July 22, 2003 Volume 17, Number 09
By Carol Lowes | ChristianWeek Toronto Correspondent
COBDEN, ON-Combine the splash of a water park with the fun of camping out at a Christian music festival and the challenge of top speakers, and you'll get a sense of the wild memories that more than 2,500 teens forged during SoulFest Canada.
The four-day youth rally billed more than two dozen top speakers and 125 performing artists who rocked Logos Land Resort, a water park and camp ground in Cobden, a town 70 minutes west of downtown Ottawa.
SoulFest is the brainchild of St. Catharines, Ontario native Shawn Alexander, who for the last six years has co-produced the Christian music event The Inside Out Soul Festival, in Lincoln, New Hampshire. This year the name was shortened to SoulFest, and the first annual Canadian version took place June 27-29.
World Vision Canada, WBMW Records, Tyndale University College and Salem Storehouse Bookstore sponsored the event that featured artists such as Michael W. Smith, Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay, Toby Mac, Sixpence None The Richer, Rebecca St. James and Virtual Frequency.
Canadian artists were also on hand including Jon Buller, Starfield, One Cross, Midday Blackout and Tehillah Toronto Worship, among others.
"I'm not a big fan of Christian music," admits Nancy Yacoub of Willowdale Christian Assembly in Toronto. "Seeing live performances is different. You get to see if they're up there to make money or praise God. Rebecca St. James really impressed me-you see the soul and person behind her music."
Not only music
But the conference wasn't only about the music. "Soul University" featured a series of participatory conferences with more than two-dozen internationally known speakers, including Leonard Sweet. They covered a variety of cutting edge topics including spiritual growth, poverty, AIDS, the emerging church, the entertainment industry, evangelism, mentorship and more.
"Dave MacDonald talked about his journey and it was a way out there story," recalls Michelle Smith of Toronto. "He went to Hollywood and discovered the different kinds of success that draw people [and then compared it to] where God wants us to be at. I found him so genuine-it's the kind of story you don't forget."
Kathy Matvsiak says a World Vision sponsored activity about HIV/AIDS put the crisis in the developing world into a context that she could understand.
"You hear about it but you never see it happening," says Matvsiak. Under a tent with 100 others she began shaking hands as part of an activity to show how quickly the HIV virus can spread. Transmission was figuratively done with a discreet tap on the hand.
Each time someone was infected they had to tap two others' hands. In the end, after everyone had met everyone else, only 10 participants had clean bills of health. The rest took cards indicating whether they were positive or negative.
"We had to talk about how we would feel if we received these results or saw so many of our own friends or community get sick," says Matvsiak. "You don't get what the formula means until you see what it does to a group."
Faith Ngoma addressed a gathering of 300 teens to talk about her work for World Vision in Zambia.
"There is a dynamic to how AIDS spreads," she told ChristianWeek. "As Christians or a development group we cannot
separate care for orphans and widows from the need to teach people how to avoid the virus and care for the sick. AIDS is a global killer."
For Tanya Baker of Hull, Quebec, SoulFest was encouraging for a different reason. "There are so many people my age here and they're Christians," says Baker. "It's absolutely awesome."
Steve Geczi says the event helped him connect with Christian his own age with similar interests.
"I purchased some educational materials from Tom Jackson," says Geczi. "It's motivational stuff. Just talking to other people involved in music ministry in their churches gets me to see that it matters to God. Last night people stood up at an open mike and talked about the Lord."
For others the inclusion of a Roman Catholic mass was interesting and allowed them to bring Catholic friends.
"My youth pastor went to mass and he was able to see the differences between the services which is helpful to building understanding," says Alex Ellingson, 16, of Kanata Baptist Church in Ottawa.
"This reaches people who have different faith backgrounds. It showed that Christians aren't boring. People are on the water trampoline, hitting the slides, worshipping to rock music and talking about changing the world."