(405) 425-5070
Students kneel at the front of the East Hill Church of Christ auditorium during the invitation after evening worship.
National
Photo by Audrey Jackson

No ‘big city entertainment’ required

At York University in rural Nebraska, Soul Quest focuses on building relationships among its campers through service and small-group interactions.

YORK, Neb. — On a summer morning, 400 teenagers crawled out of bed as if it were the most difficult task ever. Every day at Soul Quest on the York University campus is a full day.

“Last night was the first night I went to sleep before 1,” a high schooler with a proud face yet tired eyes told her counselor. Like most of her peers dressed in shorts and T-shirts, the student carried a metal water bottle decorated with stickers.

Sean Algeier, a York alumnus returning in the fall to serve as the university’s campus minister, led the “Morning Show” to energize campers for the day ahead.

Algeier, who previously managed tours for Christian musician Toby Mac, played popular songs over a speaker as the students clustered into groups.

Campers from 22 youth groups in eight states attended Soul Quest, an annual event designed to energize young Christians through worship and small-group activities.

Each group had about 20 students with different backgrounds. Rather than keep campers with their home groups, leaders reassigned students based on age so they could make new friends and gain fresh perspectives.

Jordan Herring and Mason Yarbrough pose for a photo in front of the York University Prayer Chapel.

Jordan Herring and Mason Yarbrough pose for a photo in front of the York University Prayer Chapel.

“What is your favorite thing about this week so far?” counselor Mason Yarbrough asked her campers.

“This group,” a girl named Alivia Aerni responded.

“Our group got really close, really fast,” Yarbrough told The Christian Chronicle as her campers socialized. “They can bond over how those experiences made them feel, even though they were different. I think that’s a place where they really start to connect.”

Her co-counselor, Jordan Herring, nodded in agreement. Both counselors are York juniors who got involved with Soul Quest through campus connections.

Throughout the week, leaders see campers open up about their lives and grow in their faith. Students who are naturally talkative might find themselves listening more, while the quiet campers might become more expressive in their groups.

“They all bring a unique energy,” Yarbrough said. “Some of them are funny, and they make jokes and make everyone laugh, and some of them are really smart and have always had inquisitive things to add to the conversation.”

“One guy didn’t talk the whole first day,” Herring added. “Last night we had him dancing with us.”

“One guy didn’t talk the whole first day. Last night we had him dancing with us.”

Focusing on relationships

After praying in a circle to start the day, each group walked to its designated classes, the majority of which were taught by visiting youth ministers with the theme “Scarred Faith.” 

Youth ministers teach three classes each day of the week except Wednesday, which gives students a lot of time to spend together.

Each class wrestled with its chosen New Testament Scripture. At times, teachers cried, sharing from their own experiences. Students opened up about their doubts and struggles.

Kevin Knight shares challenges in his own faith during a Soul Quest class in McGhee Hall at York University.

Kevin Knight shares challenges in his own faith during a Soul Quest class in McGhee Hall at York University.

Jason Hawkins, a youth minister at Odessa Church of Christ in Missouri, leads a Soul Quest class on Peter in the York University library.

Jason Hawkins, a youth minister at Odessa Church of Christ in Missouri, leads a Soul Quest class on Peter in the York University library.

Jason Hawkins, a youth minister for the Odessa Church of Christ in Missouri, brought four kids from his church to Soul Quest. During his class, he asked each student to use one word to describe themself.

“My name is Alivia, and my adjective: I’m loud,” Aerni said. The rest of the group laughed and nodded in agreement.

“One word to describe me is probably cognitive,” another camper said, “which means I think a lot, maybe too much.”

“My name is Cole, and my word would be the opposite of cognitive, because I don’t think a lot,” a student wearing sweatpants and a hoodie said with a mischievous smile. 

As each camper spoke, the rest of the group listened attentively, offering the occasional giggle or nod. Although the students had met each other just a few days prior, their care for each other was evident. 

With a population of just over 8,000, York, Neb., is an unlikely location for a large Christian summer camp. Soul Quest lacks the resources other church camps have in more densely populated areas, said Tim Lewis, who has been co-directing the camp for 20 years.

Part of Soul Quest’s mission is to serve the community surrounding it, Lewis said. In the middle of the week, campers spend one day doing various service projects in town.

Students listen to Kevin Knight lead an afternoon Soul Quest class on the theme "Scarred Faith."

Students listen to Kevin Knight lead an afternoon Soul Quest class on the theme “Scarred Faith.”

“We have to be more creative when we do anything — without being flashy — because we just don’t have access to big city entertainment,” he said. “It’s not an entertainment race. It’s relational based.”

Students are with their groups for almost every activity at Soul Quest, and the week is focused on building relationships, Lewis said. 

Soul Quest is a great way to recharge the students’ spiritual batteries, Hawkins added, while providing youth leaders some respite from organizing the entire week.

“I feel like it’s set up so we can just be here with our kids. Most of the youth ministers here, if we go to other camps, we’re often in charge.”

“I feel like it’s set up so we can just be here with our kids,” Hawkins said. “Most of the youth ministers here, if we go to other camps, we’re often in charge.

“They do such a good job of scheduling things once we get here,” he added. “And even when the kids have difficulties, their counselors can help. It is a good break.”

Uncontainable worship

After classes, the campers trudged to the East Hill Church of Christ — about a quarter-mile from campus — for worship. As the sanctuary filled up, the level of energy within the crowd of campers noticeably rose.

“You’re not ready for this,” a girl from Yarbrough and Herring’s group said with an excited smile.

Everyone stood shoulder to shoulder. The East Hill church sanctuary, with its vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows, was barely big enough to hold all the campers, counselors and ministers. 

Worship leader Andy Spell, who has led Soul Quest worship for 17 years, started an unexpected mashup of songs. 

Campers worship with raised hands and stomping feet during Soul Quest's evening worship at the East Hill Church of Christ in York, Neb.

Campers worship with raised hands and stomping feet during Soul Quest’s evening worship at the East Hill Church of Christ in York, Neb.

Soul Quest campers hold hands during a prayer before evening worship at the East Hill Church of Christ.

Soul Quest campers hold hands during a prayer before evening worship at the East Hill Church of Christ.

Soprano singers began “Oceans” by Hillsong UNITED. Tenors joined in with “Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns, altos with “Our God is Greater” by Chris Tomlin. The bass line carried the traditional hymn “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” by Robert Lowry.

Algeier, who leads the entertainment every day at Soul Quest, said Spell brings a unique energy to worship that gets every camper involved.

Campers — moved by the music — clapped, raised their hands, beat on pews and sometimes stomped.

“The singing is so rich and wonderful,” Algeier said. “Everyone is into it.”


Related: Mother, son share their journey of grief and hope


Evenings of celebration

After singing, students settled down to listen to speaker Josh Ross. 

Ross, the lead minister for the Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., talked about building resilience while dealing with grief and loss. Multiple students in the audience began crying as he spoke. Their peers surrounded them with hugs and prayers.

Ross published “Scarred Faith” in 2013 and later co-wrote and published “Scarred Hope” with his mother, Beverly, in 2020. Ross lost his sister to a severe strep infection in 2010, and his mother was diagnosed with cancer twice.

Josh Ross, lead minister for Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., gives the keynote lecture to Soul Quest campers at the East Hill Church of Christ in York, Neb.

Josh Ross, lead minister for Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn., gives the keynote lecture to Soul Quest campers at the East Hill Church of Christ in York, Neb.

Anticipation among students built as the evening keynote came to a close. 

Each night at Soul Quest ended with baptisms. 

Leaders said 25 campers at Soul Quest were baptized during the week, with about 150 campers going forward during worship.

Peyton Miller, 14, was baptized on the Thursday night of Soul Quest. Being baptized in front of friends and family meant a lot to her, she said, especially at the camp that helped her grow in her faith. 

A Soul Quest camper cries while she talks to a minister after evening worship at the East Hill Church of Christ.

A Soul Quest camper cries while she talks to a minister after evening worship at the East Hill Church of Christ.

A father embraces his son after baptizing him during evening worship at Soul Quest.

A father embraces his son after baptizing him during evening worship at Soul Quest.

Her father, Kenneth, joined the celebration via FaceTime. 

“Last year, I decided I was going to get baptized here,” the teenager said before her baptism. “Soul Quest has a big impact on my faith. It just helped me grow a lot more.” 

Peyton’s mom Roni, who graduated from York in 2001, had a similar story. She was also baptized at a church camp when she was a teenager.

Church camp has a way of opening up students and making their faith stronger, Roni Miller said. Her experiences at church camp were pivotal for her faith.

“I love that she has people that she can share with,” she added, “and I love that she has a group leader that loves her — and that she recognizes it.”

Peyton Miller smiles after her baptism as friends and family watch. Her father Kenneth joined the celebration via FaceTime.

Peyton Miller smiles after her baptism as friends and family watch. Her father Kenneth joined the celebration via FaceTime.

Filed under: church camp Features National News Soul Quest Summer Camp Top Stories York University youth camp youth groups

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

$
Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time