For the week of January 6, 1999   thru January 12, 1999  


Youth gathering builds trust, camaraderie

Express Staff Writer

hypothermia.jpg (10860 bytes)These high school students were among 140 from across the state gathered at Ketchum’s Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood for a weekend of Hyper-Thermia. (Express photos by Willy Cook)

A few hours after sunrise on New Year’s Day, 140 wide-eyed youth from across the state of Idaho scampered onto the rock in back of Ketchum’s Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood and rallied for a photo.

What’s wrong with this picture? First, adolescents hardly ever willingly pose for a photo. Second, it’s cool for teens to play it cool and not get jovial, under any circumstances. Third, to this just-do-it generation, church, with its litany of thou-shall-nots, is no place to be hanging out on New Year’s morning. So for crying out loud, why are these kids crying out loud?

This was no ordinary church gathering. This was Church of the Big Wood’s weekend of Hyper-Thermia, which brings together high-school-aged youngsters from Idaho Falls to Boise to, well, party.

"You should have more fun in church than anywhere else," reminds Peter DeBaun, associate pastor at the church and an organizer of the annual event. "If the kids develop a positive sense of church and God now, they’ll carry that away with them."

The Church of the Big Wood puts aside solemn decrees and esteems youth, something that DeBaun says is rare.

"It’s tough to find a community that supports high-school-aged kids," he said. "They’re so used to being ‘dissed.’ If culture sees youth as unimportant, they will act accordingly."

Blissfully stranded on the rock, the group didn’t even notice the photographer waving and hollering that he had already taken more than 15 shots. Gradually, they took turns leaping and sliding from the snow-packed perch and hurried to the parking lot for something called a "pull-apart." Few of them knew what a "pull-part" was, but they all seemed pumped up for it.

As his peers herded past, Lee Stoops and Josh Smart, 11th-graders at Wood River High School, reflected on the weekend.

"It’s a great way to hang out with a bunch of people my own age and feel like I fit in," Stoops said.

Stoops and Smart were among 20 Wood River High School students—"Crew" it read on their name-tags--helping to facilitate activities during the weekend. They managed to cook, serve food, organize games, offer counseling and, they agreed, still have a good time.

"It’s an opportunity to see who is out there, and not feel so alone in a non-Christian world," said Smart, who devoted 100 hours to Hyper-Thermia over the past three weeks. "The best part, though, is hanging out with good-attitude people who don’t whine and complain. Everyone here is close to each other, so we’re all pretty upbeat."

In the parking lot, the girls were given a mission: pull the boys apart. The boys, meanwhile, piled up and gripped each other, intent on staying together. The girls, who seemed to be champing at the bit, lunged for the knot of limbs and began to pry the heap of boys apart.

"This is what church is all about," said DeBaun, observing the melee.

Make no mistake, DeBaun was not a enjoying a sadistic moment. There was a sense of trust and camaraderie building among the kids as they yanked each other apart, and that’s just what the associate pastor wanted.

"You can see them forming relationships here," DeBaun said. "When they leave, they develop a network of support that stretches across the state."

The pull-apart led to broomball on the ice in Atkinson Park and after that skiing, snowboarding, sledding or snowshoeing. Sturtos offered half-off rentals for any takers among the group.

The previous evening, on New Year’s Eve, Stoops had enforced the lights-out rule at 2 a.m., even though he had been navigating the dance floor two hours earlier in his vintage red bell bottoms.

"The disco was the highlight so far," he said. "The crew was in full disco attire. We had two countdowns—one for us, and one for Texas, which we yelled yee-haw for."

The Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood may become the epicenter for future youth gatherings, in part because of the central location, but mostly because youth groups feed off the high-energy, recreational life here.

"It’s the crew of kids from all over the Wood River Valley that really put this on," said DeBaun. "They’re so fired up. Their enthusiasm and the mentoring they have done is amazing."

Amanda Olmstead, a 1998 graduate of Wood River High School now attending college in Oregon, returned to the church to help with this year’s event.

"I’m really glad to see how much the people here love each other unconditionally," she said. "Most people don’t show affection, especially in high school, where it’s not cool. You can be your self here. And that’s very important."


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