Last Summer, as the 59th General Conference Session of Seventh-day Adventists was drawing into it’s final weekend in downtown Atlanta, over 3000 young people from around the world convened for GODencounters Conference ATL, a young adult gathering giving exclusive attention to wholeheartedly pursuing a 24/7 experience with Jesus.
“I loved being part of GODencounters,” cheered Jairo Sánchez Heras from Montemorelos, NL, México. “It gave us a chance to ‘be,’ to participate, to feel warm and welcome…I felt like I belonged…I’m so grateful!”
From July 1-3, 2010, attendees gave focus to the theme GRACEfull, and through biblical study, worship, praise, and preaching from Ephesians, young adults immersed themselves in exploring how to receive and proclaim GOD’s wonderful gift of grace.
“As we experienced GODencounters’ focus on GRACEfull, the simple breakdown of Scripture and what Paul wrote was powerful and liberating,” commented nursing student, Jeremy Barnes from Alvarado, TX, USA. “It was great to see that we are not a condemned people, we are given the gift of grace.”
Beginning Thursday evening at the Atlanta Sheraton Hotel, a casual café-style setting was created to invite young adults to build relationships and wind down from community service activities held throughout the week as part of IMPACT Atlanta.
“The evening worships at encounters café were the most meaningful to me,” offered Elisa Brown, a missionary executive from Makwasa, Malawi. “I have been in a place where there is no place to worship, so encountering GOD in this relaxed group setting was so refreshing.”
Worship music and drama offered by young adult artists including the Destiny Drama Company, Maria Long, Chris Picco, & Nick Zork, as well as preaching by Dr. Matthew Gamble, provided attendees scriptural inspiration and encouragement. The prayers rooms constructed by members of FUSIONchurch, a young adult church plant in Atlanta’s art district, afforded quiet places to converse with Christ in personal ways.
“The GODencounters prayer room gave me a place to pause and connect in the midst of the packed conference schedule,” noted Meki Bracken, an attorney from Chevy Chase, MD, USA. “Having a dedicated prayer space was tremendously helpful.”
“The prayer room setting provided me a sacred space to experience GOD,” noted Pastor Nathan Teye Odonkor from Accra, Ghana. “It told me there is no place that we cannot encounter GOD and whenever there are opportunities to transform a place to a house of prayer let’s go for it.”
“GODencounters was amazing. Each night, I invited people that I knew were in town and they were so blessed that they invited people too!” lauded Lavina Seawright, a youth ministry student from Andrews University. “GODencounters felt like the church that I would love to be a part of. The worship and praise was inviting, and the messages from the speakers were powerful.”
Accolades aside, it’s important to recognize some young adults, if not many, came to the conference with skepticism and hesitance.
“My experience at General Conference Session had left me with more questions about my church than I had when I arrived,” admitted Elia King, a graphic design manager from Keene, TX, USA. “I wonder why we focus on ourselves more than we focus on Jesus. I wonder why we dedicate so much time to discussing what we should/shouldn’t do rather than being amazed by what He has already done. Maybe I’m just naive to think that following Jesus could be as simple as loving Him and following His example.”
“It was all so amazing for me because all I expected was the typical religious grandstanding,” admitted mathematics student, Trisha Lsheia Carter from Landover, MD, USA.
“Having music that was both relevant and meaningful to me was wonderful but what really touched me the most during the GODencounters worship sessions is the passion and sincerity I could sense from almost all the people around me,” commented Franchesca Jones, an occupational therapist from Jackson, MS, USA. “It seems like I’ve attended too many worship services where you simply ‘go through the motions’ and the hearts of the people are really elsewhere, but [here at GODencounters] it truly felt like worship to GOD as it should be—with our entire hearts given over to Him and Him pouring out His Grace.”
In authentic, and personable ways, GODencounters offered new generations permission to come before GOD and experience His goodness honestly, intimately, first-hand.
Speaking of GODencounters, King shared, “The moments that I experienced left me craving more. It was really difficult to escape the buzz of the crowd outside and throughout the city, but for a few precious minutes, I had permission to tune out everything else and experience holy communion with fellow GOD-followers.”
“GODencounters was so much more [than my expectations],” reflected Carter. “Being in God’s presence continually was the most beneficial aspect for me because, honestly I really hadn’t experienced that before.”
“GODencounters was just an overall blessing for me,” raved pre-med student, Rolanda Kingston from New York, NY, USA. “Praise and worship was off the hook. The sermons truly helped me to see GOD’s grace in a new light, specifically in my life.”
Sabbath morning, GODencounters culminated with worship held in the spacious Georgia Ballroom, in the heart of the Georgia World Congress Center. Even the ample seating for three thousand could not contain the throng of young people who gathered and overflowed into the lobbies and convention corridors.
“I was inspired by the singing and worship on Saturday morning,” conveyed Zane Yi, a philosophy student from Fordham University. “Singing with thousands of other young people was an amazing experience.”
“GODencounters was fun, different, inspiring and socially beneficial,” shared Camille Rivera Merced of San Juan, Puerto Rico. “I loved the worship and the drama. The speaker blew my mind—funny and deep is a combo you don’t find often.”
“The messages were impact-full, the music was so uplifting, and when combined with fellowship, it really provided a GODencounter!” affirmed 26-year-old, Eddie Cornejo of Asheville, NC, USA. “I want to bring GODencounters to my city, so that young adults, whether from my church or not, may come to experience and encounter GOD as I have as a result of being here.”
“I hope to bring the blessed experience I felt in Atlanta to other young adults; This is definitely not a secret—something left to be a memory,” noted Jones. “We need to share and teach GODencounters. I think if others could experience GOD in this way, Christianity would no longer be a religion but a love relationship with a strong and mighty GOD!”
King continued, “[At GODencounters] I was inspired by a group of youth and young adults who seem dedicated to following Jesus first and foremost. I hope I can continue to do that when life gets back to business as usual.”
“At GODencounters, the praise session and the soul inspiring sermons gave focus to Jesus as the ultimate, and I love that,” echoed Odonkor. “I am in a hurry to go home to Ghana and to continue with this new experience in my home, in the church and in ministering to the youth.”
“At GODencounters, I realized that there are a large number of youth in our church, and I was inspired that we would be willing to lay down our lives for Jesus,” offered Jorge Villarreal, 28, an architecture student from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, México. “Let’s motivate the youth of the world to be a generation that seeks an encounter with GOD, discovering or rediscovering the best gift that He could give us is grace and encourage the study of His Word! I’m impressed to lead youth who are lost in the world onto a path towards Jesus.”
“If we can impact just one life, we can change the world. Like a drop of water falls in a still lake and the ripples go out transforming it, our lives transformed by the Holy Spirit will revolutionize the world,” raved Merced. “GODencounters could be as big to our generation as GC Session is to adults. We should have it in different languages and provide everything needed so that all our youth can have a GODencounter!”
In the wake of Atlanta, GODencounters gatherings were held in the Fall of 2010 in the South Pacific Division and several locations in the North American Division, including District of Columbia/Baltimore and New Jersey. 2011 will include GODencounters gatherings in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Texas, and Oregon, with many more young adults eager to spark GODencounters where they are.