Students plan to gather and pray at schools throughout the world on Wednesday for See You at the Pole Day, an event in which young people ask for God's blessings on their schools and prepare themselves to show His love and grace on campus.
SYATP Day is the centerpiece of the Global Week of Student Prayer, which began Sunday and ends Saturday. The theme of this year's SYATP Day is "IfThen," a reference to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which SYATP organizers have abbreviated in promotional materials to say, "If we pray, seek, turn; then God hears, forgives, heals."
"The idea is that our nation desperately needs moral and spiritual awakening, but God's given us an idea, an understanding in His Word, about how we get there," said Doug Clark, the event's promotion coordinator and director of field ministries for the National Network of Youth Ministries.
Clark says between one and two million students are expected to participate in SYATP this year, though it is difficult to track exact figures in the grassroots movement. An event planning sheet from the site suggests that students pray for each other, school leaders, family and friends, their nation and for everyone else gathering for SYATP Day around the globe.
The gathering allows students to not only pray, said Clark, but it also helps them identify their Christian classmates and gives them a "launching pad" for them to begin ministering together. Students sometimes form regular prayer groups, Bible studies and Christian clubs on their campuses after SYATP is over.
Clark emphasized the need for students to "own" their role as missionaries to their schools, and says adults should challenge students to seek God's will for how He would have them reach out to their peers.
"I really believe that if a student loves Jesus and they walk on the campus and say, 'God, what do you want me to do here to reach my friends?' I can't imagine God not revealing that to them," he said.
It's also important for churches to encourage students, an area needing improvement, he said. Some local churches encourage young people by commissioning and praying over them the Sunday before SYATP Day, but Clark says adults should also speak with students and offer them support through prayer all year long.
"We don't leave our missionaries out to dry when we send them overseas, so why would we do that on the campus? We need to continue encouraging, supporting and finding ways to help them," he said.
Some critics might view SYATP as "grandstanding" or simply as the exercise of certain freedoms, Clark says, but those who participate should approach the event with a "humble spirit" and recognize that their goal should be to love others and not just make a statement.
SYATP began in 1990 after a small group of Texas teenagers who had been attending a weekend youth retreat felt led to pray and did so around the flag poles at three local schools one night, according to the event's website. Thousands of students would later be challenged at a large youth conference to follow in the footsteps of their peers.
More than 56,000 students across four states participated in the first annual SYATP event, and a year later the number of participants increased to 1 million. Christians in more than 20 countries now participate in SYATP each year.