It's not easy to live a life of sexual purity in today's world, but the benefits of waiting until marriage are definitely worth the effort. That's the message authors Bob and Dannah Gresh hope to convey to teens during a special, two-day conference in Centreville and Chantilly.
"The area churches had been thinking about holding an event on youth purity for the last few years," said Virginia Run's Judy Wear. She works with youth at Christ the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Centreville and is helping organize the conference.
"The school system has its own way of explaining sexual matters, but we feel the church needs to fill in the blanks," she explained. "And as a parent of a teen, I felt teens needed to hear this from people other than their parents — to reinforce what parents tell them, from a Christian perspective."
Some 15 area churches are sponsoring the conference together, and it's open to the public. Attendees need not belong to any church. Although the event is in March, pre-registration is required by Feb. 25. Cost is $35 and includes a conference kit, a book and lunch from Chick-Fil-A. Call Judy Wear at 703-802-3025 or contact youth ministries at any of these churches:
Centreville Baptist, Centreville Presbyterian, Centreville United Methodist, Christ the Redeemer Episcopal, Chantilly Bible Church, Clear River Community, Church of the Apostles Episcopal, Truro Episcopal, Church of the Epiphany, Southview Baptist, New Life Christian Church, Pender Methodist, Christian Life Center, Church of the Holy Spirit and Mount Olive Baptist Church.
Dannah Gresh wrote the bestselling book, "And the Bride Wore White," and Wear read it last summer before taking high-school girls from her church on a sexual-purity retreat. Wanting to reach a larger number of teens about this issue, she discussed it with the Rev. Bill Hatcher, the youth minister at Centreville Baptist Church. They later met with other churches and eventually contacted the Greshes.
The sexual-purity conference is part of the Pennsylvania-based couple's "Pure Freedom" ministry. The kickoff event, for both boys and girls, will be held Friday, March 7, from 7:30-10:30 p.m., at Chantilly Bible Church, 4390 Pleasant Valley Road in Chantilly.
Then on Saturday, March 8, from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., boys and girls will attend separate events. Dannah will address the girls at Centreville United Methodist Church at New Braddock Road and Route 28 in Centreville. She'll tell them about living a life of sexual integrity and relay the "seven secrets to sexual purity."
Her husband Bob, who wrote a book for teens called "Who Moved the Goal Post?" will speak to the boys, the same date and time, at Chantilly Bible Church. He'll help them learn "seven winning strategies in the sexual gameplan."
A closing rally, with both boys and girls, will be Saturday, March 8, from 6:30-8 p.m., at Chantilly Bible Church. The Greshes have already presented their program successfully to thousands of teens through their books, conferences and Christian radio and TV programs. Wear hopes that 900 teen-agers will attend the conference here.
Her goal is to have them come away from the event "feeling empowered to say no to promiscuity and knowing that, through God's help, they can make it to their wedding night." She also hopes teen boys will learn "strategies to guard their hearts against the huge, visual temptations that are everywhere for them."
Through suggestive lingerie ads, videos, movies and the Internet, said Wear, boys have access to "very tempting things." But the book they'll receive at the conference, she said, will give them tools to resist the lure of Internet pornography. "They'll look around [the conference] and see other kids hearing what they're hearing," she said. "And, hopefully, that will give them strength. And when one of them gets weak, they can help each other."
Wear said girls will do things such as make lists of the "top 10 comeback lines" to say to boys pressuring them to give in. They'll also make pearl necklaces signifying their choice to remain sexually pure until marriage.
Although there'll be small-group discussions with guided questions, the conference will be more interactive than lecture-oriented. It'll feature fun activities, games and performances by a contemporary worship band.
The Greshes are parents of two children, son Robby, 12 1/2, and daughter Lexi, 9. Dannah, 36, holds a bachelor's in public communication and writing, and Bob, 37, has degrees in social science and public administration. But their knowledge also comes firsthand.
"As a young Christian girl, my faith led me to believe I'd remain a virgin until my wedding night," said Dannah. "But at age 15, I gave that gift away to someone who's a stranger now. Afterward, I realized there were emotional consequences, but I didn't realize their depth until I was an adult woman and healed from that."
She felt terrible about herself and wondered if another man would love her. And the faith issue was important to her. "God teaches us through the Bible there are specific blessings by waiting to have sex with one person," said Gresh. "And those blessings are well-documented by social science today."
She said teens believe they're "missing the party" if they don't have premarital sex. But, said Gresh, a 1996 study by the University of Illinois — "regarded as the most accurate [such] study, with the smallest margin of error" — concluded that "couples who waited to have sex until they were in a mutually monogamous, sexual relationship reported greater satisfaction."
Therefore, the Greshes tell teens that waiting for marriage "isn't about not having sex, but about waiting to have it right and enjoying its benefits to a much-greater degree." Dannah also noted that the suicide rate among sexually active teens is "six to 12 times higher than their virgin peers."
During the conference, the couple is honest about how tough it is to live a life of purity, but they present their message in a fun and entertaining way. For example, Dannah said Bob "duct tapes a few boys to the wall to teach them that it's not necessarily one glance at a sensual image that ties you up — like just one piece of tape — but glancing again and again can really put you in a place of bondage."
He also discusses how an addiction to pornography can be harder to break than a drug addiction. He lets them know they're not alone in their struggles, and he tells them how to keep their eyes and minds pure. Meanwhile, said Dannah, the girls participate in a fashion show, learning to be trendy but modest "so they're not giving things away visually. They love it."
The Greshes have been doing this ministry, nationwide, for eight years, and Dannah's book has been used in some 2,000 U.S. churches and in other countries to teach a faith-based approach to abstinence. They began speaking in their own church and then throughout their community, state and across the country. And they're often invited back because the teens respond so well.
"We think it's important to share our mistakes, as well as our successes," she said. "People often say, 'Don't do this,' but they never tell why. But we combine the Bible and social science to reduce the risk of sexual activity outside marriage. We don't just tell kids to wait, but give them the skills to do it."
Noting that being cool is about standing out and being different, she said, "In a unique kind of way, we'll encourage kids to stand out and be cool. And we give kids a second chance. We tell those who've been sexually active and have had broken hearts, pregnancies or STDs that there's hope and they can experience a fresh start in their lives."
For more information about the Greshes and their work, see the Web site www.purefreedom.org. Their books are available at regular and Christian bookstores and through amazon.com.