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A 'tree-mendous' blessing


by: MAYGAN BECKERS - From left, Briana Arias, Gabriela Ramirez and America Perez, partner up to move Christmas trees at Woodburn Foursquare Church and haul them to Second Street's parking area for recycling.Ben Puente, Woodburn Foursquare’s youth pastor, is helping his students raise money to experience what he was able to 15 years ago as a student, by attending Generation Unleashed, City Bible Church’s annual Christian youth conference in Portland.

“It was more than just a fun getaway. It was a moment where you could draw closer to God being amongst thousands of teenagers and cool music, (and hear) amazing speakers that really were funny but also spoke into deep issues,” Puente said.

Puente has gathered local Christmas trees over the past week to contribute funds for his students attending church to attend the conference. The trees are dropped off at the city’s holiday tree drop-off station located behind Woodburn’s Post Office between Lincoln and Grant streets.

The church group has picked up about 60 Christmas trees and raised more than $150 as of Monday. The pick-up rounds will continue until Saturday.

Generation Unleashed (GU) will be held at City Bible Church’s Rocky Butte Campus on Fremont Street in Portland on Jan. 30, 31, and Feb. 1. The conference celebrates its 21st year of coming together to worship, share daily teachings and participate in workshops with more than 4,000 people ranging from youth pastors, to middle school, high school and college students. About 22 students and four adults will be attending from Woodburn’s Foursquare Church.

Special guests Rich Wilkerson Jr., Chad Veach, Robert Madu, Carl Lentz, Judah Smith and John Gray will be speaking at this year’s conference, which is themed “His name is Jesus.”

“What I hope the kids get out of it is to understand who they are, find their identity of who they are and really not let people’s ideas (or labels) determine who they are — more of finding their identity in Christ, in Jesus,” said Puente. “That’s the thing, when people are confident in who they are, they stand up for what they believe in.”by: MAYGAN BECKERS - Ben Puente, youth pastor at Woodburn Foursquare Church, and Daniel Labunsky, Woodburn High School junior, make one of their first Christmas tree pickup stops to raise money for attending Generation Unleashed.

Woodburn Foursquare Church, which celebrates its fourth year attending GU, is charging a $100 fee for the three-day conference. However, each student has paid a $25 deposit to secure their spot for the conference.

Montse Astorga, a senior at Woodburn High School, said she looks forward to conversing with her group to share what she learned each day and to hear what other students retained.

“It’s emotional, it’s fun, it’s bonding and makes the group stronger,” Astorga said.

Puente said he has seen a great deal of growth in Astorga, who has attended all four years of GU through Woodburn Foursquare.

“Taking her to Generation Unleashed and seeing what God did for her, she came back just a whole new person,” he said. “She’s very outgoing now, very social, just not the same. Her heart for God and people is just amazing. Through that, she’s been able to talk to other kids and branch out.”

Foursquare Church will have additional fundraisers to raise extra money for students. The fundraisers include $5 Carl’s Jr. coupon books, a LimeBerry fundraiser and a bake sale.

LimeBerry will be donating 25 percent of profits to the church Jan. 19 from 2 to 8 p.m. In addition, there will be a donation jar that will go directly toward each student’s fee.

With each fundraiser students participate in, they will receive a portion of the total amount earned on that specific day.

“It shows that they have a sense of community, they’re helping out and have a good work ethic to raise money themselves to go to GU,” said Melissa Lokteff, Puente’s assistant youth worship leader since July.

Puente mentioned the blessing that it has been to experience poverty, work in the community and now be in a position to give back to the community that gave to him.

“Being able to serve people, help people, it gives me a chance to do what I love and love what I do,” he said.

Contact Ben Puente at 503-951-1048 for any further questions regarding fundraisers or to schedule a Christmas tree pick-up time.