Eleven years have passed since the first Emerge Youth Conference took place in City Harvest Church. The youth conference has grown to impact not just young people in Singapore but across the world, with lasting fruit.
Members of the public were pleasantly surprised when groups of young people went out of their way to help them. Elderly folk carrying heavy bags suddenly had personal “porters”. Foreign workers laboring under the sweltering sun received bottles of mineral water. Toddlers received colorful balloons. Men and women found themselves munching on Oreo cookies handed out by these young people.
Emerge Week 2014 kicked off with Red Nose Kindness Day on Jun 22, with 529 young people spending an entire day roaming the streets of Singapore on foot, performing little acts of kindness. Some of the youth were also licensed to sell red noses to raise funds to provide groceries to needy families.
Although these kind acts were small and simple, they went a long way in putting smiles on the faces of many recipients. At the barbecue that ended that day, the youth were evidently happy with their efforts despite their exhaustion. They felt that their day had been well spent brightening the lives of others.
EMERGE THEN AND NOW
Emerge is a youth movement in City Harvest Church that began in 2003 as a youth conference. Throughout these years, the conference has provided a platform for the youth in the church—people aged 13 to 25–to realize their talent and be inspired to serve God in their generation. While the early years of Emerge pivoted on the Cultural Mandate—being salt and light in the marketplace, excelling in school and other pursuits—the element of community service was introduced in 2012 to encourage the young people to create and execute projects that make a difference to the local community. Red Nose Kindness Day this year
Traditionally, the highlight of Emerge are the various Youth Camps that take place during the mid-year school holidays in June. This year, the youth from different zones came together for Emerge Week which combined all the youth camps into one. One of key focuses of Emerge 2014 was campus evangelism and this year’s participants were grouped according to their school clusters: The East and West secondary school students formed the house Idai-Sa (Japanese for “ninja”), students from the North and South secondary school cluster formed Yong Ze Pai (Chinese for “courage”), youth studying in junior colleges, polytechnics and ITE colleges gathered in Teshua (Hebrew for “salvation”) while the university students formed Hudatos (Greek for “water”, representing the Holy Spirit).
The three days of Camp Revival saw the youths sweating it out in races and chases inventively named EMERGEncy, Emerge Map Out and Emerge Wars. The goal was to score points for their house, but the result was friendships forged and tight bonds created between participants.
On the final day of Emerge, the youths gathered at Toa Payoh stadium for the finale game, Emerge Wars. The participants engaged in a fierce battle, firing water guns in hope of drowning the other team’s paper lollipops–once all their paper lollipops were wet, that house is out of the game. Midway through Emerge Wars, the campers broke for lunch and embarked on “Evangelism Hour” where for a full hour, everybody texted, called and messaged their friends and classmates to invite them to that weekend’s church service.
The day activities challenged the youths’ physical fitness, while the night sessions with CHC’s pastor, Tan Ye Peng, and senior pastor, Kong Hee challenged their spirituality. Despite having expended their energy all day, the young ones were in CHC’s Jurong West auditorium every night at 7.30, jumping up and down, praising and worshiping God enthusiastically. Tan taught the young people to consecrate their lives before the Lord on the first night, while Kong taught them how to take up the mission of God and how to engage culture to win the lost.
Other elements that added to Emerge were the Book of Acts Challenge—for 21 days leading up to the camp, participants read the entire Book of Acts and fasted corporately—and the “Stand for Revival” wall at Suntec Hall 605. The campers would write the name of their respective schools, pledging to make a difference in their campuses.
Grace Tan, 15, a student, said that she felt that this year’s Emerge event was the best she had attended so far. She also said that she was happy to have made many new friends and that Emerge Week 2014 left a big impact on her.
THE ONES WHO HAVE EMERGED
With a burden for the young people in Singapore and a vision to see them on fire for God, senior pastor of City Harvest Church Kong Hee launched the first Emerge Youth Conference in 2003. Over three days, Kong challenged the youths to start a revival in their own campus and inspired them to step into the purpose that God had for their lives. His wife, Sun, also encouraged the young people to live out their dreams and talents without compromising their love for Jesus.
These messages burned deep into the hearts of the young attendees and gave them the courage to claim their destinies. Eleven years later, those same young people are now in a different phase of life, but the dreams that had been deposited in their hearts and the friendships forged in those days never died.
For Joyce Tan, it was at an early Emerge Conference session that she heard from God and found her calling to serve in church full-time. Today, the 30-year-old events executive is part of the Emerge committee of CHC, organizing enriching programs for the youth today.
“To me, Emerge was a time for all of us youths to gather and worship God with all of our hearts,” she remembers. “We were all young people and I felt very free to worship God and hear from Him. Pastor Kong challenged us to not despise our youth and use our talents to serve God, to live our lives for God. We believed and were inspired.”
Rae Lee, 29, a human resource manager, also caught her vision to be a cell group leader during the first Emerge conference 11 years ago. “It was then that I learned the meaning of audacity, excellence and abundance,” she says. “All these years, I’ve applied what I learned and caught at that conference. In the past six years of my ministry, I’ve witnessed numerous lives changed for the glory of God. God is a God of growth, I believe in His consistency and if He has done it once, He will do it again, and each time He does it, it will be bigger and better. Greater days are ahead for the youths in our church.”
THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF SCHOOL REVIVAL
Wayne Choong, a zone supervisor and Julian Lee, an engineer, both Emerge 2003 alumni, caught the vision of campus revival back in their day. They reached out to their fellow students in their schools and have seen revival in their cell groups and zone to this day. Choong told the church during Emerge 2014 that he and his members had a strong passion for youths and started visualizing their schools as harvest fields and themselves as laborers with a mission to bring in the harvest. In the years that followed, his cell group of 12 members grew and multiplied into nine other cell groups.
During the same testimony, Lee told the church that his cell group had 16 members consisting of secondary school students. Their first campus revival happened in Henderson Secondary School. With just two boys from Henderson Secondary, Lee and his cell group would hold prayer meetings and Lee would provide free tuition for them. Through many outreaches, the group of two students grew to 12 students attending cell group and service regularly.
In 2010, the cell group experienced revival in Anglican High. A member, Irene, brought a friend from Anglican High to church. From one student from Anglican High, the group grew to 11 Anglican High students. Through cell group outreaches, all these students became part of the cell group.
Last year, one of the connect group leaders in the cell group signed up as a volunteer to give free tuition to a class of Primary 6 students. One of his students from Gan Eng Seng School came to church and brought four other classmates. They were integrated to the cell group right away. The group of students continued to pray and reach out in Gan Eng Seng School and brought 16 for Easter service this year.
Over 11 years, the wave of school revival that began with Choong and Lee more than a decade ago is still bringing young people to the Lord.
PARADE OF SCHOOLS
One of the landmark competitions of early Emerge conferences was the Parade of Schools, a high-energy cheerleading competition that required a large number of participants.
Each campus and cluster would send their finest cheerleaders to compete using their best cheerleading moves. Abel Yap, 25, an audio engineer and Raymond Lum, 26, were part of POS for many years.
“The three months of training for POS really brought together the students from Singapore Polytechnic,” Yap says. “Random strangers suddenly became lifelong friends. We put in a lot of hard work together during rehearsals, overcame difficult stunts and injuries together and finally put up the performance; I’ll never forget the experience!”
“POS training lasted a few months but the bonds created among the teammates lasted to this day. One crucial factor will be the network of spiritual youths who took time out of their studies to participate in church activities,” says Lum. “We prayed and fellowshipped together in school over meals—this helped us to stay connected. We would go to church meetings together, share the difficulties we face and encourage one another. All these forged strong bonds among us. Most of my close friends in church today are those from my POS group during Emerge days.”
Lum sums up the Emerge experience well. “Emerge has given me a family, a network of friends of people in church that I previously did not know. It changed my life on campus and I realized that I was not alone trying to win souls in my school. It also caused me understand how our lifestyle and behavior in school gives people a glimpse of the God we serve.”
THE WINGS OF EMERGE MOVEMENT
The Emerge Youth Conference has proved to be such a powerful evangelizing and disciple-making tool that CHC’s affiliate churches in other cities, from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei, have adapted its format to fit their own youth populations to great success. To this day, Emerge is still helping churches bring their youths to the next level of love and fervency for God.
The first Taiwan Emerge Conference was held in July 2006. The three-day affair saw over 10,000 youth converging at the National Taiwan University indoor stadium. Organizers from City Harvest Church collaborated with 150 churches in Taiwan and hosted a youth event that was recognized as the largest youth event in Taiwan at that time.
Patterned closely after the Singapore Emerge Conference, the Taiwan Emerge also held competitions like Talentime (a singing competition), Extreme Sports, Word Power (a memory quiz based on Bible verses), Preaching Challenge and Parade of Cities (a cheerleading competition). Taiwan Emerge became a clarion call to youth in Taiwan to make a difference in their cities and campuses. The churches united as one to make the event a success and the youths in different churches joined hands to take part in the different competitions and reach out to new friends.
Four years—2006 to 2009—of Emerge conferences changed the lives of the youths in Taiwan and the effects can be felt even today. Pastor of Hsin Tien Covenant Church, Wayne Chang says that Emerge gave young Taiwanese a chance to see that being a Christian does not mean that they stop being relevant to the society—they see that it is okay to be cool and that, as a Christian, they can impact their society.
“The main message of Emerge was that you can be relevant and spiritual at the same time,” he says. “I think for many of the youth this was something very important; they realized that they can be cool and spiritual at the same time. This realization helped them in their walk with God.”
Today, the participants of Emerge have grown to become young adults and many of them are serving full-time in Hsin Tien Covenant Church.
Another Taiwanese pastor who was involved in the Taiwan Emerge was Garrick Li. “Emerge has changed, transformed and renewed the mindset of the young people of how they view church,” he explains. “Previously church to them was a boring, traditional and lifeless place—a place they couldn’t relate or fit into. Emerge brought about changes and the renewal of Taiwan churches and the young people began to see church in a totally different perspective–they see church as a place that is fun, creative, lively and relevant to them. They were drawn back to church again, and were willing to be discipled and planted in the house of God.
“Emerge didn’t just bring fun, excitement and creativity to the young people,” he adds. “It also inspired and challenged them to go all out for Jesus, to have spiritual hunger for God’s presence, and to live out the message of loving God wholeheartedly and people fervently.
“Because of Emerge and its impact on Taiwan churches and youths, we see the population of Christians in Taiwan grow from under 3 percent in 2006 to 7 percent in 20XX. Even today, we are still reaping the harvest from the seed of revival that was sown into our land during Emerge conference.
“The best and most exciting part is to see and witness all these young peoples who have gone through Emerge grow up physically and spiritually. Today, so many of them are serving God in their respective churches as core leaders. There is no doubt that Emerge has impacted Taiwan churches in such a powerful way and has brought mighty revival among the youth here. Thank you Pastor Kong, Sun and CHC for making a difference in our nation. We are still reaping the harvest!”
City Harvest Church, Kuala Lumpur
City Harvest Church, Kuala Lumpur held its first Emerge Youth Conference on Aug 29, 2006, at Sunway Convention Center. A total of 2,000 young people gathered for three days of preaching and inter-cluster competitions. A year after that first Emerge conference, the church grew from about 380 people to 740 people.
“We have indeed seen many talents emerge through the conference,” says CHCKL member Abel Teh, who has been on the Emerge planning committee since 2006. “Many of the youths gained a newfound confidence to pursue their God-given dreams in the marketplace. Even one of the new friends who joined the Parade of Schools accepted Jesus and is now working full time in church!”
City Harvest Church Fellowship, Kuching
In 2006, City Harvest Church Fellowship, Kuching held their first Emerge Conference. That was an important milestone for the Church because the small town had never conducted such a large conference before.
A team from CHC Singapore, led by pastor Wu Yuzhuang, helped to organize the event and minister to the youth. Every session was anointed, and members were challenged to live their lives for God. In an evangelistic meeting during the conference, some 45 youths gave their hearts to Jesus.
City Harvest Church US, Orange County
CHC US held its first Emerge Youth Conference in the beginning of this year. The young church, planted by pastor Derek Dunn and his wife Susan Ong, had the privilege of renowned Christian band The Planetshakers offer their help at the Conference. For Dunn, the Emerge movement began when God availed a movie theatre as a worship location, located across the street from the University Of California’s Irvine Campus in Orange County.
“God has graced City Harvest Churches all over the world to impact the student population among the various universities in their cities, and we knew that God wanted to do the same for us,” says Dunn. “We began to pray that God would birth a move of God on campus and that we would see students emerge. We began to share this vision with the few students that had already joined us and we registered an official student-led club Emerge@UCI on campus. This would allow us access to the rental facilities on campus.”
The Emerge movement started when God opened up a movie theatre venue that is directly across from the University Of California’s Irvine Campus for CHCUS as a worship location. The church began to pray for a revival amongst the students and for the Lord to open up doors on campus and to give them a strategy for reaching the students.
CHCUS had a very successful concert with more than 250 people in attendance at the outdoor stage area with many more walking by and joining for part of the concert. The church have started a monthly connect group on campus and are seeing more students come into the church.
This story first appeared in City News Weekly’s July 26-27 issue commemorating City Harvest Church’s 25th anniversary.