News and Views

ROCK youth retreat leads many to Christ

Posted by Erik Alsgaard on

By Erik Alsgaard

What do you call it when 4,500 youth, young adults and their leaders gather for a weekend retreat in Ocean City, Md.?

In the Baltimore-Washington Conference, we call it ROCK.

The event, which will celebrate its 25th meeting next year, is consistently the largest gathering of United Methodists in the BWC, and this year was no exception.

“ROCK has been amazing and it is truly done for the glory of God,” said Becki Price, one of the lead event organizers. “I’m just so grateful to the team and all the amazing people that help put it together.”

The purpose of ROCK, she said, is for kids to meet Jesus for the first time, or to meet him again. 

“Kids’ hearts have been opened, just jumping off the charts, excited to meet Jesus,” she said. “We’re thrilled and it’s been spectacular.”

Youth from throughout the BWC – including Bermuda – attended ROCK. Several other denominations were there, too, Price said. “Our doors are open to everybody; everybody’s welcome.”

At the heart of ROCK is the biblical message that God can change your life, Price said. Bringing that message this year was Preston Centuolo, who used the ROCK Scripture verse, Psalm 62:2: “Truly God is my rock and my salvation, God is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (NIV)

Using music, drama and personal stories, Centuolo, who spoke four separate times at ROCK, instantly connected with the youth.

“There's something amazing about ‘different,’” Centuolo said. He said he knows what it’s like to be different because he grew up with ADD. He shared many personal stories about how “God uses different; God uses broken.”

During the Saturday morning session, Centuolo spoke about forgiveness. Saturday night, leading up to an altar call where hundreds of youth came forward, Centuolo spoke about how one’s salvation isn’t something “that you can borrow; you have to get your own.”

In inviting the youth to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, Centuolo stressed that God loved them “just the way He made you,” and that God loves them “just the way you are.” Centuolo added, “It's time for you to get your own pen, your own brush and create the masterpiece of your life. God has a story for each and every one of us. Tonight is your time for everything to turn around.”

Centuolo, now in his 25th year of speaking with youth, said he enjoys coming to ROCK. 

“The people have always been very beautiful,” he said in a back-stage interview. “I love people, connecting with people. Being transparent with people is just something I love to do.”

A poignant moment at ROCK came Friday night when 15-year old Nolan Heironimus, from Greenwood UMC in Berkley Springs, W.Va., walked on stage and was greeted by a standing ovation.

Nolan was not able to attend ROCK last year after being struck by a vehicle while Christmas caroling with his church on Dec. 18, 2015, said his father, Dale Heironimus. Nolan suffered a traumatic brain injury and subsequently underwent eight surgeries. He was in a coma and did not eat, walk or talk for nine months, Dale said. It was only a month ago, he said, that his son could get out of a wheelchair.

“It was very good (to be on stage),” Nolan said afterwards. “It was awesome.”

“It was overwhelming to be able to come here when we couldn’t be here last year,” said Dale. Last year, the family was encamped in Atlanta, Ga., where Nolan was in rehab. “To be able to show everyone that God’s miracles exist, they do happen, and that the power of prayer is out of this world” was very important, Dale said.

The biggest thing through this whole journey, he said, was being patient and keeping the faith. “I wanted Nolan better in my time,” he said. “And that’s not going to happen. It has to be God’s time.”

During the closing worship Sunday morning, a special offering was taken. This year, the offering went to support camp scholarships at BWC Camp and Retreat Centers. According to the BWC finance office, the offering brought in $12,524.