Curtis Booher talks to a group of Milligan Youth in Ministry participants. (Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press)
Elizabethton resident Matthew Anderson, 17, was excited Sunday to sign in and get his name tag and T-shirt — the first steps of registration for the 2013 Milligan College Youth in Ministry (YiM) Student Leadership Conference.
Anderson said he decided to attend the weeklong program held through Saturday after a friend told him about it while he was participating in the Milligan Summer Arts Camp last year.
“I’m interested in going to college here,” Anderson said.
Anderson said his participation in YiM will help him be even more familiar with the campus, but more importantly he is looking forward to making new friends and getting closer to God.
“I feel like it will help me get more familiar with the campus and everybody around here and I get to meet new people that might also go to school here,” said Anderson, who is homeschooled. “I’m very excited and I’m looking forward to a great week.”
With its largest group in the history of the conference topping out at 113 registered students representing 13 states and 55 churches, YiM has increased its attendance 19 percent over last year.
Phyllis Fox, director of YiM and church relations at Milligan, said further expansion is not in the program or the students’ best interests.
“We’ve grown,” Fox said about the conference exceeding the cap of 100 participants. “We don’t ever want to be a large conference. We are not meant to be that. We want to keep it small and intimate so that the counselors and the staff have an opportunity to get to know the students. If we ever get too large, we won’t be able to do that.”
YiM and the Student Leadership Conference began in 2003 with a grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2002, Fox said.
“Our purpose is to encourage high school students to explore God’s call for their life,” Fox said. “We talk about what it means to live a life of servant leadership.”
Teaching students how to be a leader through service is how Fox said YiM fits into the Milligan mission.
“That’s what Christ taught us when he washed the feet of his disciples,” Fox said. “That’s how we fit into Milligan’s mission statement of honoring God by encouraging young men and women to be servant leaders.”
Unique to this year, Fox said the program has incorporated life mapping into its curriculum.
“It’s an opportunity for students to look on out into the future and to dream about how God may use them,” Fox said. “It’s brand new this year.”
The program also offers life skill workshops, which are courses that prepare students to serve in any capacity at a church.
“We look at different areas of service in the church like youth ministry, children’s ministry, preaching and creative media,” Fox said.
Other courses focus on leadership, preparing for certain life experiences like the transition from high school into college and also vocational ministry.
“In addition to all of that, we also do lots of other fun things, too,” Fox said. “There are always afternoon activities out on the lawn and we are making a trip to Roan Mountain for a night hike to the bald this year.”
Also special to this year, Fox said many YiM alumni have come back to speak and help lead the conference.
“This is our 11th year and what we are now seeing is that we have come full circle,” Fox said. “The students who came the very first year are now already out in ministry. They are already serving the Kingdom.”
Nathan Hall, 21, a Milligan senior and returning 2007 and 2008 YiM alumni, said his YiM experience guided him through God’s plan for him.
“I participated in the worship workshop,” Hall said. “I really fell in love with that.”
Hall said he was called to return to YiM to lead worship because the program helped shaped him into a messenger of the word of God. He hopes to help current students reach for and realize their potential to do the same.
“It was more than just a week of camp,” Hall said. “You get to see who you are as a leader and who you are through Christ.”
For more information about YiM, visit youthinministry.org. To find out more about Milligan, visit www.milligan.edu.