"Something's Happening" Provides Inside Look at GYC's Founding Story

Y. Suzanne Ócsai, a 2014 art and journalism graduate of Southern Adventist University and graphic designer for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, has torn the curtain, from top to bottom, on the story of the Generation of Youth for Christ (GYC) movement. In her 202-page book, "Something’s Happening: The Behind the Scenes Story of GYC," Ócsai uncovers the untold story of a handful of young Adventists who started a youth convention that now draws thousands annually.

The book was published as a Kindle e-Book in December, 2014.

The Adventist Today Foundation published "Something's Happening" after GYC leaders pulled their support for the book and denominational publishers, who had signalled interest early on, backed out of the project.

From page one, the book is rife with controversy. In the book's introduction, Adventist Today Foundation Executive Director Monte Sahlin reveals that Ócsai had partnered with GYC leadership until they became uneasy with some of the passages she pushed to have included in the final manuscript.

“She began writing this book with the cooperation of the GYC leadership with the intention that it would be published by one of the denomination’s publishing houses. When she found and felt that she must honestly report certain aspects of the story, the GYC leaders withdrew their support and the publishing houses were no longer willing to be involved with the project” (Kindle location 22-25).

Despite its precarious beginnings, AT board members believed the book contained a story that needed to be told.

“The Adventist faith has little if any future in North America unless it carefully nurtures the next generation. That requires listening to key voices in that generation,” Sahlin wrote.

That Ócsai had the support of GYC leaders until after she had concluded her research allowed her unparalleled access to quotes from founders’ personal emails, intimate familial conversations, and private GYC board meetings dating back to GYC’s organization in 2001.

Ócsai was given access to a December 2001 email exchange between co-founder Justin Kim and Andrea Oliver, the young woman who became the first president of the group, originally called "General Youth Conference."

…A friend and I have recently been talking about things, especially the spiritual condition of American collegiate, high schoolers, grads, young people, etc,” Kim wrote. “We believe God has given us a vision; not a literal Daniel-like vision, but a burden or plan […] I don’t want to say much. But if you are interested or if God has given you a similar ‘vision,’ tell me what’s up. Good Luck on the rest of your finals" (Kindle location 274-287).

"Something's Happening" describes the extensive planning that went into organizing the first GYC meeting held in 2002 at Pine Springs Ranch in Southern California. GYC leaders, made up of a small group of college-aged Adventists, scrambled to find enough funding for the project, using their parents’ credit cards to help cover the initial costs. They feared nobody would show up.

Judy Namm, another key player in GYC’s early days, had her own fears before the first conference:

Judy felt like a lot of the donors were just giving because they were either friends or related to someone in the group and were being nice because they loved them not because believed in what these kids were trying to accomplish. And besides that, who was going to come? They didn’t know" (Kindle location 467-469).

Ócsai also addresses Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, a one-man issue facing GYC founders. Today, Pipim is known for his “moral fall,” his own euphemistic description of several instances of forcing young women to have sex with him against their will. His June, 2014 re-baptism into the Seventh-day Adventist Church drew sharply polarized reactions. Ron Halverson, the president of the Ohio Conference where the re-baptism took place, distanced himself from the re-baptism and said that the conference would not recognize or endorse any attempt by Pipim to be reinstituted as a pastor. Although Pipim's “moral shortcomings” did not come to light until many years later, Pipim still attracted controversy in GYC's ealry days because of his militant, conservative viewpoints on a wide range of topics.

The book reveals how deeply connected Pipim was to GYC’s founders. It was through his work as the director of C.A.M.P.U.S. (Center for Adventist Ministry to Public University Students) that Justin Kim, along with co-founder Israel Ramos, became inspired to create the association of youth groups that would evolve into the GYC.

“He [Ramos] envisioned all these different young adults who were starting various ministries and campus outreach projects and Sabbath school groups coming together and experiencing a deeper sense of revival" (Kindle Locations 204-205).

The young GYC leaders were drawn to Pipim’s conservative beliefs, and as such, often looked to him as a leader or mentor. Likewise, Pipim claimed the GYC as an outreach from his work at C.A.M.P.U.S..

According to Ócsai, James Black, the North American Division Youth Director at the time, drew a straight line from Pipim to the GYC: “[I]t always seemed like GYC was a ‘Sam Pipim organization’ and that it was an initiative of the Michigan Conference” (Kindle location 1501-1505).

Pipim’s involvement was not the only obstacle the GYC movement faced. People, including the many officials in the GC and NAD Youth Department, had a hard time understanding exactly what GYC was and why GYC leaders were holding youth conferences separate from NAD sponsored events. Young adults were attending these conferences and then returning to their home churches inspired to start similar ministries. This seemed like an affront to their home conferences, as these young adults often chose to operate outside their home conferences guidance or means. NAD Youth Conference Leaders wondered if the GYC encouraged this separation intentionally.

Ócsai suggests that these early questions led to a large, and well-known, gap between the GYC and the General Conference:

“The youth leaders didn’t mind whether GYC members sang solely hymns or not. What bothered them was that GYC seemed to possess an aura that they were holier than the rest of the Church— above supporting those who would plan or attend Church sponsored youth events. It didn’t leave a good impression” (Kindle location 1337-1339).

"Something’s Happening" references Spectrum to describe the dissonance between those who resonated with the conservative GYC worship style and those who would not: “The GYC crowd couldn’t work with the Spectrum crowd and vice a versa” (Kindle location 1352-1353).

Ócsai describes a back-and-forth struggle between the GYC and GC that lasted for years as they tried to learn to work together. When GYC leaders would do something that worried church officials, communication between the two groups was strained. While in some ways GYC felt honored that they GC cared what they did, it was also frustrating. “The [Church leaders] didn’t seem to be coming out to correct GYC as their child, but instead it seemed they were coming to silence GYC as the bully who was beating up on their kids” (Kindle Locations 1627-1628).

While the relationship between the General Conference, the Generation of Youth for Christ, and Samuel Pipim monopolizes a large part of the book, Ócsai also dedicates many chapters of the book to describing the transitional periods for GYC when founding leaders began to step down and step away from the organization and new young adult leaders emerged, including Justin McNeilus. She tracks GYC’s development from a small tribe of young adults to the large, well-oiled machine that it is today.

Coming to this book as someone without prior knowledge of the GYC, I found it overwhelming at times to keep track of all the early board members and the collective youth groups they came from. I found myself flipping back to remember the background of the person I was reading about. However, after my initial confusion, I was drawn deeply into the story and didn’t come up for air until finishing the book. When I was done, I could not help looking up some of the founders to see what they are doing now, and even asking my peers about their experiences with GYC.

The book is heavy on Adventist jargon, and for that reason I might not recommend it to someone who does not have a basic understand of Adventist culture and structure.

Ultimately, the way "Something’s Happening" gets inside the Generation of Youth for Christ and its impact on the General Conference is a rarity that likely will not occur again. The access author Suzanne Ócsai was granted to GYC’s private archives before GYC stepped away from the project is key to truly understanding how the GYC evolved into what it is today. I cannot envision GYC being so quick to let someone into their confidential files again any time soon.

This e-Book is available from Amazon.com for $9.99.

Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum Magazine.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6607
1 Like

Hmmm…this sums up pretty much my experiences with the organization so far. I will have to purchase and read. I shall be waiting for Kevin P. to comment…


is “something’s happening” intending to expose something about gyc…i’m not seeing anything being exposed that isn’t already kind of known…


What the article seems to say is that it began as a Youth Begun Program. Ministered to Youth. Inspired Youth to begin similar Independent programs in their home churches.
The Organized Church had a problem understanding it, felt somewhat threatened as it took away youth from the organized events to them going to the Independent Events.
The Organized Church in its somewhat threatened stance, instead of being a mentor, instead of being an assisting, took on a “What’cha Doing!!??” stance.
Eventually the program was assisted [apparently by ASI] and Justin McNeilus emerged as a new leader, and it became a “well-oiled” machine. It doesnt report if this is good or bad.
It is too bad the article does not related what the early founders are doing and if their early experience was helpful to what they are doing now.
It does read like Pipim saw the opportunity to make it look like that group and his group were inter-related in some way.
It does sound like when it was in its early stage it was helpful to a lot of young people, and got them involved in their home churches.
It doesnt go into the Dynamics of youth inspiration since the ASI and Justin McNeilus took over. Perhaps Rachel did not have enough space to delve into that.


Yes, I was hoping to read that as well.

The article certainly reveals the link to Pipim, his strong role as an adult, not a youth, pulling strings behind the scenes. It appears this was his baby, influenced by him, his theology, and the Michigan Conference. I wonder how much influence he continues to have?


You need wait no longer, Kim.

While I haven’t read the book yet, most on this forum are familiar with the fact—if they follow discussions here regularly—that I have attended every GYC convocation since the movement began in 2002, and have done my best to encourage, mentor, and offer guidance to those leading and attending the movement’s progress.

What fascinates me, perhaps first of all, is how this book review seems to be departing from the conspiracy theory promoted sometime ago by some of the Adventist Today leadership—namely, that GYC was primarily the progeny of a few wealthy conservative Adventists, rather than a grassroots aggregate of young people sharing common convictions. It seems Rachel Logan, and perhaps this book’s author as well, rightly recognizes the fallacy of this conspiratorial spin on GYC’s origins, and have correctly noted the grassroots, spontaneous character that has attended the movement since it began.

Regarding Sam Pipim, whatever role he played at the beginning and through the movement’s first nine years as mentor and guide, his tragic fall (or falls) offer the plainest evidence that GYC was not the creature of a single individual. On the contrary, the movement has flourished and grown decidedly since 2011, when Dr. Pipim’s failings came to light and he was removed from both formal denominational ministry and from the GYC organizational structure.

GYC has never been, nor is it now, dependent on any one person for guidance or inspiration. Rather, it is an organic assembly of youth and young adults from every educational and economic background in Adventism, who share a common passion for our Bible-based, Christ-centered, distinctive teachings and their amplification in the Spirit of Prophecy writings.

Like Jeremy said, most everything this book review notes is already known. The tensions between the movement and various segments of the official church should surprise no one—that’s as obvious as the tensions between leaders of the American Civil Rights movement and the various branches of the U.S. government during the 1960s. Any reformatory movement, regardless of its nature, will experience tensions with established authority. Recognition of this reality so far as GYC is concerned is therefore hardly newsworthy.

One must exert enormous effort to keep from laughing at pejorative references coming from Spectrum regarding tensions with the organized church! Indeed, if GYC were a youth movement promoting the Spectrum point of view, they would likely be hailed on this blog as up-and-coming, idealistic representatives of their generation in the church. But because they represent something liberal Adventists can’t wrap their minds around—educated, contemporary Adventist young people actually finding relevance in our original heritage of faith, Spectrum and their fellow travelers do their best to scorn them and spin negative meaning from aspects of the movement’s rose and progress.

Such negative thrusts at the movement haven’t worked when launched from one or another segment within the church structure, and they certainly won’t work on a website notorious for reviling ad infinitum the church’s distinctive doctrines and standards. What is perhaps most noteworthy about the rise and growth of GYC is the strong support it is presently receiving from the General Conference, thanks to Elder Wilson and Elder Finley and many others highly placed in the denomination. Any attempt now to brand GYC as some fringe organization in the church, never credible at any time in the movement’s journey, is even less so now.


Adventism has a long history of sub sets. The dominate has been “Self Supporting Enterprises” Two recent notable are Weimar, and the Standish enterprise. There is a common thread, each have held themselves spiritually superior to the body of the Church and world. It is not unknown that the Pipin experience has been associated with such enterprises. It will be interesting to read Kevin’s take. The General view is God is fortunate to have them as examples of holiness.I am glad the book has been published, but the trauma of reading is beyond this heart. Tom Z


You are correct, Tom, that Adventism has had at least 2 subsets. I was at the founding of Weimar Institute and it has been fascinating to see how it started, peaked and eventually dissolved into what it has become. I concur with the attitude of “superiority” it seems to me that it has been a hallmark of all the “Self-Supporting” institutions.

From what I can see, LGT has much of the same characteristics that I saw while at Weimar. I could tell many a tale about the place and the people there. There were many that I thought, including myself, that were taken advantage of. All is sacrificed at the altar of promoting the institution- which is Adventism and its subsidiaries.


From this account, I get what the book is “about” but not its thesis. Is it an expose? a story of irter-generational conflict? sociological insights into new religious movements? As one who has never attended anything GYC, what is the fuss all about?


Kim. like you, I was enthralled with several early self supporting projects, only to be highly disappointed and used. The details would serve no useful purpose. Tom Z


Thanks, Kevin, for not disappointing me with a speedy reply…

My issue with the GYC “movement” is that it is very “Self-Supporting” in its feel and tenor. The only exception that I can see is that it doesn’t require anyone to live in a specific place at the same time. However much of the specific theology is very SS which is also a trademark of Adventist fringes.

However, my biggest gripe is that you are taking the young and idealistic and introducing them to “Perfection” before most of them even know what life is really all about. I wouldn’t expect most of them (yourself excluded) to continue in this way of thinking all of their lives…reality will eventually set in.


Other Grass Roots programs in the 20th Century were

  1. Missionary Volunteer program.
  2. Pathfinders

The important thing in all these programs is to provide a healthy introduction to their family Religion, a healthy introduction to how to have God as a friend, and a realistic understanding about the process of Salvation and Sactification so that when they become older, more mature, they will not feel disillusioned by earlier instruction and will feel the need to find Christ and Salvation elsewhere, or worse, NoWhere.


I am sure that we could write a book with many chapters…What I saw was fairly sad, and in the case of Weimar- one of the co-founders, Dick Winn is basically an atheist now. They rely on the service of many of which couldn’t have made it in the “outside” world.


The 2 that you named continued to be in “Main Stream” Adventism…true Self-Supporters would not have their children in those programs!


I always enjoyed reading Dick Winn stuff.
In the early 90s my daughter attended Weimar Academy for 2 years and then stayed for her College Freshman year.
She and most of her friends then transferred to Southern.
I have persons I know who graduated late 90s early 2000s and they felt, at least that time period, that it met their spiritual and scholastic needs.
At Laurelbrook when my kids were in upper elementary school we had a great Pathfinder club. Won several medals at Ga-Cumb Camporees. We also took them to Florida for the Union Camporee.
When my daughter was at Collegedale she spent several years as a Counselor with the Chattanooga Church Pathfinder Club. The leader and her husband were both friends from when we attended Academy at Laurelbrook.
Laurelbrook ALWAYS had a great relationship with the Conference, and the Conference Educational Secretary was always a member of our Board. And always attended our Board Meetings. Up until a few years ago the Conference Educational Department evaluated our program each year. Changes in their “Rules” caused them to discontinue the service.


I think that Laurelbrook is a bit of an anomaly since it has always been basically a school program- most of the SS places that I have known haven’t been so involved in schooling. Weimar, back in the day, was considered a “half-way house” of Self-Supporting :slight_smile: …not so sure about Laurelbrook.

Pipim’s & Michigan Conference’s early involvement make it clear that GYC was never exclusively a few young people doing their thing.


Yes, these were “grassroots” programs… but they were developed within the denominational structure… and integrated into the Conference programs. They were also accepted by “Self-Supporting” institutions, but the key to their difference from GYC is the way you describe their approach to “family Religion”. GYC has from the beginning been not only perfectionistic, but also very strongly LGT.

I hope we hear from more parents who have had young people who fell in love with… or did not find GYC as promoting a healthy religion. While I have had no direct contact with it myself, I am certainly familiar with the kind of emphases that the original leaders gave to it… and with some of the speakers who are lauded so highly by the “organizers”.

Having spent considerable time in my “formative years” involved with the Self-Supporting world I know the truth of the statements that “there is no fanatic like a teen age fanatic”… and “it is very easy to make teenagers info fanatics.”

I’ve seen them made. I’ve seen them react against it as they reached adulthood so strongly they completely leave not only the SDA church, but Christendom itself. I’ve seen them grow ever more fanatical and head up “ministries” of their own to perpetuate the species. Fortunately, I have also seen a number of them recover, develop a genuine relationship with Jesus as Friend, Saviour, and Lord, and use their awareness to help others either avoid or escape from the allurements and traps set for their minds and feet.


To those interested in learning more about how this book came to be, stay tuned! More information to come! :slight_smile:


Kim, Spectrum is “self-supporting” also, and far more easily than any organization I know qualifies as being “on the fringe” so far as its attitude toward Scripture, Ellen White, and Adventist fundamentals is concerned. Not to mention the fundamentals of the Christian faith also, a number of which are routinely attacked on this site.

The theology taught at GYC cannot fairly be labeled “self-supporting,” as many in the highest ranks of the church—and large numbers throughout the world field—hold to the same convictions. What you are using here, sadly, are subtle smears as a means of marginalizing the teachings of this greatest of youth revival movements in the history of Adventism. Rather than engage with these young people on the Biblical issues, you prefer instead to use code words in your hope of tarring them as fanatics.

Once again, it won’t work. The young who have been to GYC and heard the stirring appeals to full Biblical consecration will find that message vastly superior to the rudderless spirituality and postmodern moral cluelessness mistakenly labeling itself “progressive.”

Yes, I happily and passionate admit to introducing these previous young people to the doctrine of character perfection, taught repeatedly throughout Holy Scripture (Psalm 4:4; 119:1-3,11; Zeph. 3:13; John 8:11; Rom. 8:4; I Cor. 15:34; II Cor. 7:1; 10:4-5; Eph. 5:27; I Thess. 5:23; I Peter 2:21-22; 4:1; II Peter 3:10-14; I John 1:7,9; 3:2-3,7; Jude 24; Rev. 3:21; 14:5). Far better that they aim high in their quest for holiness than embrace the degrading doctrine of defeatism so many on this blog espouse!