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Encounter 2022

Tuesday, Jun 28th, 2022
Author : Keegan Stewart

We're talking about Encounter, a summer camp that brings hundreds of high school students from all around the state and neighboring states to the campus of Lubbock Christian University.

Episode length 32:01 minutes
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Keegan Stewart: Hello and welcome. This is the LCU podcast, a podcast that will bring stories, insights and people from Lubbock Christian University. I'm your host, Keegan Stewart, and I'm very excited about today's episode. Today we're talking about Encounter, a summer camp that brings hundreds of high school students from all around the state and neighboring states to the campus of Lubbock Christian University.
We're going to be joined by Josh Stephens and Sydney Whittle to talk all about Encounter 2022. Josh is the dean of students here at Lubbock Christian University. He also serves as the director of LCU's summer camps. He's been involved with Encounter for many, many years. First took over directing in 2007. Sydney Whittle is a student here at LCU as senior biology prep major, and she just finished her very first experience as a counselor at Encounter.
Hope you enjoyed this conversation. We got all into this year's theme, the keynote speakers, the classes, everything that took place. And I'll tell you ahead of time, it was a great success. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Josh Stephens and Sydney Whittle.
We are joined by Josh Stephens and Sydney Whittle to talk about Encounter. Thank you all for being here today.
Josh and Sydney: Thanks for having me.
Keegan Stewart: Josh, I want to have some conversations about, you know, this year's encounter before. But before we get into that, what is the heart behind encounter? You've been involved with it for a long time. You've seen it take many different shapes and forms. But but what's the heart behind encounter?
Josh Stephens: Yeah, that's a good question. Keegan. I think, I think at its, at its core encounter really to be honest all else you summer camps are a we're the university that really does a good job of of seeing like this isn't just something to promote LCU the core is there's kingdom implications here and so encounter, camp champion, Pine Springs those are all tools that the Lord uses to connect with young people.
And so not just camp, you know, teenagers, campers, but our counselors, too. You know, there's still some are are young in their faith, some came you know, came to faith. We had a number of baptisms this year at Encounter. And so at its core, it's about connecting people with Jesus and letting them reminding them what are giving an opportunity to inter-relationship with Christ.
And so we're very blessed as a university to have their support and doing that.
Keegan Stewart: Sydney, what was, what was your first impression of Encounter? When did you first hear about it and when did you first, you know, engage with it?
Sydney Whittle: Right. So I've I've known of Encounter in my entire life, but I have never been as a camper. I don't know why. Probably like other camps and sport camps and stuff, but so this is my first encounter with encounter. Um, but kind of like what Josh said, like this is a huge vessel in the kingdom for us like and LCU to do.
And so just to see all these kids, like 500, 600 kids come together and, you know, throw their hands up and worship the Lord and come together and meet new friends and make new memories. It's just it's pretty amazing to see. And like on the counselor side, too, I had 11 girls as my campers this year and they're awesome and I love every single one of them.
And I got to see them grow in their faith from Sunday night to Friday night in one of them, I actually got baptized on Thursday, so that was really awesome to see you too, and I enjoyed every part of it.
Keegan Stewart: So this was your first time being a counselor? What were some of your biggest takeaways? What was the overall experience like for you?
Sydney Whittle: Um, there I had one girl who I was kind of like, okay, I'm going to try a little bit hard with her or she's going to make it a little bit difficult. But she ended up being one of my favorites and she ended up texting me afterwards and thanking. Like thanked me for making her first encounter, um, first encounter impression the best.
And she said that she loved me a lot and that I had a huge impact on her. And so that was a huge takeaway for me personally, just to be that influencer or that game changer or leader in that girl's life and also of my ten other girls that I had. So that's why I wanted to be a counselor, so I could be that person for whoever needed it because I had people in my life that were like that for me.
So I just I enjoyed that.
Keegan Stewart: Josh, you spoke about the heart behind Encounter. I want to ask you about what it means to you personally, though. You've been heavily involved with Encounter for years, you've been the director of LCU summer camps Encounter since around 2007. So what does it mean to you personally as a platform of ministry as as something that comes up every year on your calendar and like it's here and how does that play into your life?
Josh Stephens: Yeah, you know, it's really hard to put into words one because I don't think we fully understand that as Syd was talking about the kingdom implications with something like Encounter and I don't know that we will on this side of eternity, to be honest with you, but in, in the role of, Dean of students, you're kind of seen and perceived in a certain light, okay.
Which most of the time isn't the most favorable. Okay. As as a director of summer camps and getting to to walk alongside our students as they step into the role of counselor. Uh, it's a partnership. It's, it's so rewarding to see to see those kind of like I Syd who may be a little bit more reserved. Sydney is not known for being loud and rambunctious and things like that, but like to watch her go through that and impact young people's lives and then that have conversation with her and hear her talk about this kind of what I thought going in and this is what the Lord has revealed sometimes even surprisingly, where she was like,
I didn't really expect this and this is what I got from these campers is really, really cool. The other side for me is I'm a dad with all three of my kids went to encounter. Okay? And so as a as a father to, to have something in their world that pushes them and guides them down a spiritual path is rewarding.
But I also know that they're connecting with the young people that I get to connect with. So they're developing relationships with the with the college students that I get to develop relationships with. Is, is neat too. And, and it kind of those worlds colliding and it's a really cool feeling. And so we're very blessed by an awesome camp team.
Okay. Um, Terri Warren and her office, Nathan Anderson and those tech guys, Justin and Kris Schmitt do awesome. David Fraze working on the theme in being so gifted at that that you know, we've got a great team you bring in an outsider like Thomas Aduddell who leads us in worship with best friends every year. I feel, you know, it's really cool.
It's an honor to be on this side of that and to recognize it. Are there stressful times? Absolutely. Are there times that if I had hair, I'd pull it out? Probably. But it's a huge blessing to to get to be a part of this mission to and and some of those kids end up coming here as students and get to be a part of our summer camp family.
And that's a neat feeling to.
Keegan Stewart: And you just told us about how this was your first encounter experience for someone that's listening to this right now, it's like I've never been to encounter. What are these guys talking about? What takes place at Encounter? Well, explain it to somebody that has no idea what this actually is.
Sydney Whittle: It's just a place where kids from all over Texas and New Mexico and we even had one from Nevada. I think so. Just a people from all over the state and different states know about this place kind of speaks on its own about what encounter actually is. There are a few things that I was like, Whoa, what are we doing here?
Like they all rushing to the moody to get to the front row.
Keegan Stewart: They have the best seat in the house for worship.
Sydney Whittle: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So that's pretty cool. And then they run out afterwards to go get their tickets for class and like during the day and stuff. And so it's just really cool to see them so eager to learn about God and to like just be eager to make friendships and connect with us as counselors and make new friendships and worship God and just be involved and like just interact with each other and especially God here at Encounter like all week, it's, it's pretty, it's pretty awesome.
Keegan Stewart: So you kind of have the fundamental of, of class that takes place every day. And I'll ask you to speak to that culture, Josh, what these classes are, how they come together, the way they drive, the theme of camp. I'm going to ask you more about the theme in a minute, but just the root of what encounter class is and the role that it plays.
Josh Stephens: The the classes, to be honest with you, are so important to for students to to really engage this encounter experience. And the vast, vast majority are interactive classes. So there, these are youth ministers and teachers that are seeking to engage students, meet them where they are, understand their audience, and know that if I just lecture to them for 50 minutes, that's going to be a wonderful nap.
Okay. They don't want to do that. They want to they want to push them to to sometimes stretch, but also, like receive and reaffirm their foundation in. So the classes, I mean, there's youth ministers that are already right now, they're already talking about what they're going to do next year. Okay. Not all of them. Okay. Some some come in fly by the seat of their pants and wing it at times.
But the majority of our our teachers understand that the opportunity that they have in front of is so important that they spend a lot of time and energy, heart, you know, the poor themselves out into trying to facilitate an experience that will help a teenager in their walk with Jesus.
Keegan Stewart: So that's classes that's every day during the day three times a day.
Josh Stephens: That's right.
Keegan Stewart: In fact. But then at night, worship daily daily worship takes place in the McDonald Moody Auditorium. People from all outside of you know, around Lubbock come in all it's encounter week going to go worship on a go worship with Thomas and best friends are speakers here talk about how the keynote speakers come to come together how that's decided.
And then I want to hear you tell us about this, the season's theme. Okay, it took place this year on here. You know, there's a big tree in the morning. The leaves were changing there. There's all kinds of exciting stuff going on. But the the identity behind worship, getting the speakers and then seasons.
Josh Stephens: Yeah. So that that question has some layers. Yeah. And, and I think, you know, when we think, I think we had 556 campers, okay, which is like four away from us being maxed out on our beds right now. What's available. That's awesome. Yeah, it was great. It was 50 more than we had last year. Okay. 50, 55 more than what we had last year.
So this experience, you've got those folks in the Moody, you have the youth ministers and sponsors who have brought them. You have our 50 something counselors, our summer camp team in there. But you're looking at the moody is not completely packed, but it's close. You know, in that Moody seats over 1100 people. So there's there's for sure, you know, 900 you know, so people around maybe a thousand on certain on any given night.
And it is an experience you know to to come in Reagan Branch and I kind of opened it up with you know some light hearted stuff and welcome we get Thomas and best friends out there and they've done such a good job of trying to facilitate this experience by getting our hearts right through the act of singing songs and worship.
And then we, you know, this year we did a drama and I know that we'll talk a little bit about that later, but we did a drama kind of as our buffer before our keynotes came on. Like I said earlier, you know, we're we're gifted, I think, as a university and we got a lot of wonderful sister institutions.
Okay, I'll put our our youth and family department up against any place that I know of. David Fraze is as talented as an individual as I know of. He's extremely gifted in in. So in the fall I was talking to Dave and we're talking about theme and he kind of came up with this concept of seasons like when, you know, we choose to follow Jesus.
We look at John 10 and Jesus talks about this abundant life, but what does that abundant life look like in the various seasons of life? So we go from spring to summer to fall to winter, and in obviously spring and summer have kind of a more positive connotation when we think about the seasons of life, you know, newness and beginnings and summer is when things are thriving, but you get to fall and winter and fall is when things start to change.
Okay, how do we interact with Jesus in those moments? And then especially in the winter when things are hard, what is our faith journey look like in and do we view God walking with us in that season? Do we view God against us in that season? All kinds of things. So Dave did a great job of coming up with the theme and then we looked at this year, we looked at trying to with the keynotes, trying to have just a variety of folks and we probably were heavy on.
It's the first year that in a while where we've got like two of the guys were like, well, you know, three of the guys were like pulpit ministers and that's what they do now. Okay. And so Sunday we opened up with Aspen asking me and I am starting it off. Usually I'm going to start or close. Occasionally I'll be thrown in the middle.
But it was my first time to have a student tag team, a keynote with me, and her journey is so neat. And just seeing how, you know, last year she spent nine weeks in Florida sharing the gospel on the beaches of Florida with women, and that's rare to see with students. And so I was like, man, what if what if you keynoted with me in the goal was to try to remind students you can come to camp and receive or you can participate with camp.
Like you can use camp as a platform to give and start pushing into Kingdom Things. And Aspen did a great job and so yeah, yeah I was I was really proud of her. Eric Optin came on on Monday night. Eric's from Monterey here in town and then youth ministry for a long time. So it was his first time to speak at Encounter.
So I was excited about him doing that. Then we had Zane Whichter from. He's he's a new pulpit guy in Round Rock and Zane used to be in Abilene and a mutual friend. Jonathan Storment has recommended Zane to me a couple of times, so it was neat to get Zane on campus. Plus, I didn't realize this at the time.
He he'd gone to Encounter for two years. And so to kind of transition from being in the receiving end as a camper to being a keynote, he was like, I don't feel like worthy of stepping on the stage. And he'd crush it. He was he was excellent. Alan Stangland from Golf Course Road was Wednesday night and it was it was kind of cool because Alan and Brian Mashburn Brian was Thursday, they were they're probably two of the older speakers.
And there was some nerves about getting up in front of a bunch of teenagers to talk. Yeah. Which, which I appreciate it is that kind of authenticity that teens feed off of. And and Alan did a great job talking about Jesus meeting us in the fall and then Brian's story of his son being clinically dead for a number of minutes, and then his son's fine now.
But as a man of faith, where do you go when in that season of winter it was super powerful and then it was special this year because we got to bring back Rob Duncan because Dave Fraze was in Israel or I would have had Fraze close us out but Fraze was in Israel. And so we got to bring Rob back to kind of closes out and Rob did an excellent job and he's he's he's emceed with me for a number of years.
He was the thematic director for a number of years. So he he gets the mission and what we're doing. And so overall, I was really pleased with the keynotes and felt like they impacted our students in positive ways.
Keegan Stewart: Sydney was Sydney was there a specific night that was most memorable to you looking at these nights of worship during Encounter?
Sydney Whittle: Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, Josh and Aspen did a really good job opening it up and setting the tone for the week.
Josh Stephens: I totally think you said that because I'm sitting right here, but I appreciate it Syd
Sydney Whittle: I don't lie, I don't lie but Brian Marshburn with covering the winter season on Thursday night hit super hard for a lot of people I think. But personally so he experience almost experience loss in February and six years ago I think or seven seven years ago, we, my family experienced loss. In February, my granddad passed away. So that was obviously tough and brought back some memories.
But he hit it spot on and I think I was 14 at the time, so obviously I wasn't like, Oh, where do I go with my faith? I don't know what to do at this moment, but I definitely felt like resilient and frustrated with God during that moment. So I can relate to that and I'm sure my mom and her siblings felt that same way, too, that Brian did with his son.
But turns out his son had a long qt and that's what my mom and sister have as well. They were diagnosed a couple of summers ago, so I think there's different stages with long qt. So obviously his son just, you know, collapsed. So I think he had a more stronger, like more severe case of it, whereas my mom and my sister have I mean, my mom's obviously lived her life and done track and all that stuff.
So they have a lesser case, but it's still they still have it. It's still there. So that was personal. And that made me think like that could probably happen at any point to them maybe. But so yeah, just hearing them talk about that and like he he nailed the winter season like it's hard and sometimes you go into winter coming off a fall and summer and you're on a high and you're feeling good and then winter can come and crash in to you super hard without you even knowing it.
So I really enjoyed that one.
Keegan Stewart: And Josh, I think we need to give a big shout out again to Nate Anderson and Justin Brown and their team for thinking of seasons. There is a big and beautiful visual representation in the Moody Auditorium, this great big tree that throughout the week was changing to represent summer and fall and winter and in spring. Yeah. And, and it was changing.
And if you haven't seen photos, go to LCU summer camp social media and check that out. But that was incredible.
Josh Stephens: Yeah, it was. It was beautiful and it was neat to see. Like I said earlier, we just got such a good team in in Nate and Justin and Kris Schmitt and, and even the camera operators did such a good job. And to, you know, the people behind the scenes like not no no one really saw them hanging the stuff up.
But there was there's people from Marcom there were student workers over there that were helping Nate hang those things up during the day. But it was yeah, it was a fantastic set in. Sometimes we've had just kind of your your standard set and then sometimes we've gotten a little bit more immersive. And it had been a few years since we had done that.
So when Dave and I talked and Nate was a part of that conversation, we're like, man this is a year to kind of do something a little bit different. And I think I think it really worked out really, really well.
Keegan Stewart: Sydney is in here with us in this conversation and and she's one of many counselors that take part in this week. And for those of you who don't know, the counselors are also students. So that's something that they have the opportunity to do as they come to school here. What what do they bring to encounter? What does it mean to them to be able to be a part of this in the way that they they are?
Josh Stephens: Man, I think administratively and we do our trainings in April, on Wednesday nights in April, and I remind our counselors that camp is not about them. Okay? Camp is about Jesus. Okay. But the role our counselors play is so important in helping create this experience at camp and in some of these counselors, our office knows really, really well and some of them we don't know as well.
And and we've got we've got super outgoing will talk your ear off college students and then we got quiet will respond when asked a question but they're not going to be the first to jump in anything. It takes all it takes a village to do this. Okay. And we need I recognize that sometimes those extroverted counselors that they're going to do a great job of connecting with students.
But there's going to be introverted campers that are like that person scares me into have someone who may be a little bit more reserved but might even come across a little bit more authentic. Meet them where they are in, in, ask questions and in, you know, each keynote gave some questions to ask after every keynote and to know that if those questions aren't hitting, these are students that we can trust in guiding a conversation with these students.
So because one of the most powerful times and maybe one of the most underrated times is that time right after each keynote, when those campers go out with their counselors to have about 45 minutes or an hour long, small group to process. And so it it is it's a huge blessing. And sometimes I get irritated and sometimes, you know, counselors can push my buttons and this and that.
And it's like this year I got, you know, I got up on stage and I always recognize the counselors. And I'll be honest, I looked to see where Tanner Higgins was because I knew if I saw Tanner, I'd kind of get triggered and in so.
Keegan Stewart: In an emotional, you.
Josh Stephens: Know. Yeah yeah. Not not angry at all. I love to. Yeah yeah. Thank you for bringing that up now. And yeah, like he's, he's family to me and but then, you know, I can, I can look to my right and I come across Syd I come across Abbey Thompson or Cameron Goen or Hayley Davis or there's like I don't want to name names because there's so many of them that I look at and I'm endeared to like, like they we went, we didn't go to battle together, but we, we went on a journey together.
Okay. And, and the price, like the the students that are in our hands to help facilitate this experience for like, like those are souls. And we want each one of those kids know how much Jesus loves them. And so when you do something like that, of course, it's going to endear you to to people when you have that shared experience together.
And so I've that to be honest with Encounter, that's probably one of my favorite things is the connection with counselors. I tell I tell all our counselors. We've got Camp Champion coming up next week in Camp Champion. It's like drinking water through a firehose and middle schoolers. I think the counselors, these college students rock because they're college students are paying attention to them.
And it's such a great camp. One of my favorite things is it's like lights out at ten. I'll go up to Katie Rogers and hang out in the parlor for two or 3 hours just because I, I can be Josh with students. I'm not I'm not this position. I'm just a person in. And so when you build relationships like that with with your students, like, like every faculty member, staff member said at LCU, our students are so special.
And so I get to see that in a different light with summer camps and I feel really fortunate.
Keegan Stewart: Sydney What would you say to one of your peers at LCU that wasn't a counselor this year that might consider doing it next year? What would you say to them to encourage them to do so?
Sydney Whittle: I would honestly just be blunt and tell them absolutely do it. Like this is one thing that you will regret if you don't do it. And I didn't want to be an encounter counselor for selfish reasons because like I see other pictures of like previous counselors posting pictures of encounter and, you know, having those connections and relationships with their campers.
But like I said earlier, I just want like I love to be that person for people that they can look up to and hopefully, you know, change your life just a little bit because I've had people like that for me, and so I just feel like I've been called to be that person wherever I can be for the younger generation because I don't know, like I I've been saying it a lot.
Like I've just had people that have been that for me. So I just want to give back. But it's just, it's hard to explain, like how encounter is, like the impact that it's had on me and probably my fellow counselors that we that I had this past week. But if it's something that you want to do or you're even slightly interested in, just just do it.
Because it's amazing to see. It's amazing to have your campers and to have your campers look up to you and pour into you as well, and to bond with the count like the other counselors that you're with. And it's not like we're not getting anything out of it either from the classes and worship and all that stuff, because we definitely are.
I definitely did. And so I think that pushed me forward in my spiritual journey and as well as my campers. So just do it.
Keegan Stewart: Fantastic before we get out. You mentioned there was a drama this year, a dramatic component before the keynotes uh a skit, if you will. Explain that to the listener.
Josh Stephens: So and again, kudos to Nathan Anderson for writing the script, but what he wanted to do sometimes we have a video that's like a bumper before the keynote gets up or or something that we do. We created Nate, created this drama that really told the story of there's a central figure. The narrator was kind of this God character, and that was played by Carl Cope.
And to his credit, like, I bet I got told no by six people to play that character. And then I was trying to guilt Randal Dement into doing it. And Randal is like, you know, I talked to Nate about it and I don't know that I'm the person and he's like, Have you thought about Carl? And I was like, No.
Like, so I went straight down the office and. Right, surely need you to use your magic and make Carl do this. And she called Carl and then he got on the phone with me and he said, Listen, I'm going to say yes, because I hear the desperation in your voice. But watching him each night play this narrator, this God character as this older man interacting with these younger people was was so rewarding.
And so the skit basically, it it went Monday through Friday. And so Monday started with, with Carl on the stage. And then my wife Angie was the mom character in that first night, Kecia Jackson's son Kesler was the little boy. His name was Zach in the in the script. And it was it was revolved around the tree. And she was going to push Zach in the swing because there was a swing on the tree and and Carl would talk about that, that season of life that spring.
Okay. And so it was neat because there was a progression of Angie with Kesler as a young boy. Then the next night it was Angie with Will Dawson, and Will was the ten year old boy. It was like you could see this Zach character getting older and then the interaction around the swing, but also with the God character.
And then Wednesday, our nephew Braxton played played the Zach character, Grown Up. Is it as a college student or as a teenager? And we were on that the fall like meeting where's where's God in the fall of season of our lives. And and so there's this tension between the Zach character and the mom because the character just wanted to be a teen boy.
And Mom's like, do, do I let him make decisions that might hurt him? You know, I'm not ready for that. That kind of stuff. And having the God character pour into her. Okay. And then then it kind of took a different route. Like when we went to Thursday with the winter, it was clear that the Braxton showed up.
The Zach character shows up in Mom's not there. Something's happened. The mom mom's no longer alive in the script, and he's wrestling with God in that. But God reminding him like, I'm here and I've been here and I'm going to be here. You're not alone. And then we ended Friday night with Zach is now grown up. He's the parent.
And so his daughter comes with them to the tree, the same tree that his mom introduced him to. He introduces his daughter, which is played by Campbell Jackson, and gets her on the swing. And guess what? God is still there and he's his taught is same. The same things he was saying to Zach when he was a boy, little boy.
He says the same things, to, to the Abby character, which is what Campbell's character was called. And so it was it was neat because it was a and I don't I don't know I don't know if students really tracked with it at first, but it followed this progression of the spring, the summer, the fall and the winter of our lives.
And so it was it was really well written. It was well-done. I was really proud of Carl and Angie and the kids in the job that they did. And so it was a it was a great way to kind of segway from singing in times of worship and praise into Let's get ready because we're going to hear a keynote.
And so it kind of got it got our minds and our hearts prepared for that.
Keegan Stewart: It was really well done. And I've only heard great things, feedback from it. So that was, that was great. Well Sydney, I guess we can expect to see it encounter next year.
Sydney Whittle: I'm graduating in December, so.
Keegan Stewart: That was your last one
Sydney Whittle: This is my first and last time.
Josh Stephens: She did make the pitch of like, hey, what if could you hire an alum? I was like, We're close, but I, I'm I get beat up, I get called for playing favorites.
Keegan Stewart: Just keep bugging him about it. He might crack and let you know.
Josh Stephens: It's hard for me to tell Syd no.
Sydney Whittle: I probably so up some.
Keegan Stewart: That's good. Absolutely. Any any teasers for encounter 2023?
Josh Stephens: Oh, man, none. But here's what I know God's going to do what God wants to do with Encounter 2023. And if there's one thing I've learned over the years, oftentimes by my own human error is like, all I really need to do is get out of the way and let the spirit move the way the spirit's going to move.
And it's not about it's not about me. It's not about the school, it's not about our keynotes, it's about Jesus. Okay? And so we've got Camp Champion coming up and we'll do Encounter LE in the fall again. And when, when it's time for Encounter 2023, we will be ready for it.
Keegan Stewart: Fantastic. It's been it's been such a blessing to have this recap and learn more about encounter this year. So, Sydney, thanks for joining us today. And I'm so glad that you had a great first hand experience with Encounter.
Sydney Whittle: Thank you.
Keegan Stewart: Josh. Thank you, my friend.
Josh Stephens: I appreciate Keegan
Keegan Stewart: Thank you all for listening to the LCU podcast. This was Josh Stephens and Sydney Whittle. Keegan Stewart, your host. If you enjoyed this episode, send it to somebody that you know and have them listen to it as well. Be sure to give us a follow and subscribe and be looking for the looking at the LCU podcast for more content coming soon.
Hope everyone has a great day. God bless. Thanks for listening to LCU's podcast. For more content like this, go to LCU.edu.

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