Pitch and Praise – It’s For Grandpa’s Too!

by contributing writer Brian Austin

How does a grandpa like me give a fair evaluation of a weekend with 1,500 youth? How do I measure the energy in that huge tent full of youth singing, clapping, and many of them dancing as they praise God? When the beat of the drums has my chest feeling like someone is doing CPR, how does an old guy like me still enter into the spirit of praise?


I love youth, but like many of my generation, I love them in small doses. I confess to a bit of trepidation in committing myself to this weekend. I enjoy the passion and energy of their music, but I long for some of the old hymns in the mix. I rarely give much thought to the bit of hair I have left, but I’d have gladly had enough to cover my ears so I could discretely wear ear plugs. I’m not a guy to dance and wave my arms, but there is something contagious about that many youth more focused on God than on what this old grandpa might think.

 Old school as I am, I’m uncomfortable when guys wear hats in church, especially during prayer. But there was no disrespect in the prayer times when hats were totally forgotten by everybody but me.

One of our own youth has this crazy talent for be-bopping. (Is there a right way to spell that?) He made it to the finals in the “Pitch Has Talent” competition with a huge fan club cheering him on. The laughter and cheering brought a wonderful and needed break from the sometimes intense soul-searching. I’d have arranged things a bit differently, especially giving a longer transition time between those soul-searching moments and the celebration – party-atmosphere times that followed so closely. Yet I find no room for criticism. I saw God touching lives. I heard God speaking into my own life.

It was no great sacrifice for me to go. Our youth are great kids and are worth it. I thought I was going primarily for them and was content with that. But it wasn’t just for them.

Little (perhaps not so little) things stood out. The weather threatened as we packed up to leave Friday afternoon. We drove through rain much of the way. But it was dry as we set up tents, and we had only one light shower during one of the main sessions. Nights were chilly but not freezing. We had times of brilliant sunshine followed shortly by light clouds. The weather was as close to perfect as you could ask for in May when sunburn and frostbite in any 24 hours are very possible. Dynamic speakers gave powerful challenges to these youth, yet still spoke strongly to this grandpa. Words of healing and worth were spoken to the broken and wounded.  “Power in the Blood,” one of those old hymns I love, boomed through the tent and beyond with passion I’ve never heard in those words before. I attended one workshop on prayer and found it rich and rewarding, especially as youth crammed into that room when there were a dozen other planned events they could be doing at the same time.

I came home exhausted, but full of hope for our youth and our world – and challenged in my own spirit to give of myself more fully in reckless abandon to God.

Brian Austin is a published novelist, poet, fish enthusiast, and church librarian. He has been an active part of HMC and it’s Resource Centre for more than 30 years. He and his wife live in Durham.  [Articles by Brian]

*photo courtesy of @pitchpraise on twitter

~ Marie’s Story ~

At Senior Youth a few weeks ago, after studying the story of David & Goliath, a few people were invited in to share about their own personal giants and how God helped them stand up and fight.  Marie Bezeau was one of them.

Marie has worked in the church office for a number of years and you’ll know her for her quick smile, welcoming personality, and deep love of people.  She had to face a huge Goliath in 2013 when her health was threatened in a terrifying way.

The following is her story, copied directly from her own notes…

[Watch Marie on YouTube]

I am not a speaker nor have I had professional training to speak to you tonight, but what I do have is God’s prompting to share my adventure. I have been through a lot in my life and know that there is much more to come, but this situation specifically has reminded me of the many blessings that we receive from God through his children, like me and you.

It was December 6th, 2013 that I returned home after 2 ½ months of being away from my family and friends, so let’s start at the beginning…

The night of September 22nd was a typical evening, a regular get the kids settled and geared up for Monday morning school routine.  I had a knot in my right shoulder blade – which is not a normal occurrence for me but I had heard other people describe this so I took a couple of Advil and off to bed I went.

On the morning of September 23rd, I woke up to a dull pain in the same location as the night before; within 1 hour and 15 minutes the pain had intensified to an almost unbearable level. I had a shower – no luck. Sat in a straight back arm chair- no relief. And then I stood up to try and walk it off- that’s when I lost all feeling and mobility from my chest down, toppling into our coach. After a bit of debate, Cory, my husband, called 911 and minutes later the ambulance attendants arrived. After a few routine questions they decided I needed to go into the emerg department. I was gracefully (not really) taken out of my home and transported to the Hanover Hospital, where I was met with a fellow HMC doctor who happen to be on duty that morning.

I was rolled into a waiting room, where I stayed until the Dr and staff determined what the next step was. During that time I remember friends and co workers coming in and out to see how I was and what was going on. They all had concerned and scared faces, but also offered loving and caring words to Cory and I. The decision was made and I was then transported down to London’s Victoria Hospital. I went alone….

My husband went to talk to our 3 children who had went to school, so he went to make arrangements for them and get things for me as we both had no idea what was going to happen. He then left Hanover and made the trip down to the emerg room in London to join me in the waiting game there to see what their next steps for me would be. In our time in the emerg area – which ended up being a total of 12 hours – I went in for a cat scan, and then an MRI.  That was the test that proved what they needed to get the ball rolling.

The spinal surgeon had been reviewing the tests I had been taking since I had arrived and the MRI findings peaked his interest.  We were told by the intern that the MRI had shown a mass of sorts that concerned the surgeon enough that he would be going in for a closer look.  Yes, that meant surgery in the morning.

Just to be told there is a mass and oh by the way, you’re having surgery was not that comforting…but away we went to be admitted for the night and to await surgery the next morning. We headed to the 9th floor and were met by the welcoming nurse team of what seemed like 10 nurses ready to get me comfortable for the evening. Within minutes though of arriving in the room one nurse came in and said that I was needed right away in the OR. There was no waiting for the morning, the surgery was happening NOW.

This was a blessing for sure – a quick short turn around (although it was technically 3ish in the morning anyway so I guess that could have been considered the next morning).

I came through the surgery. They were able to remove a blood clot. I did need a couple of blood transfusions but all was well. I was back getting settled in my room by 10:30am that morning. My husband, pastor and friend were there awaiting my arrival, and was I glad to see them!

As I settled in and tried to get comfortable my nurse came in, who was high energy, smiling, full of happiness and hope, a male nurse with faith like a mustard seed, HUGE. He said “hi, do you believe in a faith?” I answered yes. “Do you believe in God?” he was quick to ask. I answered “yes” and that sealed the deal. He went on to assure me of God’s love and caring and that everything would be just fine! I was shocked and comforted at the same time, I didn’t think speaking so bluntly about faith was okay in a public hospital setting.  Well God proved me wrong didn’t he!?

 I saw many nurses come and go and he made an appearance a couple times but his fellow male co-worker, also a nurse that had me on his rounds, and well, I think you know what I am going to say… You’re right! His first question to me was, “do you have faith?” I chuckled and talked about my faith and his and my church and church family.  What a great conversation in the wee morning when they have to check on you and do their duties but filling my spiritual tank as well. God was consistent in reminding me that his children were all around me even though I was away from my home and everything familiar.

I was told and they explained that I had had a blood clot that had formed in the area around my right shoulder blade and had been pushing/squishing my spinal cord which cause the paralysis from my chest down. The surgeon explained that after much investigation there is no reason this happened to me, and his hope or phrase that he left me with was “lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice”.

So, moving forward they had workers come in and try to get me to move my legs and also get me to sit up with and without help. Not an easy accomplishment…I spent a week and a half with the staff at Victoria and was able to sit on the side of the bed with two people helping for a very short amount of time, as well as wiggle my right big toes sporadically. I received visits, cards, gifts, prayers and many calls from friends and family.

Then I was told, “you’re going back to your home hospital…” you see that normally would have been thrilling news but during my stay it was explained that because of my injury the best place for me to start my recovery was a facility right across the road, I mean literally across the road from Victoria. Emotions ran high as they told me that I not only was I heading home but I was going within the hour. God knew what I needed though…He had a plan…I just didn’t know it yet.

Off I went rolling out of the 9th floor and heading back to the Hanover Hospital on October 4th. I arrived into the Hanover emerg entrance late into the evening and was taken to the 2nd floor to get admitted and settled in. A familiar face greeted me as the nurse doing my information taking was the mother of my son’s schoolmate. Emotions still were on high alert, I was scared, confused, and angry.

As I tried to settle into a hospital that I was not convinced was the place I was supposed to be in, I was flooded with love, visits, spoiled with treats, I was serenaded, received physio off the clock, flowers, smiles, hugs, encouragement and I was even brought pumpkin pie. My family was being taken care of in ways that were overwhelming at times. This was a time of thankfulness beyond understanding for Cory and I.  It was so difficult for us to accept the outpouring of love, financially and with words and cards. What I realized as I pouted, and complained is that God knew what I needed, and I was focused on what I wanted. He won. He brought all of these blessings to my family and especially me, as He knew that my love tank needed to overflow before my next part of my recovery journey.

October 21st marked an early but exciting morning for me. This was the morning I was finally heading to London and was going to be admitted to the spinal cord rehab centre at Parkwood. So, as I rolled out of the Hanover Hospital, I said goodbye to a second set of nurses that play a large part in my recovery up to that point. I left being able to sit up at the side of the bed unassisted for a couple of minutes, able to raise my leg for seconds, wiggle my legs and softly stomp my foot.

I was once again met with a nurse that was to become my primary nurse and she was a woman of faith that would be present throughout my stay and encouraging daily. Being in a hospital setting was not something that I had experienced until this, so roommates scared me a little. I had had a couple in Hanover and I had survived but the princess in me was hoping for a private room to myself…no such luck. Now, my roommate was still to arrive a few days after I had settled in but I prayed daily that God would help me through and bring the right person to continue on my recovery with. I shared my concerns as the nurses and I were getting to know each other, and they reassured me that I had nothing to worry about, my roommate was an absolutely wonderful person, and an amazing lady. Her name was PENNY.

She arrived in rough shape but as a few days went by I realized that the reason I had to be in Hanover so long, put on the waiting list for Parkwood was to be placed in the right order to have Penny as my roommate. What a plan the Lord had, and if I would have had my way I would have had a completely different situation.

Now back to Penny, what an inspirational person! She lived up to every comment the nurses and staff spoke about her. She was a person who has been in her wheelchair for 50 years and counting, and had helped out on the very floor of Parkwood that we were living on, in a supportive role to those residents who were in the rehab program. Do you know what that meant…I had my very own support person 24-7. Her wisdom was beyond my understanding about my situation and all the things that come with it medically and mentally. Her family embraced me whenever they were there to visit – they sat and chatted with me just like I was one of them. What a blessing!

She let me know the day I was leaving that I brought a few things to her as well: my visible faith, the love and caring of my church family and a caring for her and her family. I was able to talk through her faith, which was very minimal because of her past…she loved hearing about my church family back in Hanover, and the care that was being extended to Cory and the kids.

As my recovery progressed, I was consistently called and encouraged or sent cards and emails to keep that strength up and the motivation to keep pushing through.

My stay at Parkwood was as comfortable as could be expected. I mean I was still in a hospital and being asked about things that I wouldn’t have conversations about normally but how that changes when you are in that arena for 6 weeks removed from the world. I had two appointments every day which before I got there I thought, no no I need more, I want to get moving and fast, well…the body doesn’t quite work that way and learning to walk again, stand again, even lift yourself up from laying to sitting is HARD.  I did have consistent thoughts of babies and how we are so quick to encourage them to sit up and stand without being able to remember just how much energy that takes. One word: exhausting!

My day to day routine was filled with the work of exercise – oh, side note: we chose to call any exercise, “activities” cause I was more apt to want to do them and bless their hearts they did change the word just for me! Oh I was a complainer! Good gracious! But they still loved and cared for me anyway.

As my time neared the end of my 6 week stay at Parkwood I was told that my house would need a few things to make it a safe transition for me to be able to return home. I had a weekend leave, which allowed me to returned home to Hanover and Penny was able to lend her portable ramps so that I could get into my home. But the realization was a few weeks later when I was to be released I was not going to have those portable ramps…what were we going to do?…We prayed…and the blessing of a few great men showed up on a rainy December day and constructed a full functioning, legally angled entrance way and ramp that would allow me to comfortably enter my home without worry. A blessing? You bet! It is still there today as a reminder of not only how far I have come and what I have been through but the generosity of God’s people once again.

There were many milestones that I had as I moved forward in my adventure there, the most important as I look back was my very first step. There was a trial run step that was pretty disastrous, meaning my brain said walk and my leg said “nope”. On November 27th I stood up in the parallel bars and with someone in front of me I held on tight and took a very memorable first step that led to many many more. I had a realistic goal for my stay at Parkwood, which was to stand and walk with a walker, I didn’t quite walk out of Parkwood with a walker but the few days before I left I was lapping the physio gym with one.

When I returned home December 6th I entered the house on that wonderfully built ramp, and was met by Cory and the kids who were smiling ear to ear, my wonderful friend Cindy, and my mom who had flown up from Nova Scotia to help out the family my first week home.

My progress continued to move forward and I set another goal for myself once I was settled in and decided that by spring I was going to walk out of my house as unassisted as possible. Well that beautiful spring day came and I did exactly that!

This has been my adventure, there are many other adventures off the main story, but, that is for another time. My hope is as I stand in front of you that God will stir and remind you of the many blessings you have personally received and even those that you yourself have given to others. If it weren’t for God’s children listening to the promptings of God throughout my adventure it would have been so much harder to get through.

Special thanks to Marie for allowing us to share her incredible story!

Snow Camp 2015

Over the last few years there has been a great push towards strengthening relationships between various age groups – a lot of focus on mixing generations and age demographics in an effort to solidify the Biblical call for us to be one body in Christ.

“so in Christ we, though many, form one body,
and each member belongs to all the others.”

Romans 12:5

In keeping with this focus, for the first time ever, the Junior Youth Group was invited to join the Senior Youth Group for our traditional HMC Snow Camp weekend retreat.  “Doing something new often causes apprehension,” says Karen Krotz, coordinator of the Senior Youth program at HMC. “It raises questions like Why am I doing this?  Why change things when it has worked perfectly fine the same way for many years?  What happens if it doesn’t go well?”  The questions really could go on and on.

The age range between a seventh grader and twelve grader is huge.  The shift in dynamics had to be considered during planning and changes had to be made to accommodate a wider age range but, much to the delight of Karen and the other leaders, “our younger youth joined in all the activities – including the talent night…and our senior youth welcomed them into what used to be ‘their’ weekend with open arms.”

hanover missionary church snow camp group photo

“What a great bunch of kids,” reported Jason McDougall, who helps his wife, Melissa, with coordinating the Junior bunch.  “I bunked with the junior high boys and LOVED it.  Stayed up late, told stories, laughed, and learned as much from them as they did from me.”

The weekend was a time of getting to know the kids better through play, learning, and relaxing together and it was all possible because of the great team of volunteers that were there. From the
leaders to the volunteers in the kitchen to all the incredible prayer support and encouragement from the church family.

“God is good,” Jason shared. “It was a privilege to watch the kids grow as a group – to learn, and laugh, and play.  I enjoyed my weekend with them and the other leaders… and we are all looking forward to doing it over again next year.”

“Was it a success?” Karen asks.  “Are we glad we tried it?  Do we do this again next year?” 

And her answer to these questions is a resounding, “YES!”

Watch the Snow Camp video on YouTube

See the full photo gallery on Facebook

Alanna Rusnak shares her life with her husband, three children, and a cat she’s trying hard not to love.  She has attended HMC for her entire life and been on staff since 2003, currently fulfilling the role of Creative Communications.  You can find her over at her own blog, SelfBinding Retrospect.

Senior Youth Snow Camp

Guest Post by Brian Austin (youth leader)

More than once, Snow-Camp has been celebrated in half-frozen mud, but this year it fully lived up to its name. We rolled into Riverview Bible Camp near Scone at about 5:30 P.M. on Friday. Minus the bus, every vehicle was packed with bags and bodies, kids wound up and raring to go. The more “mature” types were also pretty keyed up, although many of us had already put in a long day. We’d made an earlier trip with sound equipment, cardboard and carpeting to help keep feet dry. – And food! Do you know how much it takes to feed a bunch of teens for a weekend? Everyone got somewhat settled, then we headed to the gym.
We started with a few announcements followed by a surprise Birthday Party for someone reaching that magic age when the government offers an early pension. I did say “Senior” Youth, didn’t I? But these teens are a wonderful bunch and I’d be a proud Grandpa to any or all of them.
Jasmine Koch and her team led us in worship at each session. For our first session Mike Krotz read scripture passages and the limited background information the Bible gives about Barabbas (the murderer released during Jesus’ trial when Jesus was sent to the Cross). Then Barabbas himself, somehow bridging 2000 years, shared his view of events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. Special speakers, Yorge & Melissa Von Hatten Baer shared with openness and vulnerability before we broke into smaller groups for more in-depth discussion.
Saturday and Sunday mornings saw leaders crowding around the coffee pot before an early meeting and prayer time, then youth devouring pancakes, toast and cereal. Basketballs threatened tables of food in the gym, as well as heads and chairs. Rousing games of Dutch Blitz had hands slapping and voices shouting. The wildest game, exhausting in knee-deep snow had two teams defending snow towers. Even our senior Pastor got into the fray. One of our younger youth seemed to find sitting on Pastor Jason warmer than sitting in the snow itself, and took great pride in his achievement. The old guy of the weekend isn’t sure he wants to be remembered for repeatedly attacking his Pastor, dragging him off the tower and throwing him into a snow-bank. He is also pretty sure that some games weren’t meant for Grandpas.
Rebecca Grierson braved nasty road conditions to bring our Saturday night banquet, made even more delicious with the appetites our romp in the snow created. Semi-Formal attire did not dampen enthusiasm for wild and crazy pictures, the portrait studio presided over by Heather Winkels and Kristina Dyck.
Yorge & Melissa shared twice on Saturday and again Sunday morning. We had great fun and a wonderful spirit prevailed with an openness, honesty and vulnerability that enriched youth and leaders alike. It’s not always that fun and spiritual richness happen together, so we are truly thanking God.  Our final session included a quiet reflective time, with six stations youth and leaders could visit as they chose. These included: “Give it to God,” “Cross Training,” “A Word of Encouragement,” “Prayer Requests,” “Items of Praise,” and “Communion.” Tears could be seen in youth and adult eyes a number of times.

Thank You. . .

  • to Mike and Karen Krotz for leadership. It takes a team to make a retreat like this work, but every team needs leadership. Yours is guided by a love for God and a love for every one of these kids.
  • to all volunteers, those who stayed for the full weekend and those who came in to help with one or more meals.
  • to those who prayed for us.
  • to Allan and Marie Edgcumbe for providing and maintaining a wonderful facility where God’s presence is always invited.
  • to each teen. It really is great fun being with you. We learn so much from you any time we let ourselves.
  • Most of all, Thank You to God, for meeting with us, for safety and protection, for touching hearts and minds.  

{stay tuned for photos and a video from the event}

The Joys & Tears of Youth Ministry

I remember it like a grainy film – that first night – like some tragic drama playing in painful slow motion.  Me, glued to the back floor of that room that helped to shape me through those years of molding up into the adult I’d become, eyes wide and terror gripped tight against my chest at the sight of all those crazy kids.  I was only a few years older but I felt our differences like a violent culture shock that spun me in a dizzying jet-lag and I knew I couldn’t do it.  I knew I couldn’t relate.  I knew I couldn’t make a difference.

I wanted to sink.  I didn’t know how to be relevant.  I didn’t understand how my presence could minister.  I felt angry with the youth pastor who had approached me – a young, brand new mom – and tricked me into agreeing to this nightmare.  I felt stupid and uncomfortable and peripheral.

I went home that night and cried, giant tears of ‘not good enough’ and ‘I have nothing to give’.  I wanted to quit.

“You’re not a quitter!” my husband reminded me.  And I wasn’t.  But I had this idea that I needed to be exactly what my old youth leader had been: loud, charismatic, bubbling up with scriptures appropriate to every single situation that presented itself.  That wasn’t who I was nor could I ever force myself to be that.  What then, was my calling?

And then, as I battened down the hatches of my self-deprecation it occurred to me in some obscure light-bulb kind of moment:  I didn’t have to be relevant.  I only had to be real.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Isaiah 40:29

I faced my second Friday night with lighter shoulders and a determination that helped me find my footing on the slippery slope of teenager chaos.  And I found myself smiling.  I realized there was joy in letting go of my own fears.  It become startlingly clear that all I needed to do was LOVE.  And by loving on these kids I was ministering into their lives in ways much deeper than I ever could with words.

And then, as weeks turned into months turned into years, something incredible happened – I was the one being blessed.  These kids had turned my ministry of love back on me and I soaked it up like a thirsty sponge.

This is the reason behind it all: to see the love of Christ reflected in the eyes and hearts of kids once thought too broken or worldly to change.  To see that love reaching out into a community darkened by a fallen world.  To watch your own heart soften to their hardness.  To watch that hardness dissolve.  To claim victory when a soul is won.  To celebrate together.  To cry together.  To see God’s hand in the little things.  What could ever be more rewarding?

There have been many favorite moments – memories that capture the essence of what this ministry means – but there is one, for me, that is set apart.  So simple, yet so drenched in the selfless purpose of what it all boils down to…

T-shirts are thrown from the main stage to promote the merchandise tent.  There’s a dive for it – like single girls going after a wedding bouquet.  Five guys and a boy about eight. The little boy gets knocked around and one of our youth wins the fight over the shirt. The boy goes back to his mother, crying, hurt and disappointed.  He sits in his chair, tears on his cheek, arms crossed, shoulders shaking.  When our guys realize he’s hurt they take the t-shirt and give it to the little boy.  He refuses to look at them, taking the shirt without raising his eyes, his mother saying thank you for him.  The shake of his shoulders stills. He unfolds the shirt carefully, checking out his prize, tracing the design with a finger.  A small smile starts to spread across his face.  He hugs his mother.  And I’m fighting back tears like a blubbering idiot and am so ridiculously proud of our guys that I want to hug them…for giving up the shirt they got grass-stains on their own by fighting over.


(This story was first shared here.)

There are moments that stretch you beyond what you thought you could bear.  There are days that leave you feeling breathless – like you could never go on.  There are words spoken that break you.  But never has there been a moment when I felt regret for the time I gave to this ministry.  Never (since that first night) did I think it was all for not.  It has made me better.  It has taught me patience, faith, grace.  It has taught me to love without limits.  How could you not want a piece of that?

And now there is a call.  Will you step beyond your boundaries?  Immerse yourself in something that, like it did me, scares you to death?  Will you give of yourself – even if it hurts?  Will you be Jesus to a youth?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8

  Alanna Rusnak shares her life with her husband, three children, and a cat she’s trying hard not to love.  She has attended HMC for her entire life and been on staff since 2003, currently fulfilling the role of Creative Communications.  You can find her over at her own blog, SelfBinding Retrospect.