Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jesus loves me AND my swagger

thanks to sophia for photos!

The last major task of our missionary endeavor has been accomplished - but Rich and I don't have enough alert brain cells between the two of us to have really processed that truth yet. This past weekend, we were privileged to be a part of the third annual SetFree Youth Conference. Much like last year, Richard was highly involved in all the pre-game shenanigans. For almost a full year, he has been participating in frequent & intense meetings; helping to select and secure the main speaker, the musicians, the venue; assisting in PR & advertising & fundraising; arranging technical and logistical necessities during the conference itself - and more! But this was my very first year being involved in any way. Last year I was busy with a very new newborn and didn't even catch a glimpse of the conference. So this year it was a treat to hang out at the conference for two of the three days (with all my kids in tow) and I got to be one of the speakers.

5 highlights from the weekend:

#1. Righteous B, the tattoo-covered Catholic hip-hop artist from the States, was the headlining speaker.
Righteous B (aka Bob Lesnefsky) and his wife, Kate, who attended with him, left their six children with grandparents in order to come give this retreat. The youth LOVED him. LOVED LOVED LOVED him! He performed some of his own music, but mostly he gave a series of powerful talks on different aspects of conversion and faith. His everyday work back home is with Dirty Vagabond, a ministry he founded to work with inner-city teens, pinpointing and evangelizing street leaders in gang and drug infested areas. He really understands young people, the culture and how to communicate the Gospel with humor and passion.

#2. Awesome music! We had a huge band, including Roby Curtis of the internationally acclaimed Australian Christian band, emmanuelworship, supplying us with fantastic praise songs all weekend long. The youth got way into worshipping through music and really let loose!

#3. About 200 teens (plus young adult leaders and adult speakers) attended the three day conference (and kept 14 priests - including the Bishop - busy hearing Confessions for an entire hour on Saturday night!) This was our highest attendance yet, as well as our most enthusiastic crowd ever. Many described the weekend as "life-changing" and "the best weekend of my life".

the weekend's ubiquitous Righteous B tee

#4. The venue was a beautiful Christian conference center located about 10 minutes from Hobbiton, in the heart of breathtaking green cow paddocks and post-harvest corn fields. The Kaimai mountains rose along the horizon and the sun shone warm and bright all three days, despite the autumnal patterns the weather has otherwise followed of late. My favorite part of the whole weekend was taking a walk alone with my three children down a quiet country lane, chasing butterflies, talking to bold calves close enough to touch, and drinking in the pristinely verdant landscapes.

#5. The last major highlight that I can tap out in my still-exhausted state - seeing young people experience the beauty and power of the Lord, many for the first time. This retreat is designed primarily as a conversion experience, and indeed, it accomplished its purpose for many youth. For those who came with an already-established friendship with Jesus, that was certainly deepened. There was a palpable enthusiasm about God and a real sense of joy and hope. Pray that this will not be a fleeting and soon-forgotten high, but the beginnings of something lasting and deep in the lives of many of the youth. 

SetFree 2012 Recap video
the 'sacred towel' to which Fr. Michael refers, is Richard's towel, 
which he was forced to share with his ordained roommate 


  1. Yay! I'm inspired just watching the video! Way to go guys!

  2. Great video! Praying the youth will always remain close to the Lord.
    And, no, Fr Michael, towels are not to be shared!