In 2011, Kaleb Jorgensen was an inactive believer and very skeptical about religion.
That was before he became involved in Spoudazo, a Christian drama and music ministry that gives high school students a chance to grow in their faith, while forming friendships with those of similar interests.
Only one person asked Jorgensen to participate, but did so multiple times before he agreed.
“I was asked legitimately 50 times and it took the 50th time for me to say, ‘yes,’” Jorgensen said, adding, “She didn’t give up. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself – the person that I could be.”
The results were life-changing and today the Fremonter is adult faith formation leader of Spoudazo – now in its 30th year. As ministry leaders prepare for the 2023 summer event, they’re trying different ways — including social media and Sunday evening gatherings — to connect with students.
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Students from ninth grade through college freshman age are invited to get involved in Spoudazo. Students can come from any or no faith background.
Practices for the summer event start May 25 at First Lutheran Church in Fremont. Show rehearsals, which last from 7-11 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Fridays, begin with a short devotional. Students also break into small groups during rehearsal time for a Biblical topic discussion and snacks.
Practices continue until right before the John C. Fremont Days festival in July.
Students present their program at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, July 16, during the festival in the Chautauqua Tent in John C. Fremont City Park downtown. The group then goes on tour, which starts Tuesday, July 18, and runs through Sunday, July 23, when students present a performance at 7 p.m. at First Lutheran Church in Fremont.
The tour consists of six performances. On the road, students will perform at Minnesota and Iowa churches and for a chapel service at Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp in Milford, Iowa.
Performances take place at night. During the day, students can go sightseeing and hiking.
“We hope to go to Gooseberry Falls, north of Duluth (Minnesota). We’ll make a stop at the SPAM museum in Austin, Minnesota. It’s a fun place to stop,” said Dawn Koehlmoos, coordinator.
There’s a cost associated with Spoudazo, but financial assistance is available.
Those interested can call First Lutheran at 402-721-2959. Students can learn about Spoudazo through Instagram via _with.energy_ or the Spoudazo Facebook page or by attending the first rehearsal on May 25. Students also are invited to informal, no-cost gatherings from 6-9 p.m. Sundays at Clemmons Park. Students can bring friends and come and go as they choose. While there, they can sit and talk or even play volleyball or Frisbee.
Students don’t try out to be in Spoudazo.
“A lot of kids think they need to have a music or theater background, but I wasn’t in choir. I wasn’t an actor. I don’t a great singing voice, but I (participated) and it still was life-changing and fun,” said Shelby Fenner, adult leader.
About 17 teens from eight to 10 churches and 10 adults took part in Spoudazo in 2022. Leaders believe students benefit from Spoudazo and hope more participate this year.
“The main purpose is to experience the love of God and his grace,” said Jorgensen’s sister, Kialynne, an adult leader.
Adult leader Devan Varrelli also believes students benefit.
“As a group, the purpose is to make a performance that shares the message of God and the love of Christ,” Varrelli said. “On an individual level, I think it’s there to help individuals grow in their faith — as a participant — and learn more through doing the performance and the preparation.”
Fenner talks about what students gain.
“Some have entered Spoudazo not even believing in God and so Spoudazo is a safe space to explore and get to know who God is through music and small groups,” Fenner said.
Kaleb Jorgensen was a believer, but recalled his skepticism of the Christian faith before Spoudazo.
“I was told that Jesus loves me, but never could feel it,” he said.
That changed during his first time in Spoudazo.
The Saturday night of the tour, students sat around at campfire at the Okoboji camp and took turns sharing their life stories.
“In that moment, I was finally vulnerable and I let God in and I could honestly feel him hug me for the first time,” Jorgensen said. “It was in that moment that I knew that he was real and I never wanted to leave what this group is – so that’s why I’m still here 11 years later.”
Jorgensen graduated from high school and became a college leader. He served in that capacity for four years. He’s continued to serve students through this ministry since then.
“Now I get to write the devotionals that hopefully impact them as they did me,” Jorgensen said.
Both Kaleb and Kialynne Jorgensen believe students can make great friends through Spoudazo and Kaleb said it allows them to express their faith in fresh ways.
“We’d like to see it grow — something that’s meant so much to all of us,” Kaleb Jorgensen said, also noting Spoudazo’s 30-year history. “We want it to be around for 100.”