This past fall, I became the next Student Ministries Pastor at Family Church. But before I could begin, I had to return to Iowa to be with my family and prepare to move out by the first of the year. Before I left though, Pastor Craig asked me if I would be willing to come back out in a couple of weeks to get things started with the Student Ministry by being the speaker for the annual BOLD retreat. After talking with my wife, Nicole, I agreed to come back out for a couple of weeks, albeit without my family. Before I knew it, I was on a plane back to Oregon to begin this next chapter in our lives.
As I look back over that weekend in November, the unforgettable moment wasn’t just a moment. These students seemed to really dig into what God wanted to teach them. They didn’t just have a moment, they had a weekend!
One of my favorite moments at the retreat was during the service after dinner. The message was entitled, Our Legacy. As we were going over Philippians 3:12-14, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me,” we explored that it’s not how you start a race, but how you finish. I wanted to encourage them that even the Apostle Paul, who was a great man of God, started off shaky. He wanted to change the world and make a difference, even though early in his life, he had the wrong goal. God still gave him that desire; He just had to tweak Paul in the process. I wanted the students to realize their legacy is dependent on their choices—all the while reminding them that, your name may not always be remembered, but everyone will remember what you left behind.
At the end of the message, I told the students if there is anyone here who wants to make things right with Christ, they should stand up and find an adult who would pray for them. As a pastor, sometimes you have a feeling when people will respond. In my mind, I knew there would be multiple people stand up to get right with Christ; but that wasn’t what happened. One, one student stood up and found an adult to pray for them. As I watched that one student respond, my heart rejoiced. I was brought back to Jesus’ teaching of how the angels in heaven rejoice when even just one comes to Christ (Luke 15:7). Even as the speaker, a pastor, God was even working on me in that moment.
At the conclusion of the retreat, we had each of the students write on a stone something that was “dead weight” in their life (things that get in the way of pursuing God, “Does it get in my way or does it help me run”). We all walked down to the river and I had each student put the stones above their heads, and we all prayed. At the culmination of the prayer I counted to three, and we chucked our stones in the river. Multiple students began to break down and cry, while others were smiling or embracing one another. It was my favorite memory of that weekend.
The next day I was on a plane headed back to my family. As I sat in the uncomfortable seat, sandwiched between a young lady and an elderly man, I couldn’t help but reflect and feel nothing but God’s grace over me. Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was not just moving my family and me to Sutherlin for a season, but knowing that God has CALLED us here to love and to invest in students and adults alike. He has opened this door for us.