggy 90-degree weather that greeted them as they arrived. They danced, swam, rafted on rushing white water, played tennis, quenched their thirst with shaved ice and started new friendships, some of which will last a lifetime.
Teens combined art and service while sitting under the shade of a tent. They painted squares of fabric that will be sewn together to make blankets for Knoxville residents who will be hard-pressed to stay warm when summer’s swelter is replaced with winter’s frost.
By 8 p.m., temperatures began to cool outside the Thompson-Boling Arena, but the heat rose inside as the opening worship sizzled. Throughout the evening, speakers, artists and musicians appeared on stage, seemingly out of nowhere.
“This week, we are one youth group – we are one church!” Efrem Smith declared as he welcomed the gathering. He exhorted them to make the most of the opportunities they have this week “to talk to God, to hear from God, and to participate in God’s work.”
Harvey Carey, pastor of Citadel of Faith Covenant Church in Detroit, Michigan, had a question for the students: “Who are you looking for?” It was the same question the resurrected Jesus asked Mary Magdalene as she wept upon finding his body missing from the tomb.
When Mary didn’t recognize Jesus by sight, he called her by name. It was the moment on which the rest of her life pivoted.
She realized, Carey said, “The one that I thought was gone is here! The one that I thought was taken away is here! The one that I thought I had lost is here!”
This week could prove to be the same turning point in the lives of the people around the arena, Carey said. “The Jesus you thought was far away is here! The Jesus that you thought had forgotten about you is still here!”
Just as Jesus had spoken to Mary in her pain, Carey said, Jesus is calling to the students by name, “and he’s begging you, and begging you, to come with your hurts.”
Carey shared how he had grown up desperately poor on the violent streets of Chicago’s south side, but performed well academically in high school. He went on to attend the prestigious Northwestern University on the city’s north side, miles and a world away from where he was brought up.
Despite the distance he had travelled and what seemed to most would be a successful business career in front of him, Carey despaired that life had no meaning. He went to a bridge on the campus prepared to commit suicide, but cried out to God.
That was the pivotal moment in his life. Almost as quickly as Carey’s life had turned around, he began to share with others what he was learning from the scriptures.
“You have what you have to give what you got, to give to those who don’t have it,” Carey said.
He suggested that they, like Mary, can change the world by telling others what they have seen and heard.
Click here to watch a video of reaction to the evening’s activities.