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On January 2, 2017, at 6AM, 16 singles ages 18 years old and above, four leaders, and three vehicles met at Redeemer church in Chesapeake, Virginia with one mission – to experience a true love encounter with God. Access, Redeemer Church’s singles ministry, was en route to the “Passion Conference” in Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the group had never attended a Passion Conference. After everyone separated into three vehicles, thus commenced the nine-hour voyage to the Georgia Dome where more than 50,000 young adults gathered to worship the Lord.

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The Access group got to hear from a variety of renowned speakers, which included Francis Chan, John Piper, Beth Moore, Christine Caine, Levi Lusko, Katherine and Jay Wolf, and the Passion founder, Louie Giglio.

The worship team varied from session to session. The worship bands included the Passion band, David Crowder, Chris Tomlin, Kristian Stanfill, Housefires, a riveting appearance from Hillsong United, and more.

20-year-old Access member Alaina Orth elaborated on the extent to which a message by Christine Caine moved her.

“So often my thoughts are driven to the there, the future,” said Alaina- “God reminded me that he has put me in every place I’m in now for a reason and purpose. He has appointed me for this season. And everything now is perfectly preparing me for what is to come. He has not called me to be passive about the present, but to be present in the now, fully committed in every area of my life.”

While many from the Access group felt that the sermons truly resonated with them and prompted a profound, heart transformation, some said that the worship in which they engaged served as the true highlight of the event, especially for Jordan Hunt, a 22-year-old member of Access.

“… If there was a moment that I had to pick as my favorite part about Passion, it would most definitely be the hours we spent in worship,” he said. “To just be free in my expression to God in thankfulness through worship was by far my favorite moment.”

Another Access member, 23-year-old Laura Cagle, reflected on these lyrics from the song, Heart Abandoned, by the Passion Band.

“God give me a heart abandoned

Ever after you alone

Gold and silver, You can take it

All I want is You my Lord”

For Laura, the lyrics directly related to the work of God in her heart.

Following the opening night, the mornings began with small group break-out sessions at 8:30AM, and then a series of main sessions took place until another break-out session, ending around 11:30PM. The schedule allowed for a brief lunch break, consisting of various group members searching for restaurants not filled to their capacity or requiring two hours of wait in line. Nevertheless, even after sacrificing a great deal of sleep and a normal eating routine (which quickly morphed into something resembling a “dog-eats-dog/every-man-for-himself” starvation mentality), and surviving more than 18 hours on the road, the Access group concluded that the trip was well worth it all.

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Justin Hunt, age 20, enthusiastically affirmed: “I would definitely go back!”

So what exactly is Passion? What makes the annual event so impactful and deeply meaningful for so many?

The founders of Passion define the conference as “more than a conference” as it “exists to see a generation leverage their lives for what matters most… Jesus…”

Google defines the word “passion” as a “strong and barely controllable emotion.” Such an emotion entails a desire to unload the contents of one’s heart with utter abandon, like true love. Many Christians attest to having experienced this emotion early on in their Christian walk, but as time goes by, many find that the emotion weakens and becomes more controllable, the flame more quenchable, the gospel less awe-encompassing, the Christian lifestyle more routine, and the true love less true.

However, several Access members expressed that the Passion Conference played a significant role in resurfacing the passion of expressing their love to God that had slowly dissipated over time. Moreover, in various ways, the conference served to remind them of God’s passionate love as He exposed weaknesses in their hearts and expressed His grace as He prompted them to yield those areas to Him in different ways.

Laura shared that from the beginning of the conference, the Lord began exposing areas of herself that were not wholly committed to Him—areas of money, comfort, and self-centeredness. As Passion unfolded, the messages and challenges from each speaker shed more light on how the past year had found her pursuing her own happiness rather than pursuing higher priorities in her walk with God. She experienced a powerful moment on the final day of the conference:

“The last morning, I stood in prayer asking God to change the sinful desires in my heart and to create a clean heart within. A friend was impressed with the word ‘hope’ as she prayed for me.”

image-2As Laura considered the word, she was reminded of the hope in Scripture, that He who “began a good work” in her would bring it to completion. “There is hope for change in my heart because of Christ’s blameless walk, sacrificial death, victory over death, and the Holy Spirit that lives within me!”

Jordan added that his Passion 2017 experience resulted in a feeling of increased intimacy with the Lord, and upon leaving, he felt more grounded and emboldened in both his personal faith and ability to receive the love of Jesus in his life: “I believe that God opened my eyes to a lot of things… through my time spent at Passion.”

When Alaina reflects on the conference, she recalls the simple, powerful presence of God as one of the most outstanding features of the event. She felt her heart stir with “fresh, new focus” and “excited for all that the LORD is doing now in my life and how it is going to prepare me for all that he has in-store for my future.”

Ultimately, the Passion Conference resulted in more than just a gathering of Christian singles, more than just an experience, and more than just another memory. Rather, it served as a catalyst for transformation and reignited a flame of passion within many hearts. If asked how I would describe Passion 2017, I would call it a passion encounter, a passion renewal, a passion awakening, but overall, I agree that it meant so much more than just a passion conference. With a mission to encounter true love, true Love had encountered us.

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