About 35 high school students from Detroit Lakes traveled to Orlando last month to take part in the 2019 LIFE Conference.

LIFE Conference is a week-long gathering of thousands of youth from Alliance churches across the country. They come together in different locations once every three years to worship, attend religious seminars and concerts, play games, participate in community service projects, and grow their personal relationships with God.

This year’s conference was held July 9-13 at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida. More than 6,000 youth attended.

The experience, said pastor Dave Christensen, who went on the trip, “was phenomenal.”

Christensen was the youth pastor at the Detroit Lakes Community Alliance Church for eight years until very recently; he’s currently working to create a new Alliance church in Fargo.

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At the LIFE Conference, he said, kids had more than enough to do to stay active and engaged. There was a massive waterpark and pool at the Marriott, he said, as well as a big inflatables play area designed for teens — both of which were good places to have some fun and unwind after long days that could get a little spiritually and emotionally full.

The conference offered multiple seminars per day, of which each youth could choose two per day to attend, depending on their interests. Topics ranged from human trafficking to immigration to the environment and beyond.

“It was about how we can, as a younger generation, start to be conscientious (about the realities of our world),” Christensen said. “And about how we wrestle with these conversations, as a younger generation, in a really healthy way and start to rethink the way we relate with those issues.”

There was also a large “main session” every day of the conference, which brought all 6,000 kids together to worship and listen to a special speaker. The theme of the conference this year was “Awaken,” Christensen said, so topics revolved around that — awakening to identity in Christ, awakening to the Kingdom of God, awakening to the reality of things that are eternal, etc.

“Those main sessions were good for getting into scripture,” he said.

The kids also had the opportunity to go to shows every night. There were Christian bands, artists, rappers, spoken word hip hop poets, and magicians. Performers included some big names like Propaganda and the Social Club Misfits.

“There was really diverse stuff,” Christensen said. “It was fun.”

A big feature of the conference was community service work. The conference is always held in a major city, Christensen said, “and we just think that, man, we have 6,000 kids who want to engage with people, so how can we engage with the city and leave it in a better way than it was when we came in?”

So this year, throughout the week of the conference, hundreds of kids went out into Orlando every day to complete projects for the good of the city. In partnership with major nonprofits in the area, and the city of Orlando itself, LIFE Conference-goers helped run a kids’ camp, a soccer camp, and did some improvement projects around public schools.

The group from Detroit Lakes went to Orange County Public Schools and weeded and mulched the grounds.

“We went through about 30 pallets of mulch,” Christensen said. “We went with a couple of other groups to do that. It was a fun thing. It was good to help out some other kids.”

Another big part of the LIFE Conference was the “Justice Experience.” Designed to be hands-on and interactive, it was also immersive and intense, Christensen said. It was meant to educate students about slavery issues around the world and at home, and empower them to do something about it.

“It got really heavy,” Christensen said. “ Basically, it awakens kids to slavery. It’s hard to hear that stuff … So it was pretty heartwrenching to see. Kids were deeply affected by that.”

Christensen said two of the local youth were so greatly impacted by the whole experience of the conference that they asked to be baptized on the day the group visited the ocean. Others told him they personally encountered God “in a real way” at the conference.

“Overall, they were extremely energized by it,” he said. “The younger ones are already planning their next trip, thinking about how they can raise money for it, and thinking about which friends to bring.”

The Detroit Lakes Community Alliance Church holds a live and silent auction every year to help the youth raise funds for their LIFE Conference travels. Christensen said more than 100 businesses donate items for that every year, in addition to numerous individual donors: “It’s pretty cool to see.”