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Exploring good versus evil at DakYouth 2023

By: Anna Mutzenberger and Camille Zachrison, interns, Dakotas UMC

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More than 200 youth gathered in Aberdeen for DakYouth 2023. Photos by Anna Mutzenberger.

“I decided to come to DakYouth because I thought it would be a fun experience to learn more about God,” said Ava James, a participant in 2023 DakYouth from Downtown First United Methodist Church in Mitchell, South Dakota. 

The three-day event began with opening worship on Friday evening. Rev. Seth LaBounty, who serves the United Methodist Church in Hartford, South Dakota, delivered the message at opening worship with the nearly 200 youth and adult leaders present. 

“It can be hard to know what is good or evil. Like King Solomon, we need to ask God for guidance," Pastor Seth told those present. 

Youth and adult leaders from 25 Dakotas United Methodist churches gathered in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to explore the theme “Good vs. Evil." Participants delved into the scripture passage Isaiah 5:20: “Doom to those who call evil good and good evil, who present darkness as light and light as darkness, who make bitterness sweet and sweetness bitter.” 

High and middle school youth attended large group sessions with Stephanie Caro from Youth Ministry Architects and Mark Oestreicher (Mark O) from The Youth Ministry Cartel. Caro told those present to believe they are beloved in the eyes of God and to live out the call to love others. 

“God is love. God wins in the beginning. God wins in the middle. God wins in the end. That means love wins. Love always wins; in you, love wins. You are the hope in the world,” said Caro.

Mark O told attendees, “Don’t think of the opportunity to do good in the world as a demand or an obligation. Instead, doing good is an invitation to live a full life. A life filled with the breath of God.” 

On Saturday morning, youth adn adults participated in workshops. Rev. Sara McManus led a workshop titled “Inclusivity and Hospitality,” exploring what it means to welcome everyone. Rev. Seth LaBounty was able to “nerd out about Star Wars” by leading a workshop where they looked at people in the Bible and characters in Star Wars. Andrea Plueddman led "Blankets with a Mission." Participants made tie blankets to donate to a good cause. 

On Saturday afternoon, Julie Stoll, a member of Faulkton United Church, led participants through Scripture Circles. Attendees looked at the New Testament through a Hebrew lens. 

A new thing at DakYouth this year was a ukulele and percussion choir led by John Srstka. Another unique thing this year was the time for an open gym where people could play volleyball, basketball, and other things together. 

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Members of CCYM pose for fun photo booth at DakYouth 2023.

Rev. Peggy Hanson, pastor at Madison UMC in South Dakota, and chair of the Dakotas Conference Council on Youth Ministry (CCYM) said, “CCYM tries to diversify between physical energy exertion, learning, and artsy workshops.”

CCYM is responsible for planning and carrying out the event. Alayna Nelson, a CCYM member from First UMC in Watertown, South Dakota, states, “To prepare for DakYouth, CCYM has meetings once a month. We discuss what we hope to see at DakYouth and how it can become meaningful for everybody.” 

VOTA, from Lincoln, Nebraska, held a jam session on Saturday afternoon and led music for each worship service. 

Alyssa Thomsen from Epworth UMC in Valley City, North Dakota, shares, “I loved the music. It was great! People were involved in worship,” 

Legacy UMC in Bismarck, North Dakota, had several youth who attended. Liam from Legacy UMC said, “Coming to DakYouth seemed like a way to get closer to God. The workshop I attended, led by Seth LaBounty, was so cool. We compared superheroes to people in the Bible. It was exciting.” 

Youth leaders and pastors attending as chaperones were blessed by the experience. Matt Bader, a youth leader from Canyon Lake UMC in Rapid City, South Dakota, said, “I brought my youth to this event because it’s an amazing time to come together, connect, and meet other youth from across the states. It is a chance to meet other youth workers and hear the passion they have for youth. We learn, grow, and live together.” 

This annual event continues and strengthens the United Methodist connection. Rev. Jeanne Sortland, who serves at United Methodist churches at Kensal and Wimbledon, North Dakota, said, “I think that people should come to DakYouth because it is a great time to connect with other United Methodists from around our conference and to reinvigorate our spirits, to jam out to some worship music, and hear some inspired preaching.”

Next up: Winter Connection is an annual event for middle school and high school youth in Bismarck, ND, Rapid City, SD, and Madison, SD, in January 2024. This is an opportunity for youth to gather, share, worship, and serve others. Each year, there is a focus on a particular theme and scripture and a unique and important service component. Check back for more info soon.



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