Hoarse from translating God's word into English and Spanish, Michael Gonzalez's strained voice still wielded enthusiasm Saturday morning.
Mr. Gonzalez, 25, of Hollywood, Fla., was among thousands of young people visiting Augusta this weekend to participate in a regional conference sponsored by the Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal Movimiento Internacional, an organization of more than 134 churches across six Southeastern states.
Hispanic youth affiliated with the group's Asociation de Jovenes Embajadores de Cristo - Youth Association Ambassadors of Christ - arrived Thursday at Beulah Grove Baptist Church on Poplar Street for worship and friendship and to get down to business.
"God is our No. 1 priority," Mr. Gonzalez said. "And this is our biggest event."
Mr. Gonzalez, who serves on the Youth Association's southeast regional board, said the association promotes young adults' spiritual relationship with God and teaches leadership skills.
According to two adults supervising the conference, the Rev. David Rivera, of Tampa, Fla., and the Rev. Edgar Nazario, of Orlando, Fla., it's the young people who are responsible for a majority of the conference's planning and preparation.
Regional boards of elected officers have selected the conference's theme this year, based on Scripture from Job 42:5, organized the conference's worship programs and conducted board elections, the Rev. Rivera said.
"We're very proud to say they've come a long way," he said.
The conference is benefitting more than young adults.
The Rev. Reynaldo Ruiz, of the Pentecostal Church of God in Hephzibah, said the community feels a positive impact from Youth Association events.
With the CSRA's growing Hispanic population, Youth Association membership keeps young adults off the streets and provides them an opportunity to learn and worship, he said.
"It (the conference) is a lot of work, but it's a big blessing," the Rev. Ruiz said.
The conference provides lasting memories and learning experiences, Youth Association affiliates said.
Both Mr. Gonzalez and the Rev. Rivera witnessed young people desiring a more personal relationship with God crying and running to the church's altar during the conference.
"It was an awesome experience to see hundreds and hundreds of youth giving their lives to the Lord and accepting change," the Rev. Rivera said.
The congregations of Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal Movimiento Internacional is made up mainly of Hispanic men and women who hail from more than 15 countries, Mr. Gonzalez said.
The conference allows members to see, for example, "how our Mexican brothers and sisters worship the Lord," Mr. Gonzalez said.
Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.