If someone were to ask me what is the single most important event that we do all year I would have to answer, “Chapter Retreat.” For the past 5 years we have invited any CNU student who would want to come to spend a February weekend with us away from campus to study God’s Word, reflect on our lives and beliefs, get to know some new friends, all while having a healthy dose of fun. In a world chock-full of distractions, it can be very difficult for college students to spend any time investigating God’s Word in deep ways, or thinking deeply about the trajectory of their own lives. Not to mention enjoying each others’ company without the constant ringing of cell phones or the nagging urge to check their Facebook pages.
Last month we took 106 CNU students to Triple-R-Ranch in Chesapeake for our annual Chapter Retreat. The title of this year’s retreat was “Overdressed”—a reference to the shabby fig-leaf coverings that Adam and Eve produced for themselves after they rebelled against their Creator and realized they were naked. We spent the weekend in Genesis 1-3, learning what the Bible teaches about the goodness of God’s original design and creation, the beauty of the relationship that the man and woman shared, the destruction that they brought on all of creation in their rebellion, and most importantly, the infinite mercies of the God who purposed to redeem us by grace, and who set in motion a plan to fix everything we messed up.
Some of the most important things that the students learned were:
1) That God created everything good. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).2) That Satan always leads us to sin by first getting us to doubt God’s goodness. “Did God actually say…” (Gen 3:1).3) That the man was WITH the woman (but silent) when she ate the forbidden fruit. “…she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6).4) That in the midst of the curses that God gave the man, woman, and serpent for this event, he gave a promise of one who would fix it all. “I will put hostility between you (serpent) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).
5) That God, at great cost to himself, will give us a covering for our sin that is far better than our attempts to cover it ourselves. “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21).
But wait…there’s more!
Aside from the teaching that we did from the Scriptures, we set up a small room to be like an interactive walkthrough of the Genesis 1-3 text
. All of the students had a chance to walk through the room and reflect on how the “Fall” (of Adam and Eve…not “Autumn”), has shown itself in their own sin, who they have blamed along the way, and other places in their lives where they need to admit their faults and receive God’s free grace. Moreover, through some of the images and questions in the room, they were able to ask themselves how they have been sinned against, and what it would look like to forgive as God has forgiven us. We heard many students say that this was a very helpful addition to the teaching they had received. They said that it helped them move from ‘theory’ (what the Bible teaches) to ‘application’ (what they need to do about it).
Lastly, we spent a good portion of Saturday evening separated by gender. One of the things we learned is that God created man and woman both the same, and different—same species, but with some distinctions. We not only talked about how we sin against God and others in general, but also how we as either men or women sin against those of the same gender and opposite gender, along with how we feel we’ve been sinned against by both. This was a very powerful time because individuals in both groups shared some very ‘raw’ stuff about their lives, both past and present, and offered powerful words of exhortation and encouragement to each other.
Towards the end of this time Beth and I did a “staff swap,” where I was with the women, and Beth was with the men. This was a “no-holds-barred” ask-us-anything free-for-all. Many of the students (both men and women), said that this was extremely helpful for them, because they had lots of questions for the opposite sex that they weren’t really sure how to ask about. (For the record: facing a blitzkrieg of crazy questions from a room full of 70+ college women for an hour was one of the most difficult but also sweet experiences of my staff career so far.) They asked questions about things that they do that are unhelpful or even hurtful for the other gender, ways that they can encourage the other gender, main ways that the other gender struggles to honor God, along with many “how should I handle this situation” type of questions.
Last, but certainly not least.While we pride ourselves on being a ministry that seeks to recover the “dropped baton” of helping those who are already Christians to grow in their maturity and understanding of the gospel, we are still VERY MUCH a ministry that works at reaching the lost. We were very pleased to see two students put their trust in Christ for the first time at this retreat! One was a sophomore guy who opened up the “guys time” on Saturday night by saying (totally unprovoked, mind you!), “Well, I’ve been thinking about Christianity for about a year now, and I’ve learned this weekend that the only thing holding me back was my pride—I want to fix myself, but now I know that I can’t; I know that I need what Jesus did for me. I think I’m ready to become a Christian.” After I picked my jaw off the floor, the 30+ guys gathered into a huddle and prayed for our new brother in Christ!
The other was a freshman woman whose dad is Agnostic and whose mother is Jewish. Her parents were not very happy that she had been spending so much time with Christians, and her mother told her that she wouldn’t disown her if she became a Christian, but as a follower of Judaism, she would be very, very disappointed. On Saturday night after I shared a brief description of the gospel message in the middle of our time of singing, she and 2 friends came to the back to pray. This fearfully excited woman said “I’m sick and tired of people telling me what they want me to believe. This is what I believe, and I no longer care what it will cost. It’s like God is drawing me to himself and I can’t run away any longer. I want to be a Christian!” These are the moments for which I do my job. Thank you for your prayers and your financial support that help make all this possible!