For the sixth year in a row, junior high school students at Ruth Murdoch Elementary School pitched a tent on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and preached sermons directed to their peers as well as the general community.
As in past years, baptism interests were generated, but this year the baptism requests soared — 30 youth and adults. Some made the decision again and again throughout the course of several nights. “This wasn’t just a fleeting decision,” said Ben Martin, Pioneer Memorial Church pastor for Children and Family Discipleship. Plans for preparing these 30 candidates for baptism are now ongoing.
"The Tent," as it’s known, was held the week of May 12 as a collaborative evangelistic effort between Pioneer Memorial Church and Ruth Murdoch Elementary School. Several months of prayerful, advance planning took place before the first night of the meeting, Friday, May 10. For instance, religion teacher, Christopher Davisson, explained that before the sermons were written, the 11 student evangelists met and spent time during the spring semester in prayer as they waited for the Lord to give each student a message to present.
There were several faith lessons the students learned as a result of the experience, including two dramatic cliffhangers.
A few days before the meetings opened, Martin received a distressing call from an Andrews University Plant Services worker who was helping with the tent pitch. The incessant rainfall had made the ground too damp to raise the tent. In fact, workers were wading in ankle-deep water.
Martin had a meeting later that day with the elementary school students and asked them to pray for three things: 1) that the rain would stop; 2) dry ground would appear; and 3) The Tent meeting visitors would experience the latter rain. Later that afternoon, the sun came out and the ground was dry enough for the tent to go up; followed later with an outpouring of requests for baptism. “It was really powerful for the kids to see all their prayers come true,” said Martin.
Two days before the conclusion of the meetings, one of the speakers scheduled to preach developed a high fever and other symptoms. There were doubts he would be well enough in time to arrive for his scheduled sermon, but that didn’t stop students from earnestly praying for his healing. The young preacher arrived a day later than scheduled with no fever, although he was nursing a sore throat. By the time he opened his mouth to preach, the soreness had disappeared, only to reappear after he concluded.
Miracles aside, student engagement was high throughout the week, as the junior high students were not only responsible for preaching but leading out in singing, greeting, gathering contact cards and operating audio-visual equipment. “One of the things I love about The Tent,” said Martin, “is the body of Christ in action, where every student finds his or her place to serve and make The Tent possible.”
— Debbie Michel is associate communication director for the Lake Union Conference and managing editor of the Lake Union Herald; the original article was published online on May 23, 2019.