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Photo: Anita Brinkman
Youth ministry champions participate in a leadership exercise at a gathering in Ancaster, Ont.
Photo by Anita Brinkman

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Photo: Anita Brinkman
Photo by Anita Brinkman

Youth leaders from every CRC classis in Canada and nearly half of the classes in the United States gathered in Ancaster, Ont., earlier this month for three days of encouragement and equipping.

The Jan. 16-18 event, organized by Faith Formation Ministries (FFM), brought together 22 people commissioned by their classes (regional groups of churches) to promote youth ministry in area churches. These youth ministry champions came from as far away as California, British Columbia, and Ottawa.

“This is a significant first-time denominational event,” said Syd Hielema, team leader of FFM, noting that while Canadian classes have had Youth Ministry Champions for several years and have been meeting annually since 2016, this was the first time that U.S. champions joined with the Canadian group.

“We hope this event will foster community building, equipping, and encouragement for these leaders who are serving their classes representing youth ministry,” added Ron deVries, FFM’s youth ministry catalyzer.

As part of its five-year ministry plan, called Our Journey 2020, the Christian Reformed Church in North America tasked FFM to strengthen and equip youth ministry leaders. To do this, FFM suggested a classis youth ministry champions model that would provide churches with someone in their region who is equipped to walk alongside congregations, youth pastors, and volunteer leaders to help grow faith in the youngest members of the church.

The Ancaster gathering served as an important part of this process by providing an opportunity for those champions to gather for mutual learning, support, and fellowship. In other words, said deVries, it was a time to “encourage the encouragers.”

“This champions retreat is a time of training, equipping, and supporting. These champions will go back home with more tools in their toolboxes for the local church and classis,” said deVries.

Over the course of the retreat, youth leaders shared meals and stories, spent time in discussion and networking, and heard from Hielema, deVries, and Lesli van Milligen, a regional catalyzer for FFM, on topics such as leadership development, resourcing, and technology.

Mario Perez, Jr.,a full-time youth director for The River CRC in Redlands, Calif., said he came “out here in the cold” from southern California to grow in fellowship and learning.

Perez serves two classes — California South and Greater Los Angeles — and noted, “Being the youth ministry champion in my region, there’s no one else who’s doing what I’m doing, so at times I get tired and frustrated. I’m hitting certain walls, so just coming here and hearing, and talking to people who are in the same boat as me, is one of the big reasons why I came.”

Christine Vanderberg of Maranatha CRC in Lethbridge, Alta., agreed. “It’s an opportunity to meet the other youth champions, to meet the new youth champions from the United States, and to come together to talk about what’s on our hearts when it comes to youth ministry and the broader context of faith formation.”

She appreciates the efforts of FFM to grow faith in all generations. “It’s definitely a ministry that’s new to the church, but it’s growing. We’re going in a good direction.”