Equip Conference Inspires Leaders to Measure Up

The Territorial Youth Department hosted the annual Equip youth workers conference in Orlando, May 2-5. This year, general session speakers focused on the idea of measuring up as leaders, emphasizing the importance of self-care, social justice and fostering strong connections with their youth.

The conference began with a session led by former Harlem Globetrotter Melvin Adams who emphasized the need for leaders to care first for themselves in order to influence others.

“You cannot give what’s not in you,” he said. “You can never set others free if you yourself aren’t free.”

He shared about the need to give forgiveness for the past in order to help children work through their own struggles saying that youth work starts at home.

The next morning, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, author and associate professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park University in Chicago, spoke passionately about injustice and the church’s role in standing up for the oppressed.

He first noted that by 2023, a majority of all children born in the United States will be of non-European descent, yet Dr.Rah said, diversity remains low in churches, even those in culturally diverse neighborhoods.

“How do we respond when changes occur,” he asked. “Historically, badly.”

Rah then spoke out about the church’s difficulty in acknowledging past mistakes, calling them ‘dead bodies in the room.’

“The church cannot deal with dead bodies in our history,” he said. “They litter our history and we want to forget about them but before we get together, we have got to deal with the dead bodies.”

He went on to acknowledge the fears many have expressed in accepting refugees from the Middle East.

“It’s disgusting to me when Christians say, ‘we don’t want you here,’” he said. “[When we say that], we are turning our back on the work of God.”

He didn’t stop there, recalling the church’s role in women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement and explaining the meaning of the phrase #BlackLivesMatter.

“We have never said that all lives don’t matter,” he said. “We have said that black lives don’t matter. We need to hear the voices of the most broken people in our society.”

The rest of the day was filled with equally powerful workshops and intensive courses on leadership development, social justice and youth ministry from infants to young adults. Speakers from THQ, other territories and other denominations spoke on how to involve youth in the fight against human trafficking, how to connect with culturally diverse neighborhoods and how to use statistics to track and predict outcomes. The schedule left room each evening for delegates to explore the city together. Several divisions hosted game nights at area attractions while others gathered for dinner to discuss what they had learned.

On Wednesday morning, Judge Linda Teodosio, whose progressive approach to juvenile rehabilitation has been nationally recognized, spoke on the importance of showing up and caring for juvenile offenders. She shared inspiring stories of working to rehabilitate kids and teens that have experienced heartbreaking circumstances, many of whom struggle with mental illness.

“Without justice, there is no love,” she said. “Working with youth can be hard but being there no matter what can make a huge difference in the life of a child.”

Later in the day, the youth department hosted a free screening of Prison Kids, a documentary on the American juvenile justice system, featuring Judge Tedosio.

On Thursday morning, Lt. Colonel William Mockabee, Territorial Secretary for Program, closed out the conference with a message on leadership and what it means to truly measure up.

“Great leaders know the value of relationships,” he said, noting that statistics, while important, can’t capture the impact of your investment in the lives of others. He went on to say that great leaders should take an active role in social justice and take care of themselves so that they can truly care for others.

“The Sabbath is not an event,” he said. “It’s what you do to take care of yourself.”

The conference concluded in prayer as delegates and staff got into their cars or headed towards the airprort, taking what they learned back to their corps and communities.