A nine-hour bus ride in the dead of winter with duck tape on the windows and luggage burying the seats nothing says a good time like a road trip with friends. This field trip, however, was more than just a group of friends having fun.
In mid-February, 49 people from Western New York spent a weekend in Washington, D.C., at the Dare2Share conference. Two youth groups from Grace Bible Church in Newfane and Ridgewood Bible Church in Lockport attended the conference. While there, students learned how to share their faith.
"A conference like Dare2Share is important for teens because it equips them to talk to their friends about their faith," said David Emmons, associate pastor of family and youth at Grace Bible Church. "They spend many hours a day talking to friends at school, on the phone, via Facebook, or wherever, [but] often most of these conversations are meaningless. The point of a conference like this is to encourage young people to talk to their friends about things that have real significance for this life and the next. It gives them the courage to tell their friends ... about Jesus Christ."
The students on the trip attend several area schools including Barker, Sweet Home, Newfane, Wilson, Starpoint, Lockport and Iroquois. Even a foreign exchange student from Thailand made the trip.
"They [the messages] are pretty much awesome," said Andrea Duxbury, 16, a sophomore at Newfane High School. "They tell you a lot about how to talk to your friends about Christ and they give you pointers on what to say and how to start the conversation -- it's very helpful."
Conference attendees were able to sing along with the band Shane & Shane.
"They were really good. I liked them a lot," Lindsey Brown, 15, of Barker said.
While at conference sessions, kids were encouraged to be "un" cool; not following shallow trends, not participating in harmful activities, upholding good morals and standing up for what you believe in. By doing this, students might be "un" popular, but they could also be "un" afraid and "un" alone.
"Our teenagers are pursuing success, money, popularity, notoriety, love, etc.," said Emmons. "My goal is to help them understand that there is only one thing that will provide what they are really searching for; purpose, meaning and hope. My desire is that they would understand that there's only one thing that has the power to impact their lives both now and for eternity; and that one thing is their relationship with Jesus Christ.""
During one session at the conference, hundreds of students called their friends to share their faith.
"It's amazing that God can use me to help others," Andrea said.
"I think [the conference] really teaches leadership skills," Lindsey said. "It will help you grow in your relationship with God. You're going to become a much stronger Christian and it helps you be a better example for other kids."
Aside from the spiritual growth students experienced on the trip, there was a lot of fun to be had.
"I know them from school -- like I've seen them in the hallway," said Andrea, "but this was a great opportunity to get to know them more. It's a lot of fun hanging out with friends. Everyone's very welcoming and encouraging. No one's left out at all."
The group also did some sightseeing throughout the capital.
"It was a lot of fun. It was exciting to go and see everywhere we went in D.C.," said Lindsey. "[My favorite was] probably the Washington Monument because I've always liked that. It's really big."
But these Western New York students returned home remembering the real reason for coming.
Emily Spina is a junior at Starpoint High School.