It can get pretty rowdy at Oceans Church United on a Wednesday night. But it’s a good kind of noise. Youngsters, from middle schoolers to high schoolers, engage in high-energy activities that are part of Oceans’ Anchor Youth program.
“We don’t ever want it to feel stale,” said Kyler Morales, youth director.
“We want (Anchor Youth) to be full of life,” said Oceans co-pastor Dawn Panthin, who works with her husband, head pastor Shannon Panthin, and helps out with the youth program.
Youth night at Oceans also includes devotionals presented by Morales, Panthin and other youth leaders, snacks and singing. Through all of the activities, the leaders are able to develop personal relationships with the youngsters.
“All of the leaders do a good job of not making (Anchor Youth) stale and in building relationships,” said Morales.
“These kids are full of life, so we want Anchor Youth to reflect that,” said Panthin. “We want Anchor Youth to be full of life (and to include) all the energy and excitement that” kids bring to the program.
Morales, whom the Panthins met when Shannon was undergoing pastoral training at the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in Eagle River, is also going through a pastoral training program. He hasn’t decided if he will pursue a clergy position, but he is certain that, for the time being, he wants to work with youth.
Morales was 10 years old when the Panthins met him.
“We took a liking to him and his siblings,” said Panthin. “They’re very special to us.”
When Morales got older and more independent, he came to Kodiak to visit the Panthins. That’s when he started volunteering in the Oceans youth program
“God started (working) on his heart, saying ‘This is where you need to be right now,’” said Panthin. Morales “talked to us about it and we prayed about it. We felt great peace.”
Morales said that he draws on his experiences in the youth program at Harvest to give him insight into his current position.
Building relationships with the kids is a prerequisite to pouring Godly counsel into their lives, said Morales. Through that relationship, he hopes the youth “can get a better understanding of God. We’re super personal. The main thing we strive for is to make (the Bible and Christian faith) relatable and personal.”
“You want to build relationships with the teens so they can feel comfortable being in an environment (in which) they want to grow,” said Panthin.
He said the youth program “needs to be fun. It should be a place where (the youth) want to come. They can tell that Kyler loves them and looks forward to seeing them every single week. He wants to pour into them (the truth of Scriptures) so they can grow in their relationship with God, but he also wants to build a personal relationship with them to let them know” that they have value.
“Sometimes teenagers feel that no one cares,” Morales said, adding that they feel that adults think “they don’t really know” very much. “I got that when I was younger, ‘you’re just a teen.’ I want them to feel important, that they have value.”
Morales said he’s been going to church camps most of his life. He started helping out as a volunteer when he was 18. He’s now 22.
Panthin said that a lot of kids come to Anchor Youth and some are from other churches.
“We love it that they are planted, and their families are planted, in another church, but they love coming to Anchor youth. That’s representative of that community feel” in Kodiak, she said.
“We have a great mix of middle schoolers and early high schoolers, which is super cool,” said Morales.
Apparently, the kids agree that Anchor Youth is a “cool” activity that can’t be missed. One kid, who didn’t have a ride to the church, called a taxi for transportation.
“He was that committed,” said Panthin. When the leaders found out about the situation, they made sure that this youngster and other kids who didn’t have transportation would have a ride to Anchor Youth.
Panthin said that during the COVID-19 restrictions, the youth program has practiced safety precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing. The leaders look forward to summer activities, such as bonfires, hikes and game nights.
Morales said that the leaders would like to invite youth from other churches to participate in those activities.