“Taking young people to Exploration re-ignited the fire and passion for what I do,” says Deb Kjerstad, director of leadership development for the Dakotas Conference. “It gave me such confidence in the future of The United Methodist Church. Seeing young people that are so committed to their calling, filled my soul. It reaffirmed my faith in the next generation of leaders. They are excited to birth a new thing. They are not paralyzed by fear.”
November 1-3, 2019, four Dakotas Conference young persons with two adult leaders traveled to Orlando, Florida, to experience a sacred space to discern God’s call on their lives. Hannah Bowes, Andrea Hult, and Zach Gors, undergraduates at Dakota Wesleyan University, and Bryce Blank, a seminary student at Perkins Theological Seminary, participated in Exploration 2019 with Deb Kjerstad, director of leadership development for the Dakotas Conference, and Jerry Simmons, a member of the Dakotas Conference Council of Youth Ministry.
“I wanted to go to the Exploration in Orlando to better understand the calling that God has for my life. I was interested in the different workshops and wanted to explore the different avenues that I could possibly take after undergrad,” says Hannah Bowes, a junior at Dakota Wesleyan University.
The three-day event featured four keynote speakers, several workshops, small group interaction time, and awesome worship.
“I enjoyed the workshop on women in leadership. They had awesome stories to share,” says Andrea Hult, a freshman at Dakota Wesleyan University who attended Exploration 2019. “I appreciated their perspectives of what it was like to be ordained as a female.”
Each participant spent time in small groups reflecting on what the speakers shared and the content of the workshops. Small groups also provided a space to connect with others about their call to ministry.
Zach Gors, a senior at Dakota Wesleyan University and 2019 Exploration participant, appreciated the connection to others throughout the experience. “Exploration informed my faith and my call to ministry by providing clarity, showing that I am called to bigger things that I hadn’t even realized,” he says. “I came to understand that it is in my passions that I am invited to find something to pour everything into. Through speakers, workshops, and worship, it was revealed that I haven’t gotten to this point alone. It is the people I am surrounded by, that we are called together to live this life with one another. It is promising to know that I am called by God, given a purpose with a destiny, to do His work.”
Bowes shared that even though she is called, she still needs to listen for where God is calling her. “A very powerful message that I am going to take away from Orlando is that to discern your calling; you first have to be able to listen. You have to get rid of the distractions and outside voices and hone into the things God is speaking or nudging you to do. Then you respond to the calling He has placed for your life. It looks very different for each person, but that is the beauty of the God we serve,” she says.
The Dakotas Conference funded the travel, registration, and other related expenses for the journey to Exploration 2019. Kjerstad sees the expenditure as an investment in the future. “It helps our young people see that they are not in this alone in this journey. There are people all across the United States experiencing the same things that they are; trying to understand their call, trying to figure out what that means for them, and trying to live into that fully, authentically. For them to see 250-300 other young people in the same place, and sit side-by-side with each other is powerful.”
Participants for the Dakotas Conference are thankful for their experience and continue to discern where God is calling them. “A critical message that kept surfacing was that the work of Christ is, can be, and should be an act of everyday life,” says Gors.
Bowes continues to explore pathways where God is calling her. “Everyone is called to some ministry. With that being said, being called to ministry does not necessarily mean you are called to be a pastor. I honestly am still unsure what my future holds,” she says.
Hult could not agree more. “I first felt my call to ministry at camp. This past summer, at the annual conference in Bismarck, I felt my call again at the Celebration of Life in Ministry Service. At Exploration, it was helpful, but also confusing, that there are a lot of different pathways to living out your call.”
The future leaders for the Dakotas Conference and The United Methodist Church are hopeful about the future. Rev. Rachel Billups, who serves as the senior pastor at Ginghamsburg Church, told those in attendance that, at closing worship, “This generation gets it. Unity is not uniformity. You are called to lead the younger generation and remind an older one how to love like Jesus!”