By Vicki Stamps
FLORISSANT – Remembering isolation as a Christian student during his teen years prompted Ryan Webb, art teacher at Cross Keys Middle School, to develop the “Food for Life Conference.”
The January conference reached 110 people representing 17 churches with students in 26 schools. The two-day event sponsored by the St. Louis church plant Passage Community Church is designed to network Christian students in the various area schools.
“About a year and a half ago,” Webb said, “I was sitting in our church looking at our youth group. The group was small, but solid, and none of the youth went to the same school.”
Webb wanted to find a way to help the youth connect to other students.
“It is difficult for the kids to follow Christ alone in school every day,” he said. “God put it on my heart to help them develop friendships.”
As the conference coordinator, Webb sought help from his church family to make the event a reality.
“This was a great experience for the church,” Scott Speer, pastor of Passage, said. “It is wonderful when the body really comes together to pull off the vision of a member. It also is wonderful for the dream to originate from someone other than the pastor.”
Webb used a group of about 10 to put together the teen-centered program. Using lots of music, drama and worship to help the youth focus on God, the large group became a unit.
“The primary speakers were teachers from different schools,” Webb said. “They were eager to share their faith openly with the students. In addition, the students are able to identify the teachers as Christians, which makes them another trusted resource.”
Fun breakout sessions helped the students make connections.
“We grouped the students according to the school they attended,” Webb said. “Most conferences put the youth together by church youth groups, but we wanted them to get acquainted with others from their school.”
The final session involved all the students as they worked together in a community service project. The entire group went to the St. Louis Area Food Bank in Earth City to help pack boxes of food for the needy.
“Working together helped the students get to know each other better,” Webb said. “They became united in a common cause to help others.”
The “Food for Life” conference participants packed 1,248 cases which equals 18,720 pounds of food. The food assembled by the teens provided 15,282 meals.
“After spending time worshipping and getting to know each other,” Webb said, “the opportunity to work together was the best way to establish unity among the youth. As they packed those boxes, they laughed and talked.”
One youth pastor, Matt Clermont, Have Bible Will Travel Fellowship, saw immediate results in his youth group.
“One of the kids in my group goes to Hazelwood West High School,” he said. “The first day he was back in school, he saw all 10 students that he met at the conference. He saw them in the hallways and at different points of his day. That was the concept to get more Christian support and to help them feel less isolated.”
A new feature of the conference this year was the addition of a leadership guide.
“The leadership guide helps students throughout the year,” Speer said. “Many times, students get excited about a conference, but they don’t know how to carry it through.”
Webb agreed that students need direction.
“We wanted to provide information for the students who wanted to form their own campus prayer groups,” he said. “My sister, Bethany, edited the leadership guide to equip the youth. Two girls from the same school were real excited to get the guide. They wanted to start a group at their school.”
Webb said the emphasis on the Gospel at the conference was a major focus.
“If they were not Christians, we wanted them to understand the Gospel,” he said. “But, if they were Christians, we wanted them to really understand what it means. That understanding has a direct effect on boldness.”
More information about the conference is available on the website www.foodforlifeconference.com.