Every summer, hundreds of students venture to Summer Camp with Seacoast Church’s Custom Students’ Ministry. In July 2022, Pastor Becky Johnson served as the keynote speaker for high school and talked about her mission to help young people encounter the same love and power of God that radically changed her own life as a teenager.
Growing up with a single mother, who struggled with substance abuse, Becky, at 16, got into legal trouble. As “punishment,” her mother made Becky attend church with her aunt. Angry and reluctant to be there, Becky would sit in the back with dark eye makeup and clothes to match.
Yet every week, she noticed how people in the church genuinely cared for her. One Sunday, Becky received a worship and prayer CD from a teenager in the church. The next day, while she listened to it, hearing the prayer of youth pastor, Banning Liebscher, Becky began sobbing. Feelings of worth and love overwhelmed her, replacing the shame she had carried for so long. Now years later, Becky works with this same pastor who spoke that life-changing prayer on the CD she’d been given.
Becky wanted to pass on to others, the words of the prayer that changed her life. At Summer Camp, she gave a special message crafted for youth about living fully for God and not for the world. Students, Autumn Sickels and Vivian Hayslip were in the audience that day—and each had a unique encounter with God because of Becky’s message. Our words really do matter.
Autumn Sickels knew the voice she heard was not coming from someone in the room. Loud and clear, it came from somewhere inside herself. “This is a time I called for you. It’s now time to follow me.”
The last night of high school Custom Summer Camp 2022, the energy was high, the auditorium full of teenagers gathered to worship God and to hear a message from speaker, Becky Johnson. Autumn had been listening intently and taking notes as fast as she could, writing down, You can’t say yes to God and the world. To access what God has for you, you have to fully commit to him. The truth of Becky’s words spoke to Autumn’s spirit, and that was when she heard God’s voice. In tears, she ran to share her experience with her small group leaders, Jen Mallin and Leah Evans.
“To have Autumn, this beautiful child of God,” Jen said, “feel the Lord’s presence at camp filled my heart with joy and awakened me to why I am serving as a leader. When she came to me it helped me fully understand why our faith is fulfilled in relationship with the Lord and with others.”
Autumn, 15, at the time, knew she had been living more for “the world,” the mainstream culture, hanging out with friends who gossiped and “jokingly” made fun of her. “This would always put me in a grumpy mood,” she said, “because there really is no joy or satisfaction that comes with putting others down.”
For hours a day, she would scroll social media, comparing herself to others and saddened by seeing what her friends were doing without her. Looking back, Autumn wishes she had used that time to read the Bible, start a new hobby, get better grades in school, and exercise. “Social media was keeping me from becoming the better version of myself that God created me to be because it was draining me and taking all my time.” Autumn knew she needed to make changes and start living differently.
Although she had accepted Christ in fifth grade, she had not really understood the meaning behind her decision. Now, at 16, she committed to learning more about God and focusing on that relationship. Because of it, she saw friendships drift away. “When becoming a follower, you have a different mindset on life, different goals for your future, and you spend your time differently. I was now living a life for Jesus, and they were in a different place, so our friendship didn’t work well anymore,” Autumn said.
Upset, at first, about the loss of friendships, Autumn soon realized that God would not do anything to hurt her. He brought different people into her life to hold her accountable to grow in her faith—like girls in her small group, whom she could depend on for support and to celebrate with her in times of joy.
Now, Autumn wants to use the wisdom that God has given her to help others. “I want to be the person who people can come to when they need someone to listen or to give advice on a situation,” Autumn said. “I want them to feel joy from being around me.”
"Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."John 15:2 (ESV)
Autumn clings to her word of the year: “grapevine.” Like in John 15:1–8, God has cut and pruned branches by removing friend groups, social media habits, music genres, and certain TV shows. He has replaced them with “good fruit”—small group friends, worship music, and new hobbies, like crocheting and baking. She makes time to read her Bible and pray. Autumn now understands her purpose is sharing the love of Jesus with others. “If I act different, then they will see something different.”
In August 2022, Autumn’s family and small group leaders proudly attended her baptism, where she and several other students publicly declared their commitment to Christ. “God’s going to take all of the areas
of my life that aren’t pleasing to him,” she said, “and he’s going to turn it for better, so I can be made into the image that he’s calling me to.”
Fourteen-year-old, Vivian Hayslip was happy. She enjoyed middle school, time with her friends, and running cross- country. But in the summer of 2021, her family moved from Georgia to South Carolina, and everything changed.
Starting high school in a new place, fitting in, and making new friends was hard. “Friendships were negative, hostile, a lot of drama and beating each other down,” Vivian said. “They didn’t feel like friends.”
Unfamiliar feelings of anxiety and depression crept in, and Vivian began isolating herself, disconnecting from her family. She was angry with God for letting all of this happen to her. She hadn’t grown up as a Christian, but while lying in bed one night, she asked God for solutions she knew he wouldn’t give her...Make it all go away. Make me go away.
Vivian ate less and less, following a path toward anorexia. “It was very dark, the most draining time in my life,” Vivian said. “I didn’t want to get better. I didn’t see the point in getting better.”
Despite her parents’ efforts to talk to her and help, she could hardly drag herself out of bed. “I was not healthy in any capacity,” Vivian said. Therapy helped temporarily, but she ended up back in the same, dark place. “I was so anxious; I would text my mom to pick me up from school. The depression had taken over my life.”
Her family’s worries and stress over her, weakened their relationship. Her mom was at a loss for what to do about her daughter’s apathy for life.
Out of desperation, her parents accepted an invitation from their house-sitter to attend Seacoast Church in early 2022. “It was so welcoming,” Vivian said. “Although all of the people were unfamiliar, everything felt right. Something felt different there, and I believed it could change me.”
Vivian found a safe place to learn about Jesus, and soon joined a Custom Student Ministry small group
with girls her age, who met weekly at a leader’s home and again during Sunday worship services. “There is a fog that covers everything making it hard to see the good, yet at the lowest moments, you have nowhere else to go but up. Surrendering is the only real way out,” Vivian said about letting God take control of her situation. That spring, she accepted Christ and took a step toward healing.
Signing up for Custom Summer Camp at the last minute turned out to be one of the best decisions she ever made. Something the keynote speaker, BeckyJohnson said, really resonated with her. “You can’t say yes to God and choose the world. If you choose the world, you can never fully love God.” Although Vivian had begun a relationship with Christ, Becky’s words gave her perspective on how to live out her faith.
The last night of camp, Vivian joined a circle of teenagers she didn’t know, but with whom she felt a deep connection. They were genuine and caring, exactly the kind of friends she had wanted since moving to Charleston. “After camp, everything seems magical,” she said. “You have the spark inside you to spread the Gospel and live the life Jesus designed for us.” Shortly thereafter, she decided to be baptized.
But even with her newfound excitement and faith, as summer passed, painful memories from freshman year resurfaced, making her dread returning to school. Although she still attended her small group, many of those friends went to other schools or were in different classes.“ I was stuck inside my head forgetting every true thing I knew,” she said.
"After camp, everything seems magical. You have the spark inside you to spread the Gospel and live the life Jesus designed for us.”
Her small group leader, Jen Mallin, saw Vivian’s change in demeanor. “I see this happy-go-lucky young girl who loves the Lord with all her heart and soul, but struggles with so much in the same breath.” This time, however, Vivian had a team to surround her in prayer and offer encouragement, even when her parents told her she would be going to a Christian mental health center in Florida.
“It shakes up your entire world being told one day after school that you are going away for three months,” Vivian said. But her time at the clinic proved to be very healing. “I realized I need him [Jesus] more than anything, and I don’t want to drift away from him. I needed to surrender—accept that I am not able to fight this battle on my own.”
“It truly gave rest to my soul,” her small group leader said, “that Vivian was exactly where she needed to be while in therapy and God was following right beside her.”
In Florida, Vivian kept a scrapbook of encouraging notes from her small group, and after returning home, let them know how meaningful their words had been for her.
Vivian credits God with reigniting the spark inside her to live the life he wants for her. “As I learn to forgive myself and treat myself as I would treat another, my entire perspective on life continues to shift.”
She wears a bracelet with the word tetelestai: Greek for “it is finished.” It reminds her that because of what Jesus did on the cross, she doesn’t have to return to that same dark place. “Even when I take the wrong path, I can just get back on the right path. I now have a group of my closest friends, ones that I can grow with and who know Christ.” Now, 16, Vivian is becoming that joyful teenager once again.