Beyond Virtual

It is Holy Week as I sit down to write this post-Teens Conference reflection. Schools in our city remain closed as we try to curb the spread of COVID-19. My oldest daughter is working from home on an assignment exploring the differences across generations.

As a ninth-grade student, Samantha is part of Generation Z. Where some older folks, like me, are occasionally guilty of calling digital spaces “virtual” ones, such moniker does not exist in her vocabulary to describe what feels to her like native land. There’s nothing “virtual” about conversations that take place via text, video, or social media. Though these interactions may be mediated by screens and electronic technologies, the discussions she engages in are every bit as real as if she were having them across a table; each individual’s presence is still “there.”

Some of us are still trying to wrap our minds around where “there” is. Which is okay. We are here to help each other.

A few years ago, William Gibson, in an interview discussing the publication of his novel, The Peripheral, said: “our geography [is] slowly dissolv[ing] into the digital.”

We were forced to face that reality this year at Teens Conference. I’m so proud of the AFC staff and the many volunteers for meeting that challenge head-on with prayer, hopefulness, and trust in the absolute sovereignty and goodness of God.

"Christ was there with [us].

Not virtually; really and truly. He still is."

When our original hosts cancelled our booking before any government interventions were announced, I confess to feeling incredible disappointment. That quickly gave way to thanksgiving, as another church welcomed us with open arms. And then the virus spread.

By the time you read this, it may well have gone to every nation, tribe, people and tongue; places, perhaps, where Christ has not yet been named. Running TC in person was clearly no longer feasible. In extremely short order, a new plan was put into place. I watched as young Christians from many different churches and denominations worked together to do something we had never done before. Instead of cancelling the conference, these young brothers and sisters in Christ, pulled off something truly remarkable, by dint of their hard work and God working in them.

As a result, my two older children, along with hundreds of other Generation Z teens, were still able to be part of TC 2020: No Rival. All of them missed being able to gather in person, of course. But thanks to the prayer-fueled efforts of our AFC staff and TC volunteers, none of these students were forced to miss out on a week of the powerful presence of our Lord Jesus. Wherever they gathered to chat with their small groups or sat as they watched our speakers proclaim the good news or our media and music teams lead in worship, Christ was there with them. Not virtually; really and truly. He still is.

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