A railroad switch allows trains to change tracks and head in a different direction. 

At Bible & Beach, Southeast Christian Church’s student conference June 8-13 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, hundreds of high school students pulled a lever to symbolize changing paths and following Christ.

At the end of worship services, students could pull one of two levers located near the front of the stage. One lever turned on a green light to signify first-time followers of Jesus. The other lever illuminated a blue light for those rededicating their lives to Christ.

Pull the lever

Sam Johnson pulled the lever.

“I was at a bad place in life, and the second night the sermon and praise sat well with me,” Johnson said. “They flashed words on the screen, and I stood up because I was dealing with anger and shame. I was talking with our leaders, Jacob and Zach, and they said since I was in such a good place, I shouldn’t wait. So I pulled the lever. Then I ended up getting baptized.”

During Bible & Beach, 141 high school students were baptized in the Gulf of Mexico and 73 students committed to full-time ministry.

Johnson took the trip with a group from Southeast’s new River Valley Campus.

Six high schoolers got baptized from that group.

“God impacted students in a unique way for each student,” said River Valley Production Director Zach Price. “So every student from River Valley came away with something different for them, not just this vague feeling. They all went home with something they could do to impact their families, friends, neighborhood and school.”

From experiencing God to beachfront games and small group conversations to large group activities, Bible & Beach created space for fresh faith and forged new friendships.

Bible & Beach brought together more than 1,100 students from Southeast’s seven campuses. About 400 staff and volunteer leaders also went on the trip.

Jenna Rueff, who is part of the Southeast Residency Program, volunteered with the counseling team.

“To be able to see everything that went on behind the scenes through our operational team, it’s amazing now knowing all that goes into setting this up,” Rueff said. “This year, what really sticks out to me is how students were really able to come alongside each other for support and community in a safe place to be able to share what’s in the darkness. To step out in their struggle and say, ‘I need help’ and the freedom that comes with that.”

Led by Christ In Youth, the Bible & Beach theme was “To Be Continued.”

One night zeroed in on internal battles with anger, shame, fear and loneliness. It was based on 1 Kings 19, when Elijah was under attack, hiding in a cave and having a hard time hearing God’s voice.

Jon McCallon, Southeast’s pastor of strategic communication, said students stepped inside Elijah’s story and the low points in life.

“We had a high level of engagement from students about some of the personal ‘caves’ they go into,” McCallon said. “It’s been awesome to see so many students relate to Elijah’s story. We saw a lot of life transformation happen.”

Pastor of Residency and Theology Ben Cross taught the morning sessions and the evening services featured a few different guest speakers, including Lead Team Pastor Matt Reagan.

Waves of grace

Junior Lucy Emery, who attends the Elizabethtown Campus, was baptized at last year’s Bible & Beach, but it was just the beginning.

“In February at church one Sunday, I felt God prompting me to invite someone I saw from school to a church hangout event later that night,” Emery said. “We quickly became friends. Then she invited her friend to our student ministry. They both went to Bible & Beach this year. So I baptized Lexi and she baptized her friend. This year, I also stood up to go into full-time ministry.”

“Seeing stories that take place like that, the multiplication of disciples of students getting connected to Jesus and one another—it’s some of the most beautiful stuff that’s been happening,” added Elizabethtown Campus Student Pastor Reid Milliken.

Milliken said this year’s Bible & Beach was unbeatable.

“The coolest thing was seeing what happens when God has built a church and a student ministry,” Milliken said. “The thing I kept reflecting on over and over again is where we were two years ago when we took six students and three leaders, including myself. And last year when we took 37 students and 10 leaders. Then this year, when we took 68 students and 15 leaders. Just to see what’s happened.”

A word from the students

Junior Andrew Washausen has attended Bible & Beach three years running.

After getting baptized his first year, he said it’s now about investing in the next generation.

“I see a lot of kids come to Bible & Beach and start off being a brick wall,” Washausen said. “But at end of week, they’re either on their knees praying or standing up praising God. It’s because they are poured into by the leaders in their home group and are also surrounded by the church that week.”

Washausen recalled reaching out to a student in his sphere of influence.

“One guy in my home group was struggling with some things in his own life,” Washausen added. “So I hung out with him and made sure to keep reaching out to him. By the end of the week, he asked me to baptize him.”

Zachary Hamaker was that newfound friend.

“It was my first time at Bible & Beach, and it felt right to get baptized,” Hamaker said. “I met a lot of cool people and had a great experience.”

Three kids from Washausen’s small group were called into ministry of some sort.

Ezekiel Aranda, who has gone to Bible & Beach three times, pulled the “blue” lever.

“It was a good week,” Aranda said. “I got to meet new people. The sermon series they gave was a strong message on the story of Elijah. It was an eye-opener for me because I didn’t realize I struggled with shame and fear. It reached out to me personally because I came to realize that in order to live in God’s power, you have to live out His purpose. I recommitted my life to God during this trip.”