The crowd of over 1,300 expected the Kasey Earl Band drummer and lead singer to kick off the first worship song signaling the beginning of the annual Lead>Defend Conference. Instead, before the first note played, Earl put aside his drumsticks to dramatically pause and look around the sanctuary full of college students, high school students, young professionals, campus ministers, and church leaders. “The potential in this room is amazing!” he said.
The annual Lead>Defend Conference, sponsored by the College + Young Leaders Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, took place February 29 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock. Every year, the event seeks to empower students through biblically-based mentors and culturally-relevant breakout sessions. In the first main session, Dr. Jim Denison spoke on Culture Shock: Why We Are Where We Are. The final main speaker, Abdu Murray, spoke on The Exclusivity of Christianity.
Murray, a former Muslim, is an author, speaker, lawyer, and senior vice president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Because he stands at 6 foot 8 and wears a size 15 shoe, he gave an impressive stage presence. He told his testimony of how he came to Christ after a nine-year search for the truth. Additionally, he reminded students to be gentle in discussing their faith with others. It’s a message homeschooler Allie Paris needed to hear. “It was really great, cool, how he talked about different worldviews, how to be respectful and connect with people, not putting people down,” said the high school junior. It’s not easy to not put people down for their beliefs which differ from hers, she said. “I tend to not have the kindest personality when it comes to someone else’s beliefs,” she said. “Abdu was my favorite,” said JP Wright, a junior at Ecclesia College. “The way he thought about stuff was more direct--you could tell he was a lawyer: it made more sense to me anyway.” Sam Novak, a senior at Ecclesia agreed. “He was very informative, enjoyable,” he said, “engaging to listen to.” Wright said he learned from Murray to not just stay on one side of an issue. “Make sure you balance watching stuff you believe and stuff you disbelieve,” he said. “It’s so you’re never surprised by an argument.”
One Ouachita Baptist University senior said she agreed with Earls’ assessment about the potential to influence a culture for Christ after attending the Lead>Defend conference. “I agree because this conference creates a platform for God to move in an individual’s life in terms of a believer to fulfill the Great Commission,” said Abigail Putterill, who served alongside her identical twin sister Eden to volunteer for the conference with about 30 others from across the state. Young people reach others their own age, she said. “As young people, we can reach a whole generation older people cannot,” she said, adding, “Our generation doesn’t have respect for the older generation, but if they see people their age living for the Lord, we can be missionaries for God.” The time to reach young adults for Christ is now, she said. “We’re in a transitional phase, at the greatest, most influential time. If we live according to His Word, that will have an enormous impact.” To her, the one-day event has lifelong benefits. “We don’t want to wake up at 70 years old and realize we did not live for the Lord,” she said. “(Lead>Defend) teaches us to live unapologetically for the Lord for the rest of our lives.”