Work camp brings unity, sympathy and praise
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Sacrificial love is a key to overcoming the…
Imagine 60 to 70 visitors showing up at a small Church of Christ for a Sunday night service.
It happens about once a month in the Mid-Ohio Valley region of West Virginia and Ohio.
Eager to keep the spirit of Ohio Valley Christian Youth Camp alive throughout the year, two young men — Anthony Miller and Joshua Tucker — formed a traveling youth group back in 2010.
The group has grown from a handful of participants to dozens of young people who regularly go together to lead worship and fellowship with area congregations, said Miller and Tucker, who still lead the group.
“Many of our congregations don’t have big youth groups, and sometimes it’s hard to stay on the right path,” said Miller, 29, a member of the Waverly Church of Christ in West Virginia. “This group allows them to know they’re not alone and have folks their age that they can turn to for strength.”
Young and old alike appreciate the group, said Tucker, 30, a member of the Lower Paw Paw Church of Christ in Lower Salem, Ohio.
“Anytime that you are able to worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ, you’re uplifted,” Miller said. “For the young, our group allows them the opportunity to lead services in some capacity, whether it be in songs, prayer or speaking. For the old, it gives them joy and hope that the younger generation is following Christ. It sends a big message.”
Tucker agreed: “I’ve had youth come up to me after preaching or song leading for the first time — hugging me and thanking me for giving them the opportunity to do that. I’ve had older members of the church come up to tell me how inspiring it is to see the 60 to 70 youth come to their congregation and fill their building up where they have to break out folding chairs.”
Mary Hennen, a member of the Grand Central Church of Christ in Vienna, W.Va., said she has known Miller and Tucker for many years, mostly through Bible camp.
“Anthony and Josh have both always been ‘good kids’ with kind, compassionate, servant-mind hearts,” Hennen said in an email. “Not too many of our youth continue on the path of righteous living, active faith, etc. That’s why this ministry is so important … recognizing that people often find a path easier to travel when we’re walking along with someone (with feet, we do walk with the Lord, too).”
Overall, the number of men, women and children in West Virginia and Ohio church pews has dropped 17 percent in the last 12 years — from 70,655 in 2006 to 58,793 in the latest count. Those statistics are taken from “Churches of Christ in the United States,” a national directory published by Nashville, Tenn.-based 21st Century Christian.
Miller and Tucker said they’d urge church leaders in other parts of the country to consider forming traveling youth groups.
“Find a few other youth leaders, like we have done, who make coming to events a priority,” said Miller, who works as a delivery technician for a medical equipment business. “Youth today need to know that there are others in like faith that they can lean on for comfort, strength and lifetime friendships.”
Tucker advised that travel distances must be kept in mind, especially when deciding which churches to visit during the school year.
“We can only meet once or sometimes twice a month because of the youth being in school,” Tucker said. “If we have a church that’s an hour away, we try to put them in the summer so the youth can be out a little later.
“My advice for anyone who wants to start something like this is to just start and be patient,” he added. “Our first few years, there were only five to 10 youth before it really started to take off.”
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