Training to lead
INDIANAPOLIS — The crowd was loud and rowdy, ready to…
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four families from the Northern Hills Church of Christ in western South Dakota drove more than 700 miles each way to attend the Heart of America Leadership Training for Christ convention this past weekend.
Alaethia Thompson — one of 11 LTC participants from the 70-member church between Spearfish and Belle Fourche — developed her talents in events such as Bible quiz, Christian art and small group chorus.
“I love how LTC just brings everyone together, and all of the things that I participated in were just amazing and so much fun,” said Thompson, who sang on stage at Saturday’s closing celebration with her sisters Kaitlyn, 14, and Sophia, 12, and fellow Northern Hills church member Sammy Zoller, 12.
From puppeteers to song leaders, signers for the deaf to Christian fiction writers, 579 young people — not counting parents and sponsors — flocked to Kansas City’s Crown Center for the Heart of America event.
“I always love it when multiple congregations come together — just the fellowship and unity that are there,” said Nathan Thompson, a Northern Hills member and father of nine, including Alaethia, Kaitlyn and Sophia. “Seeing so many people from so many different churches is just great.”
Jenifer Zoller, mother of Sammy, said LTC has helped her daughter grow both in biblical knowledge and personal confidence.
“Before, she was shy and wouldn’t stand in front of people and participate very well,” Jenifer Zoller said. “To see her up on that stage tonight singing in front of hundreds of people makes me very proud of the young woman she is becoming.”
Nationwide, Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes and Leadership Training for Christ conventions each spring draw more than 40,000 members of Churches of Christ to 17 sites in 13 states. Most of the conventions occur over Easter weekend — a slow period for hotels when organizers can take advantage of reduced rates.
Rick Karsten, who served as chairman of the Heart of America convention, said he sees LTC as a way to minister to small congregations that could not organize such an event on their own.
In particular, the Kansas City event serves Churches of Christ in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska — plus a few congregations from Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Dakota, organizers said.
“It changes a lot of lives,” said Karsten, who attends the Overland Park Church of Christ in Kansas. “A lot of it is parent-driven; it’s not necessarily church staff-driven. It’s got a lot of parents involved (as coaches) where they might not otherwise be.”
Six young people came from the 100-member Leavenworth Church of Christ in Kansas — ranging from a third-grader to a high school senior.
“So, we had one just beginning and one ending the LTC journey,” said Morrisa Watson Summers, the Leavenworth church’s LTC coordinator and wife of minister Michael Waymon Summers. “Our 12th-grader was overcome, realizing that fact when her last event was over, and began to cry.”
Tina Bowen, a member of the Southwest Church of Christ in Omaha, Neb., said she enjoys watching the older children become mentors to the younger ones.
“It’s so neat to see (the older children) graduate out of the program and see how much they have grown and how much they help the younger ones. It’s a mentoring relationship, and they don’t even know they’re doing it,” said Bowen, mother of Miranda, 20; Nathan, 16; and Benjamin, 11.
Amy Pruett, wife of Northern Hills minister Thomas Andrew Pruett, served as LTC coordinator for the South Dakota congregation.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s an awesome thing that is so encouraging every time we come,” said Amy Pruett, a mother of four children, ages 10 months to 15 years old. “I’m really excited to be a part of something so big (in which) our kids can come and see so many other Christian kids.
“The artwork is always amazing. The singing is amazing,” she added. “Seeing the young people’s creativity is just a lot of fun. I’m always tired (when it’s over), but I’m so glad we get to come.”
Thomas Pruett said the church works hard not to put the focus on the convention itself: “Leadership Training for Christ should be something you do anyway, and as a bonus, you get to count it for the convention.”
After the convention, he said, “We have our young guys preach and teach on Sunday morning. Signers (for the deaf) will work on interpreting the singing. We believe in the spark that LTC provides.”
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