By Sarah Kenney

“Whenever we open our hearts, it is crazy how we open our ears,” Joe Smith said to the 475 students and leaders at WinterFresh, held Feb. 17-19 at Camp Pinerock in Prescott.

The goal of WinterFresh is to create an environment for transformation in the spiritual lives of teenagers. This ambition is achieved through worship, teaching and fellowship over the course of a three-day retreat.

The theme for this year was “Voices.” WinterFresh emphasized how important it is to listen to God’s voice, which is always truthful and beneficial.

The students were encouraged to consider what voices they had chosen to listen to in the past. Smith, associate pastor at Mosaic church, Los Angeles, reminded them that the voices teens frequently choose to listen to are lies.

Many of the youth related to feeling worthless or without purpose. However, those false voices did provide a bridge to sharing that Christ died to set them free from sin. Christ came back from the dead so that they could find their value in a life abiding in Him, Smith said.

The message hit home with the teens, an age-group that frequently struggles with self-worth.

This year, 15 students came to know Christ for the first time, and 80 students recommitted their lives to Christ.

This large response is largely due to the dedication of youth leaders across the state, said Curt Blocker, the main coordinator for WinterFresh. This retreat is not designed to stand alone, but rather on the shoulders of churches’ preexisting ministries, he said.

“The key to discipleship with these kids is leaders who are willing to intentionally mentor and listen to students,” Blocker said.

Over the course of the weekend, the students gathered together for a time of praise and worship before dividing into their church youth groups. In these small and familiar groups, youth leaders challenged the students to respond to the message.

Probably the greatest testimony of WinterFresh’s model was the fact that more than 50 participants responded to a call in their lives to pursue vocational Christian ministry. It is possible that this weekend retreat will be an important landmark in Arizona’s next generation of pastors’, missionaries’ and worship leaders’ decisions to obey Christ in a ministry career, Smith said.