Friday, June 12, 2009

Joshua's report about TeenPact National Convention

National Convention Report

Anticipation outweighing weariness, I staggered out of bed at 3:00 am on May, 27th. I ate a quick breakfast and did some last minute packing. Next thing I knew, I was on my way to Des Moines International Airport. From there I would fly to Milwaukee and than to Atlanta. From there I would be shuttled to Fort Bluff Camp in Dayton, Tennessee. This would be the sight of TeenPact Leadership School’s 2009 National Convention.

I’ve been involved with TeenPact in some way or another since I was six. And almost since that time, people have been telling me that I needed to attend National Convention. However, for various reasons I was unable to go until this year. Needless to say, I was very excited. I arrived at the Des Moines airport where I met up with my traveling buddies.

From Des Moines, we flew to Milwaukee. At Milwaukee, we had our first noteworthy experience. I was wondering around the airport to check on my baggage. I had left my carryon with my friends. Being the intelligent fellow that I am, I unwittingly wandered passed a security point. I was not allowed to get to the other side - and to my gate - without my boarding pass, which I had left in my carryon.

Therefore, with ten minutes until boarding, I rushed over to the ticket counter, showed them my ID and quickly got another boarding pass. Then, I raced over to security. As I was being checked in, I heard my name announced over the pager. With my plain about to board and the hallways nearly empty, I began sprinting through the Milwaukee airport. The airport staff began cheering me on and man with a microphone practically gave a play-by-play of my indoor dash. However, I made to the plane and everything went well from there.

When we arrived at Atlanta, we wondered about trying to find the baggage claim. I’d been to the Atlanta airport before, but had forgotten how huge it was. After introductions, we drove out to Fort Bluff Camp. On the way there, we got to know the people in our van. We arrived at the camp and were greeted by the people there. I got to see some people hadn’t seen for a while. It was absolutely amazing.

After registration and dinner, we were treated to our first speaker. His name was Justin Neal, a former TeenPact student who currently sits on the board of directors. He had a lot of enthusiasm and humor, but at the same time was very convicting.

The next day we started our tradition NC routine. At 9:00, we had our first session. Will Simpson gave various announcements. Harrison Lloyd also became a hit when he modified several pop culture songs to advertise for other alumni events.

We also had an amazing worship service that was followed by our guest speaker, though in all reality he was hardly a guest. His name is Aaron Watson. He had been a student, an intern and is currently working at the national office. Aaron talked a lot about apologetics and the best way to defend our faith.

After Aaron’s speech, we had our first small group breakouts. The students had all been divided into groups, each beginning with the prefix ‘un’. My group was called Unfazed. In these groups we discussed what we had learned in our personal devotions earlier that morning. It was incredible to hear how God had been working in other people’s lives.

Directly after was lunch, which was in turn followed by the afternoon session. The afternoon session consisted of worship, announcements and than the primary election. I had signed up to run for representative kind of on a whim. There’s a good chance that this will be my only year to get to go to NC, so I wanted to make the most of it. For someone who used to be incredibility shy, I’m fairly comfortable speaking in public. However, I still get those butterflies directly before I open my mouth. Praise be to God, once I started speaking I felt okay. I was told later that, despite my nervousness, I looked natural, which was largely my goal. However, I had to wait until the end of the day to hear the results.

Next we had some free time. During that period, the first rounds of the Ultimate Frisbee Tournament were held. While I did not participate, a lot of my friends did, so it was loads of fun to watch. During this free time I got to meet a lot of new people and become reacquainted with people I hadn’t seen in years.

After supper, we had another worship service and another speaker. This time it was Chad Warren from Summit. He talked about being an ordinary Christian that is, living as a “little-Christ” every day, all the time. He also described historical stories about the early church. The told how they would crawl through the dung piles to save unwanted children who had been left there to day. Mr. Warren related those events to the kind of unglamorous work required to end abortion and other modern evils.

That night we were treated to TeenPact News - TPN. Two of the interns acted as the news anchors and they recounted some memorable primary moments, showed some humorous “commercials” and gave the primary results. Nice representatives made it out of each party. Now, I had not put a lot of stock in winning or even making it out of primaries.

As the announced the names I clapped for each of the winners. My claps varied from polite, to passionate, to elated, depending on how well I knew the candidate. About half way through a polite clap, I stopped, realizing that it was my name I was applauding.

On Friday, I was beginning to feel the wear and tear of the week. One of the complaints about NC is that it’s only four days long. However, if they had packed any more into the week I probably would have killed myself. In addition, the beds were - nicely put - a little less than comfortable. And the bright, glowing red exit sign above my bed didn’t help matters. Naturally, the ladies had better lodging arrangements. We would tease them about requesting room service and needing to fix their elevators.

Friday’s morning speaker was Woody Robertson from CollegePlus. Mr. Robertson stated that teenagers need to become more involved. During this speech I learned that high school is a relatively new concept. It used to be that people would go straight from grade school to college. As a result, young people became more involved in their culture at an earlier age. He had several good points about the steps necessary for my generation to take if we are to impact society.

At this time I want to mention one of my favorite parts of the week. During the morning session we would brake out and have a time of personal Bible reading. It was wonderful to get to keep up with my personal devotions. One of the things that the Lord really spoke to me about that week was humility. After being surrounded by God’s creation and being influenced by some of the most passionate and devoted Christians I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help but stand in awe. God just really showed me how great He is and how undeserving I am to even be called His child.

That afternoon, we had the open forum for the remaining candidates. When I stood up with the rest of the representative candidates, I had no idea what I was going to say or do. As each of us gave our 30-second speech, I just prayed that I would say the right thing. When I got up, I told everyone that I liked to keep things sort and sweet but that I just wanted to encourage them to redeem the time and make the most of every opportunity God has given them.

One of Friday’s highlights was our guest speaker, Lila Rose. Lila Rose was involved in an infamous project in which she would go undercover to Planned Parenthood and pretend to be a 13 year old girl who was pregnant. While being interviewed by the Planned Parenthood employee, Lila Rose would make a point of saying that her supposed boyfriend was over eighteen. Because this qualifies as statutory rape, Planned Parenthood is obligated to report it to the authorities. Every time she went on one of the undercover operations, Planned Parenthood did not report the incident.

Lila Rose has a lot of passion and enthusiasm. She got all of us to start thinking about what we could do in this area. At the end of the speech, Mr. Echols decided to take up an improvised offering. Frisbees were passed around and we raised almost 3,000 dollars.

That night we had some more TPN. One of the themes that they had been playing was the supposed protest of parents who wanted the right to vote. On two big screens, parents were shown holding up signs and singing equality-themed songs. Later they had another clip in which the now former TeenPact president and intern, Adam Martin, held a “press conference.” In that press conference he declared that his last act as president would be to give parents the right to vote. And vote they did…

The next day, polls opened bright and early at 7:00 am. People were waking up hours ahead of time to ensure that they would get to vote before the polls closed at 9:00. I got there at 7:30 (I had no intention of waking up at 6:00 to vote in a mock election) and found that there was already a massive line. A little begrudgingly, I meandered through the line, talking with people and hoping that the line did in fact end eventually.

This year the voting took place electronically. We all get a special ID number and voted on the computer. After I voted, I wondered over to the dining hall and got breakfast. As I was taking with the others at my table, one of the interns came and announced that the computers had crashed and all the votes had been lost. At first we thought he was joking. But, come to find out, all of our votes had indeed been lost. So, we unenthusiastically got back in line to vote again. Though we weren’t too happy about it at the time, it did give us some unique bragging rights. I mean, who else can say they voted twice for the same candidate in the same election?

About the same time the polls closed, we had another guest speaker. His name was Steve Crum, a senior pastor from Indiana. Mr. Crum is also a Guest Director for TeenPact. He had come to Iowa many times, including last year. It was a lot of fun to get to see him again.

That day during free time, a bunch of us got together a played a game called sign. It was a great way to get to know people from all over the country. It’s amazing to meet some many different people from different backgrounds. Sometimes, it seemed like the only thing we had in common was our faith in Christ. The cool thing was that that was all we needed.

That night we had the general election results, complete with TPN, news anchors, big screens, electoral maps and loads of excitement. The senate and representative races were decided by popular vote. However, the presidential race was determined by electoral votes. Each state was assigned a number of electoral votes based on how many people attended the state class.

All three of the presidential candidates - Mark Minyard, Mike McGee and Tom Radcliffe - stood a good chance of winning. The news anchors would announce the votes from each individual state with the help of a color coded map. Iowa went to Mark Minyard. Senate and representative races were also shown on the screens.

At one point, there were some technical difficulties and the anchors had to do about twenty minutes of improvisation, calling up “quests” and making various observations. Finally, the screens came back up and things proceeded. When all the votes came in Mark had the popular vote. However, the electoral vote was a lot closer. Mike McGee had 42 electoral votes and Mark Minyard and Tom Radcliffe were tied at 46 apiece. To break the tie, last year’s congress was called up. Six were present and the votes were split four to two. Tom Radcliffe was the new president of the TeenPact student body.

A lot of people have asked how I did in the elections. Well, I lost. However, the night was hardly a disappointment. A lot of people I new won and I was very happy for them. By the end of the night we were all exhausted. By the time we got to be, it was tomorrow morning. As a result, we were all a little slow at getting to breakfast at 8:00 am.

It was Sunday, so things were a little different that day. Mr. Echols, who happens to be an ordained minister, led the service that morning. In addiction the usually music and preaching, they had a communion service. Mr. Echols talked about coming to God with a pure heart.

Since it was our last full day, Sunday was rather conclusive. We had our final small group discussion. There were a lot of neat people in my group and we all got our picture taken together at the end of the meeting. Our last speaker was Jeff Myers. He has a great since of humor, which he used to illustrate a lot of really good and practical points.

That was the championship for the Ultimate Frisbee Tournament. Though I had not participated in the tournament, I had followed it closely. The final game was between Sunshine and Seattle’s Best. Snacks and drinks were setup outside and the game took place under massive stadium lights. Fatigue, adrenaline and sugar were all combined. We talked, sang and did all sorts of crazy things as we cheered our team on. The Iowans got together and made a human pyramid. It was an amazing sendoff for the week.

The next morning, I got up and said my goodbyes. Then we all loaded up into our various shuttles. Mr. Echols was my driver. It was a lot of fun talking to him and listening to his stories. As we drove into Atlanta, he gave us a little highway-view tour of the city. After a long wait in Atlanta and another long wait in Milwaukee, we were finally home. Before we drove home, those of us who had made the journey together found a corner and thanked the Lord for all He had done for us that week.

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