I still remember my first ever fall retreat with Christian Student Fellowship as a student. It was way back in the fall of 2000. We went to Sylvan Hills Christian Camp, about 20 minutes from State College, PA. The guest speaker talked a lot about Jesus’ disciple Peter. That’s about all I remember, other then that it was a fantastic time.
Since then I’ve gone on nearly every CSF retreat. I missed a few when I was in seminary in Illinois, though even then I made it to one. My motives were not exactly holy. The reason I went was to see my girlfriend, now my wife, who was still a student at Penn State.
Retreats are always a great time: an opportunity to get a bunch of students together for a weekend, spending time in prayer and worship and study, as well as playing games and building community. There are always Saturday afternoon football games. Sometimes people ask me how I can still keep up with college students on the football (or frisbee) field. My answer is simple: I can’t. But its not because I’ve experienced a drop-off in my own athletic skill. I was never athletic! If anything, I’ve stayed at a consistent, slightly below-average level, for the last 10 years! Talking them into letting me be quarterback helps, then I can just stand there and throw the ball (I have been told I resemble Peyton Manning, but that was before I grew a beard).
For a while I thought I would not make it to this year’s retreat. The reason was that I had a wedding scheduled that same weekend. The location was the same as it was all those years ago, but now I live in Reading and thus have a three hour drive to get there. My students would still go, but it seemed unlikely I would.
When I was told the rehearsal was to be on Friday with the wedding on Sunday, the possibility arose of going for the day. But that is still a lot of driving! Then the campus minister planning asked if I would be the “guest” speaker. This was mostly in an effort to keep costs down: rather than paying a guest a few hundred, I’d do it for free since I am already on payroll!
Well, with my history of loving these weekends I could not say no. So after the rehearsal ended on Friday, I got in my car and drove the three hours, getting there around 11 PM. A good night’s sleep led into a day when I had the opportunity to teach the students for three sessions.
During the first session I shared about how the story of the Bible provides us with our mission as Christians, a mission centered on joining Jesus in the restoring of a broken creation. I also talked about how within the story of redemption, there is a movement from a time when God’s people are a tiny, cultural minority (Abraham, Exodus) to a time when they are the majority, running their own land (David, Solomon), then to a time when they are a minority again (exile).
In the second session I talked about how we see the same movement in the history of the Western church: from an illegal minority in the early days, to the era of Christendom when the church and state were united (which lasted for over a thousand years) and now it appears we are moving into a time of post-Christendom. One question I asked was how come it was so easy to believe in God or traditional Christianity in 1500 and seems so difficult to now?
My point was that it is very difficult to live as a Christian on college campus. Yet if we realize our situation as exile, we can look into scripture for ideas on how to minister in this situation. One place we can go is the letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29. The message there is simple: don’t whine about your situation, accept it. Get to work on the mission, which has not changed. Work for the good of the city, which echoes the command to Abraham way back in Genesis 12 to bring blessing.
In the third session I tried to give a direction to what this looks like and I focused on vocation. I told them I believe each student has gifts and passions, given to them by God, to be used to bring goodness and life (the kingdom of God) into the world. This looks different for each person in each career. It was the place where I stopped trying to give answers and said they need to figure out what it looks like. But I did say I think Christians are bored, and a large reason is they do not see how their faith relates to everyday life. What if they saw their career and major as a call? What if churches commissioned nurses, engineers, teachers and everyone else instead of just pastors and missionaries.
(By the way, I drew on tons of books, blog posts, lectures and all sorts of other things in putting this together. Very little that I said, probably nothing, was original to me. I’d love to offer footnotes but I’d probably have to footnote every paragraph and as this is a blog post and not a research paper, I’ll pass. Just know I am thankful for all those I have learned from.)
At the end of Saturday, after a long day of speaking, as well as some football and Settlers of Catan, I drove home. It was rough at times and coffee failed to help, but I made it. The next day I woke up and went to church. Then it was on to the wedding.
The bride was the sister of one of my students at CSF. That was how I got connected. It was a blast of a wedding that deserves its own stories, but I fear this post is too long already. I’ll just say that when I got home from the reception I was beat, physically and emotionally. It was a crazy, but a wonderful weekend.