Evidence Rally Draws Youth
Alma Cervantes had always turned down her friend Lexi Alvidrez’s invitations to youth events at her Visalia, Calif., church. So Alvidrez never thought to invite Cervantes to the Evidence youth rally the church was holding Aug. 1-7 at a local high school’s theater. But when Cervantes wanted to hang out the first night of Evidence, Alvidrez told her about the meetings.
Cervantes came and loved it. By midweek, Alvidrez was shocked to learn that Cervantes had joined the pre-meeting Bible study. At the end of the week, Cervantes chose to be baptized into the Adventist faith.
“Alma’s decision was completely unexpected, but completely a God thing,” says Alvidrez, now a freshman psychology student at Southern Adventist University. “We’ve been friends since 6th grade, and now God has blessed me with the ability and opportunity to introduce her to Him. I’m amazed!”
Evidence sought to reach both Adventist and community teens through eight powerful personal testimonies. “The best evidence for God is the miracle of a changed life,” says Ricky Schwarz, Visalia’s youth pastor and Bible worker who planned the rally. The guest speakers’ pre-Jesus experiences included teen pregnancy, drug dealing, mob membership, and schmoozing with celebrities as an acrobat in Cirque du Soleil.
“Evidence helped reflect on how much God has changed me,” says Emmanuel Abarquez, a junior from Bakersfield Adventist Academy. “I used to be an angry, bitter person but by the grace of God I have overcome that. And seeing other people share their experiences confirmed that God is the God of all goodly changes.”
Adventist youth blanketed Visalia with invitations and Schwarz personally visited the town’s churches and invited their teens. "I really liked meeting new people and inviting them to our youth rally.” says Jesselyn Rieke, one of several teens that accompanied Schwarz.
Ninety people came for the opening night and quickly climbed to 180 by the week’s end, nearly five times the attendance in previous years. Thirty-one teens, many of them from the community, committed to baptism or rebaptism.
“Prayer is why Evidence was successful,” says Schwarz. “Prayer was a really big part of it and we saw amazing answers to prayer.” The church’s Prayer Action Team prayer walked the theater’s facility each evening, interceded during the meetings and were available afterwards to pray with guests. Church pastor Chad Stuart adds that he was thrilled to see how the whole church pulled together to support the rally.
The meetings included contemporary worship music, announcements and mixers. Prizes were given to those bringing the most guests with them. One community girl brought 10 friends one evening and won the grand prize — an HD camcorder. Refreshments and fellowship followed the evening’s speaker.
“It was cool to see [community teens] coming. They kept asking when we were going to do this again because they wanted to be sure and come,” says David Urbina, a freshman at Armona Union Academy.
Plans are already being laid for next year’s rally. Schwarz and Bible worker Noemi Roman are working to follow up with those who made commitments for baptism. Currently 11 individual and group Bible studies are in progress.
“Two years ago I had no idea about our church,” says collegiate Lindsey Leon-Guerrero, “so it was awesome to work with youth from other churches to reach out to people who are just like I used to be.”