Christian conference Passion takes Fort Worth in April

By Jenna Dewitt

Stage lights will shine on artists such as Chris Tomlin, Kristin Stanfill and the David Crowder Band as thousands of college students gather with eyes closed and hands raised to worship together starting April 1. They will hear Louie Giglio, John Piper and Francis Chan speak and will gather in small groups. What they will experience is no average church service or concert, however, as the weekend is defined by one word: Passion.

This year’s reprise of the Atlanta-based conference will be held April 1-3 at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Conference organizers said they are expecting around 9,000 college-aged students and their campus ministers to attend. Registration costs $159 before March 31 and $179 after March 31.

The conference consists of five main sessions and four community group sessions. The discussion-based community groups are more than 1,000 students randomly assigned to assure each has a global perspective.

These community groups are further broken into family groups of five to 10 students to provide a chance for everyone to feel connected and involved throughout the weekend, conference director Cheryl Bell said.

“You’re sitting in a group of students that are from every campus, potentially from around the world,” Bell said. “The perspective on who God is changes from what’s going on on my campus and with my group of friends to what’s going on in Tokyo or what’s going on at the University of Nebraska.”

Bell said she has been involved with the Passion Movement from the beginning, with roots at Baylor. From 1985 to 1995, Giglio, the founder and director of the Passion Movement, led a weekly Bible study on campus attended by more than 10 percent of the student body, including Bell.

“Louie felt this clear calling that we were to bring together a generation of students for prayer and fasting for their generation, falling before God and seeking after Him as a generation,” she said. “We stepped into that and did our first gathering in Austin in ’97.”

Bell said the 18-25 target age group is intentional, not only because of Giglio’s roots in college ministry, but because it is a key turning point in students’ lives.

“God’s got a purpose for each of us to be used and 18-25 is really the age that life changes,” Bell said as she described the mission of the Passion Movement. “Everything we do is based on Isaiah 26:8, to make Jesus famous and do everything for His renown.”

The movement has a practical side as well. Do Something Now is a part of the conference that tells the stories of those in need around the world, then enables the students attending to contribute to the cause and get involved with mission organizations serving these places of need.

Bryson Vogeltanz, chief steward of Do Something Now, said they find organizations that share the same core beliefs but are also making a difference practically.

“We’ve chosen to use our voice to speak up for those who don’t have a voice in our generation,” he said. “It’s a chance for us to just awaken people to that.”

Vogeltanz said that though each dollar can change someone’s life, it is more about engaging the hearts of the students attending, not the money itself.

“God did something in their hearts and the response was generosity. Something happened to them from the inside out,” he said.

Vogeltanz said the unity between Do Something Now and other elements of the experience is a key part of the conference.

“We can have amazing teaching and we can have worship and we can record this brand new rocking CD that absolutely transforms our lives, but there needs to be some sort of tangible piece,” he said. “We wed worship and justice. It’s not an either-or.”

One mission the Atlanta conference featured began in Waco through Antioch Ministries International. Haiti Transformed has provided shelter for families as part of an ongoing effort to rebuild areas affected by the January 2010 earthquake. The money raised at the Atlanta conference alone provided for 15 homes in the country.

“Haiti Transformed is an amazing success story,” he said. “We were able to completely meet our goal. We have sent them all the money and they have teams of Haitians building the homes.”

Vogeltanz said the conference in Fort Worth will be different in that it will focus on one specific need, Bible translation in West Africa, instead of several organizations’ causes. They will focus on the Koso people group.

“I was just in Mali and go to meet a few of the believers,” he said. “Less than 1 percent are Jesusfollowers. They’ve never had scriptures in their language before.”

Arlington junior Ryan Guadagnolo attended the Atlanta conference in January. He said he is attending the Fort Worth conference as well and hopes other Baylor students will join him.

“The heartbeat of Passion is that students will leave changed and that they will be spurred on to do something for their communities,” he said. “Hopefully we will be able to bring something back to Baylor and just start a movement here.”

For Guadagnolo, that movement is part of an effort he is already involved in. Guadagnolo is part of the weekly campus worship service, Vertical Ministries, and hopes to learn how to encourage more students while participating in Vertical.

This brings Giglio’s ministry of influencing college students full circle as Guadagnolo and other Baylor conference attendees carry the Passion Movement back to its birthplace.