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Dean sets high bar as Back to School Bash speaker

For nearly an hour, Hank Williams Pavilion experienced a breathless quiet except for the voice of Mitchell Dean, keynote speaker of this year’s Back to School Bash.

All eyes and hearts were transfixed on Dean, the East Alabama representative with the Fellowship for Christian Athletes, who spoke to Butler County’s football players and cheerleaders about the all-too-common challenges and obstacles facing them on the fields of play and in the hallways.

Dean’s biggest focus, however, was on the definition of love, and how he believed the music, movies and other forms of media have drastically warped its meaning.

“Love is a verb that shows and validates itself in action,” Dean said.

“What we say love is is actually lust.  That’s what the culture says love is.  All of that stuff is counterfeit.”

Dean challenged his audience to read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in which he noted that Jesus Christ was always doing something for someone else.

Dean pointed out Christ’s multitude of feats for others in an effort to dispel the You-Only-Live-Once (YOLO) mentality that many young people have adopted.

“If you really want to be great, travel a path of humility,” Dean said.

“Jesus was meek, not weak.  Meekness is power under control.”

Though he admitted that there are a number of challenges facing today’s youth, he said that the biggest obstacle was ultimately the most common one of all.

“The biggest enemy is not the devil, or your friends,” Dean said.

“The biggest enemy is in the mirror.  You’ve got to get over you. Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow him.”

Butler County Ministerial Association president Allen Stephenson said that Dean is the new high-water mark for keynote speakers at the Back to School Bash.

“He is the best speaker we’ve had,” Stephenson said. “He absolutely gave the best invitation I’ve ever heard at one of our events.  You have to go a ways to beat Siran Stacy—I believe this guy was better.

“From the very first word that he spoke until the time he gave the invitation and asked those kids to stand. That’s a big deal, asking them to stand.  In years past, we’ve had a lot of kids come forward because of their friends, but he specifically addressed that.  He said that if that’s the reason you’re coming, then to sit back down.  And so we believe these were legitimate salvation experiences. When he gave that invitation and all of those kids stood up and prayed, I could barely hold my emotion.  It was such an awesome thing to see.”

The association prepared for 600 guests and, by the conclusion of the night’s events, nearly every chair was filled. 

“And we had a lot of people standing,” Stephenson added. “We were very pleased with the turnout.

“And we cooked 1,000 hotdogs, and there were probably only 50 left over.  It was everything that I prayed it would be and more.”

Stephenson added that this year’s Back to School Bash, like many before it, was the product of several weeks of prayer and preparation. Churches, civic groups and several other organizations pitched in to make last Friday night an unforgettable one.

And if the overwhelming response from those in attendance is anything to go by, the administration succeeded.

“Long ago I learned that it’s not about me,” Stephenson said. “It’s not about us, even.  It’s about God being in control, because I had to trust somebody who said that this was a speaker who could really touch people.

“Everybody I talked to when I was there said exactly the same thing—best speaker ever.  Even though we’ve had more people come down before, I don’t believe the response was as good or the depth of the decisions were anywhere close to this.”