Youths from across the nation visit SIUC for religious conference

By Gus Bode

Participants say Christ in Youth conference helps them better understand God

The high school students that visit the Student Center from noon to 1 p.m. have more in common than age. Aside from the trays holding their meal of choice, they also carry a copy of the Bible and a passion for God.

Each year, for three weeks out of the summer session, the Student Center will have more than 1,100 visitors. The visitors to the SIUC campus Christ in Youth campers comprised various youth group members across the nation. They have ventured to Carbondale to become more intimate with the campus, old friends and new and, of course, God.

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“The camp allows you to worship and study the bible,” said 15-year-old Michael Feese of Lindon, Ind. “It gives you the chance to talk to more people about Christian life.”

Feese is one of many children who gather in the Student Center for lunch each day. And while 1,100 additional occupants may cause a bit more chaos in the Student Center, according to marketing director Kathy Dillard, the presence of the camp is far more beneficial than anything else.

According to Dillard, in addition to extra revenue that helps to maintain the cost of dining in the Student Center, it is also an outlet for students to view the campus.

“The children get a chance to get a taste of the school while they’re at the camp,” Dillard said. “Hopefully, they will form an interest and consider SIU for college in the future.”

The campers that she hopes to one day see as SIUC students are teenagers from across the nation. The youth come to the campus each summer to attend one of three weeklong sessions that take place at SIUC. During this time, they attend numerous lectures and classes that aim to bring them closer to God.

High school students spend from about 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day performing recreational activities at the Recreation Center. The remainder of the day, however, is devoted to religion.

The children spend the day in worship, studying the Bible and listening to speeches that encourage adolescents to help campers grow as individuals.

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“We want to help them become better people and, as a result, better citizens,” said Robin Sigers, associate director of conferences for Christian Youth in Missouri.

Sigers also hopes the camp will encourage students to better their church as well.

“We want them to see the church as their home too,” Sigers said. “And not just mom and dad’s church.”

Although there are goals that Sigers and other youth counselors hope to accomplish each year, they are satisfied with the progress of the program so far.

When Sigers began work with Christian Youth’s services in Missouri 12 years ago, there were only eight conferences for high school students, and there are now 22. He also takes pride in mentioning that the particular chapter that comes to SIUC each year began in 1996 with only 500 campers and caters to more than twice that amount six years later.

During their week stay in Brush Towers, campers get closer to God through such programs as “The Road to Unity,” one of many lectures intended to strengthen their faith and inform them of the appropriate manner in which to conduct themselves at school, work and even in dating situations.

Participants in the program, such as 15-year-old camper Jake Harper of Plainfield, say the camp, particularly the worship sessions, have given him “a greater understanding of God” as well as the “desire to learn more.”

The learning experience is hardly limited to teenagers. While the adult counselors are available as mentors for the campers, according to Simon McDaniel, a youth minister from Florida, he hardly ends the day with a sense of feeling unfulfilled, despite the long hours.

“To me, going to church has always been like going to a filling station,” McDaniel said. “It provides you the energy you need after a long week. So even though the day is long, the camp provides you with everything you need at the end of the day. It’s like Super Wal-Mart.”

McDaniel’s wife, Marcia, also a counselor at the camp, agrees that the camp is an essential experience for Christian youth.

“People have a lot of stereotypes about Christians that the kids have to deal with at home,” McDaniel said. “At the camp they get to be around other people who feel the same way they do about God. They get to be themselves.”

According to Robin Sigers, the program helps to strengthen his faith in two different aspects.

“The camp brings me closer to God and the teenagers,” Sigers said. “It helps every year to restore my faith in both.”

Reporter Jessica Yorama can be reached at [email protected]

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