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Radical retreat challenges 600 youths to 'Be Last'
Recording artist Casey Darnell performed on opening night to kick off the D-Now retreat. - photo by Submitted photos
In a world that encourages teenagers to be the best, the fastest and the first, over 600 Rockdale County youths rushed to "Be Last." On March 27, students and leaders from local churches filled the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Conyers to experience a life changing weekend called DNowconyers09.

DNow stands for "Disciple Now Conyers," a local retreat that included sessions led by worship leader and recording artist Casey Darnell and author Jeremy Kingsley. Kingsley's book, "Be Last: Descending to Greatness," was used as the theme for the weekend.

"DNow Conyers 09 will help adults and students see that Jesus calls us to a revolutionary way of life -- a life that's counter cultural to our 'me-centered' culture. We are called to put Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last," said Kingsley.

Although many Rockdale churches have been hosting their own weekends over the past few years, this was the first year that they combined their efforts at
one site.

Pastors, youth ministers, college students, parents and many other volunteers from eight churches worked together to provide the retreat. Dr. Jeff Myers, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Conyers, said it took everyone working together to make the retreat a success.

"It's really remarkable how separate church entities came together for a larger purpose. No one can claim credit for the whole event," Myers said.

Worship sessions led by Darnell and Kingsley generated a variety of responses. Across the sanctuary, students could be seen singing along, raising their arms in praise or huddling in prayer.

"DNow really established a strong connection between me and Jesus with powerful speaking, worship music, and being surrounded by the Holy Spirit," said Mike Dontfraid, who participated in the event.

Each large group session was followed by small group discussions with host families. Each student was assigned a family throughout the weekend. Kay Bashum and her husband Mike opened their home to three boys, including their own.

"This is our third year. We've had eight kids come through," said Kay Bashum.
"DNow is kind of an advanced Sunday School course. It's a deep dive to see how to apply Christian principles in your life," Mike Bashum added.

During the weekend, there was even an opportunity for parents to join a session called Parent Now. Parents met to discuss how the weekend was going and were able to watch the program inside the sanctuary while it was being simulcast.
For Paul Perkins, student pastor at First Baptist, DNow was an opportunity for college students to maintain their passion and interest in spreading the Gospel.

"It's another way to encourage them that it's okay to be in school and feel this way about God," Perkins said.

"The kids are watching how we live. Some of them believe that if it works, then it's truth. We're teaching them that if it's truth, then it will work. God's message works," added associate student pastor Sheldon Landy.

In between sessions, students could be seen traveling in small groups to their next activity. One group stopped to share. Susan Reach was hosting 17 girls in her home. Her oldest daughter, Kate, was the small group leader.

"This is such a great time to fellowship with other believers. We're learning with each other. I'm learning just as much from them as they are from me. Being part of this experience makes it easier to talk to my sister," said Kate.

Registration provided students with meals, a copy of Jeremy's book, 'Be Last,' transportation and sessions. The T-shirts were printed with the theme of the weekend, "humility + service = greatness."

For many who attended, the back of Kingsley's book says it all. "In a world where people are driven tirelessly to climb the ladder that leads to power, wealth, fames and success, Jesus beckons us to boldly descend into greatness."