Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Night of Joy, 2003

The group gathered at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort
Sometimes, in student ministry, one event changes everything.  It changes excitement levels, commitment levels and the attitude of the participants.  At Wesley Memorial UMC we survived the low-budget summer of 2003 still expecting great things in our youth ministry.  Graceland was up and running.  We needed a signature event to bring it all together.  That event was Night of Joy.  We had taken a smaller group in 2002 for one night.  For 2003, we were pulling out all the stops...

For those who may be unfamiliar with Night of Joy, let me explain.  For many years now Walt Disney World has hosted a Christian music festival at the Magic Kingdom the weekend (or for part of 1990s, 2 weekends) after Labor Day.  The format in 2003 included concerts on Friday and Saturday nights September 5th & 6th- the weekend BEFORE Labor Day (it just "happened" to be on the weekend our primary high school had a bye on their football schedule).  There would be different artists each night.  I had taken groups to NOJ on a number of occasions, but had never gone for the weekend and spent the night.  As I planned the event for our student ministry, I wanted to make it a weekend to remember.  We would get the two night tickets, and stay 2 nights on site at WDW to enhance the experience.  My youth groups had enjoyed numerous special moments at WDW through the years, and I was counting on this being yet another.  I would not be disappointed.

Almost from the moment I announced what we were going to do, interest in the trip went through the roof.  Some were excited about the artists for the festival, which included great names like Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay, Switchfoot, Stacey Orrico, Point of Grace, Daily Planet, downhere, Rachel Lampa and the O.C. Supertones.  Some were excited about being able to spend two nights playing in the Magic Kindgom.  And many were thrilled to be spending a couple of nights with their friends at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort. As we drew near to the event, I drove to WDW twice to buy more tickets and add more rooms.  It seemed everyone connected with Graceland wanted to be part of the excitement.  In fact, people were coming to Graceland because they wanted to be a part of the trip.  I was thrilled.  Every open door is a blessing in youth ministry...

We left after school on Friday and arrived in time to check-in and head to the park for the 7 PM NOJ start time.  We stayed until they threw us out around 1 AM, then went back to the resort for the usual youth group hi-jinks and chasing people back to their rooms.  I remember a couple of the guys (Philip, Ken, maybe Travis?) locking themselves out of their room and needing me to get them a key so they could get back in- which was funny since they weren't supposed to out of the room to begin with!  But we laughed about it, and all-in-all we had a great night.  The following day we slept until 11 AM, all hung out around the pool, got some lunch and made more memories.  At 4 PM we returned to the MK and had another great night with more great music and attractions.  Sunday morning we had a little worship time and then hit the road back to Tampa.  It was just a sensational weekend- with one exception.  I took over 200 pictures with my 35mm camera- and then lost it when we started packing to leave.  The picture at the top is all I have.

That excursion marked the beginning of an absolutely awesome year at Graceland.  Numbers stayed high as students wanted to be part of the excitement.  We were starting to make a real difference in our community.  The new Family Life Center with our new youth room and the gym seemed to be (WRONG!) almost finished.  We had several big moments both before and after, but I still consider Night of Joy 2003 the moment when our ministry came together and began to seek to honor Jesus in a big way.  Looking back, perhaps that would have been the moment to walk away.  But I was still unaware that my own life was drifting into dangerous territory, and I had so much more I wanted to see God accomplish with that group of teenagers. So the story continues...

Because of Jesus,

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