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“Extremely busy” is how Rebekah Gulledge describes her life. “It’s been two weeks since I’ve had a free day,” the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College sophomore said. Besides attending college, Gulledge is on staff at Metro Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) and very involved at Oasis Church, Downtown Little Rock. Still, Gulledge gave up Saturday, March 2, at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock to volunteer for an annual apologetics and leadership conference called Lead>Defend. “Lead>Defend is a priority for me,” she said. ”It’s an opportunity to reach out to students–not just college students and not just people from Little Rock–but all over the state. I get to talk about how to connect to the BCM and to church.” Gulledge was one of more than 750 who attended the one-day event which trains the next generation in apologetics and Christian leadership.

Senior Tra Hill said he’s given up his Saturday for Lead>Defend for four years. He plans to continue coming as a young professional after he graduates. “I enjoy learning how to defend my faith,” said the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff student who attends Watson Chapel Baptist Church. “At Lead>Defend you get teachings from people who have a whole lot of knowledge and wisdom.”

Students could choose from 20 breakout sessions which emphasized a biblical worldview led by Christ-centered leaders. “My favorite part of the conference was the breakout sessions, and one stood out the most: Race Matters,” said Hill. “The main thing he (facilitator Neal Scoggins) said was no matter the race, our intentions should be getting the gospel to everyone. Be willing to communicate what you know to people who look different.”

One associate pastor of students said this was their second time to bring high school students. “We went last year and really enjoyed the depths of teaching and preparation for college. We decided to go back,” said Justin Risley of First Baptist Church West Fork. He brought a junior and senior. “They loved it,” he said. Risley said the price of the conference and the quality of what you get for that price is “unmatched.” “Since we had such a smaller group, we were able to work it into our youth budget, so students did not pay anything for it,” he said. “We absolutely plan to go next year.”

The College + Young Leaders Team of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention which sponsored the event secured the main session leader, D.A. Horton, two years before. He’s a speaker, author and pastor of Reach Fellowship, a church plant in Los Angeles. 

Jared Farley, BCM campus minister at Henderson State University, said he especially liked the way Horton kicked off the conference. “He started off one of his main sessions with a Gospel spoken word/rap. It was probably about five minutes long and was an engaging way to start off the bat and catch some people’s attention,” he said. “D.A. was able to speak in a very relevant way to the students and knew what they may be struggling with.”

Arkansas State University sophomore Allison Laney from First Baptist Church Cabot agreed, calling Horton “very relational.” One thing he said stuck out to her. “He said, ‘Jesus makes all things new, not all new things.’” she said. “To me, it means we’re made where we are – not into something else but transformed into the life of Jesus.” She also liked how transparent he was. “I like how he spoke about himself not being perfect,” she said. “It makes you stop and think: if he’s not perfect, it’s okay to not be perfect. Only Jesus was perfect.”

In addition to training the next generation in biblical apologetics and leadership, the event raised $1,587 for the International Mission Board’s One Life Vision Project, an organization which gives vision screening around the world and presents the gospel while giving out glasses. 

Next year’s Lead>Defend will be February 29 at Immanuel Baptist Church featuring speaker Ravi Zacharias.

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