Scott Shiba, a 16-year-old from Buena Park, Calif., joined 20,000 other teenagers who packed airports and metro stations on the way to hotels throughout Washington, D.C., this week.
From July 19-23, these students from around the country will learn how to be better leaders, athletes, sons, daughters and friends at the sixth triennial Youth for Christ “DC/LA” conference in the Washington Convention Center. Other students attended a similar conference in Los Angeles, Calif., in June.
Shiba said the conference has taught him how to be more helpful to people and has given him lots of practice setting up sound equipment, which he enjoys.
The conference includes dozens of speakers and celebrities, including singers Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman and Jennifer Knapp, the musical group Jars of Clay and A.C. Green from the Los Angeles Lakers. On Friday evening, students plan to march in a parade and meet near the Washington Monument for the “Rally at the Mall.”
Washington residents have had mixed reactions to the flood of youth. The woman on duty at the Metro Center stop Wednesday night screamed for the chaperones to quiet their students. Erin Burton, 21, works at the front desk of the Renaissance Hotel where 4000 of the students stayed and said some of the youth have slept in hallways.
The teens' desire for the conference is to develop a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and learn how to share that with others, 15-year-old Jennifer Nance from Bellbrook, Ohio, said. “I am here to learn how to show others about Jesus,” she said.
Shiba, a junior at Buena Park High School in Buena Park, Calif., said Christianity has enabled him to make better use of practical lessons. He became a Christian when he was 5, but focused more on his relationship with God when he got into junior high school. The 10 boys in his youth group held each other accountable for their actions and encouraged each other to develop a stronger personal relationship with God.
During mission trips to Ensenada, Mexico, Shiba said he realized how love can transcend language barriers, especially when expressed in music. Shiba has learned how to set up sound equipment and looks forward to using this talent to serve other people. He helps people set up and take down the sound equipment at the conference.
Youth for Christ is sponsoring the conference. Pastors from different Christian denominations started the organization in 1944 to address the spiritual needs of teenage soldiers after World War II. Billy Graham, a well-known evangelical Christian, was the first full-time employee of the organization, which reaches teenagers throughout the country and around the world.
“We believe that every student's life should be in balance mentally, physically, socially—but also spiritually,” said J.D. Holt, a volunteer for the conference from Castle Rock, Colo., who worked with the organization for 28 years. Holt said people tend to center their lives around the spiritual element, regardless of how they fill it. When people are not spiritually satisfied by a relationship with God, they have a sense of emptiness and lack of purpose, Holt said.
“We believe that what you're looking for is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ,” he said.