Every year, the last day of the Reformed Youth Service (RYS) convention is comprised of tear-filled goodbyes, mutual promises of shared contact, and a general excitement for the next RYS convention. But among the hugs, kisses, and exchanging of social media and contact information is one person who is doing something a little different.
For the past four years, as I have attended the Reformed Youth Services convention, I have made it my goal to collect the name tags of my newfound friends. With the completion of my final year, I have amassed a total of ninety-three name tags from ninety-three different conventioneers ranging from coast to coast, and even stretching into different countries. The RYS convention is the one time each year where I find myself surrounded by peers who are genuinely interested in having a relationship with God. As a result, the conversations and behaviors of the people at RYS are typically atypical of the society that we are living in today. We all share the same struggle against a society that hates God and us, so to be in a community of fellow believers who love the Lord and seek to follow him is a tremendous shift from everyday life. I have found some of the strongest and most genuine friendships I have ever had at the Reformed Youth Service convention, which is why exchanging simple contact information is not enough for me.
Every name tag that I have collected for the last four years lies underneath the glass cover of my desk and serves as a constant reminder of a couple things. First, the name tags remind me of the person whose name they bear. I can’t walk past my desk without pondering the people named. When I miss somebody, I look at their name tag, and I remember the times at RYS that we shared. Second, the name tags remind me to keep in touch with that person. I have typically remembered only to reach out to people from the preceding RYS, but as of late, I have found myself reaching out to friends whom I haven’t seen in years. But last and most important, the name tags serve as a sort of list because every night I pray for those people. I pray for them concerning their lives, their faith, and their relationship with God. I know that distance separates me from them, but I pray for them because RYS has blessed me with the opportunity to know people who have impacted my life in countless ways. I have had deep conversations about faith and personal struggles with many different conventioneers, sponsors, and even pastors which I wouldn’t have been able to do if it hadn’t been for RYS.
This year, the Reformed Youth Service convention took place at Dordt College in northwest Iowa. The theme, “Claim the Promise,” was taken from Acts 2:29 (English Standard Version), which says, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” The main session speakers, Rev. Jeff DeBoer and Rev. Christopher Gordon, had the opportunity to teach about claiming the promises. The opening session at 7 p.m. on Monday was led by Rev. Jeff DeBoer and was centered around what the “promise” is and how it is fulfilled through us, the people of God. He addressed many great aspects of being Christians in our society and how the promise from Acts 2:39 is more than just salvation. He emphasizes the fact that the “promise” of God is indeed the Holy Spirit, and that in order for the Holy Spirit to be able to come, Jesus had to finish his work. Rev. DeBoer inferred that the work of the Holy Spirit is a continuation of Jesus’ work. One of the closing points that Rev. DeBoer made is that it is necessary for Christians to be “cut to the heart” by the gospel and not allow ourselves to be desensitized to it. If we truly want to be useful to the growing of God’s kingdom and if we truly believe in Christ, then the promise of the Holy Spirit is for us.
The second session on Tuesday morning was led by Rev. Christopher Gordon and was geared toward describing the God of the promise. Rev. Gordon did this by illustrating aspects of God’s nature through the story of Abraham. He introduced the history behind Abraham, detailing his descent from a pagan family and then demonstrating the difficulty that Abraham had leaving to follow a God he knew nothing about. In fact, Rev. Gordon demonstrated the infidelity that Abraham experienced by referencing Acts 12, which describes how Abraham waited for his father to die before coming to follow God. He utilizes the stubbornness and hesitation that Abraham displayed as a prerequisite to help solidify one of God’s attributes, his patience and his determination in regard to God’s call on someone’s life. God wanted Abraham, and he was going to have Abraham. Rev. Gordon summarized this concept beautifully when he said that “Abraham’s sin cannot frustrate or exhaust God’s sovereign purpose for him.”
After the main session on Tuesday, the day was packed with many different activities. Directly following the session, we were led off to lunch, and then it was time for the workshops. As much as I would like to describe the workshops, I was able to attend only five in total. So, my evaluation would be personalized to myself, and I believe that most would be able to get more from a workshop by listening to it, which anyone can do at the Reformed Youth Service website! After the workshops were finished, we were given a period of free time during which we could do a multitude of fun events. Many churches, including my own, threw a volleyball team together to compete in a volleyball tournament. Other kids went to the campus center to play board games, and even bowled in the basement. The day was exciting and filled with many opportunities for making friends and making memories.
On Wednesday, everybody donned their gray shirts and made their way into the chapel for the main session. On our way in, we could see the Day of Stay set up outside, which was exciting. However, before we could get to the mayhem and fun outside, we had the opportunity and pleasure of hearing Rev. Jeff DeBoer speak again about “claiming the promises.” In this session, Rev. DeBoer spoke about our purpose and our job as partakers of the promise. He insisted that “our purpose lies outside of ourselves” and that it is our prerogative to use our gifts to glorify God. It is through us that God will spread the gospel and bring about his kingdom. In order to do this God calls us to do two things: repent and be baptized.
An important thing to note about the Day of Stay was that Wednesday was supposed to have extremely inclement and unkind weather. However, on Tuesday night the RYS committee, unsure of what else they could do, turned to God in prayer and asked that he bless the Day of Stay and keep everyone safe. The next day, the conventioneers awoke to a sunny sky, while all around the area raged a tornado and poor weather.
The Day of Stay was extremely enjoyable. There were waterslides, jousting tournaments, hamster ball races, laser tags, dunk the pastor, a whole assortment of other blowups, and my personal favorite, king of the hill. The perfect weather along with this was wonderful, and the inflatables were a blast, so long as you didn’t mind a few burns here and there, which, in my opinion, were a small price to pay for zooming down a waterslide or for fighting for dominance atop king of the hill. The nicest thing about the “day away” being a Day of Stay was the fact that we weren’t stuck outside all day like we would have been at an amusement park. In fact, I found great joy in bowling and playing around-the-world ping pong in the basement of the campus center. Another surprise about the Day of Stay was the carnival-themed food that we got to have. From corn dogs, and walking tacos, and a whole assortment of other fried foods, the lunch was a fun experience. After the Day of Stay was over, there was a time of swimming, during which an informal belly flop competition took place. Needless to say, at the end of the night we were all exhausted and eager for bedtime.
Thursday morning was an eventful day for many conventioneers, but especially for me. Since it was my last year, I decided to take part in something I had never done before, the annual 5K. I had done no training for this; in fact, I never run—ever. However, I wasn’t alone in that. There were many other novice runners, as well as some seasoned competitors, but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Iowa in the morning, with all the dew and vibrant greens, was beautiful, especially to a Californian. After breakfast and a couple of the workshops we had the opportunity to hear Rev. Christopher Gordon again, who spoke more about God’s role in the promise. Rev. Gordon highlighted the fact that God never once lost his temper with Abraham when he disobeyed, or asked for more, or failed to trust God. God’s response to Abraham’s inability to follow him perfectly was to lavish promise upon promise on Abraham. God even promises himself to Abraham and his descendants, which is why God’s promise to Abraham is also a promise to us. We are children of Abraham through faith and, because of that, we are heirs to the promises that God poured out onto Abraham.’
After the session on Thursday, we had even more free time. During this time, many kids played in the dodgeball tournament or the basketball tournament. The RYS committee was able to get an escape room set up, which was also a lot of fun! Later in the evening, we had the blessing of witnessing the many different talents with which God has blessed us. There were many singers, some piano players, a couple girls who danced, magicians, and even two organists. It was truly amazing to see the awesome talents of some of the kids, as well as participate myself.
The last day, Friday, was definitely a day not happily anticipated by most people because it meant that we would have to say goodbye, which for me was especially hard. The last session was focused on how we can serve God and share the gospel, the good news of Christ, so that others might come to claim the promise. However, for me, the session was not the highlight of the last day. Instead, as with any year, the singing was definitely the crowning jewel. The last two songs we sang were emotional for many conventioneers. I was crying so hard that I couldn’t even force the words out of my mouth. The worst moment was when Julie Bussis, the woman who leads the singing, began to introduce “When Peace Like a River” by first introducing the history behind it. The writer, Horatio G. Spafford, was a businessman whose daughters perished at sea while crossing the ocean with their mother. When Spafford was sailing to retrieve his wife, the captain of the ship called Spafford to his cabin and informed him that they were above the spot where his daughters had passed. It was above that spot that Horatio Spafford wrote “When Peace Like a River.” Julie connected this by saying that Spafford must have been clinging hard to the promises of God to be able to write the words “it is well with my soul.”
Saying goodbye was the hardest part because, as I said at the beginning, the friendships and people I have met at RYS these last four years are the best I have ever had in my life. I have said my goodbyes, I have collected their name tags, I hold those friends in my heart, and I pray for them every day. But most importantly, I cling to God’s promise of salvation and eternal life. For though I may not see those friends again in this life, I know that I will again in heaven, and we will sing together once more in a chorus of angels that far surpasses the beauty of RYS.
Mr. Tate Kiledjian
is from Chino, California, where he attends Ontario Christian High School. He has been in the Reformed Church all his life. He enjoys writing and playing volleyball. This is his fourth RYS youth convention.
All photography in this article by Tate Kiledjian.