Fancy hotels, white sandy beaches, free breakfast, and Florida’s east coast. Sounds a bit like Spring Break, except there’s one big difference…Jesus! Once a year, 120 college students pack their bathing suits and bibles and head to Deerfield Beach. Yes, there are beautiful beaches, free breakfast, and endless Shirley Temple’s, but there’s also worship, fellowship, and the Word. Everyone begins to arrive around 5 pm on Friday and it is mass chaos. We get our room assignments, a colored balloon for our team, and swag. Oh the swag! What college kid doesn’t love free stuff? After dropping our belongings in our rooms and eating dinner, we head down to the hotel ballroom for what is promised to be a life-changing weekend. And that it was!
The theme of this year’s Fall Retreat was “Transformed”. We were walking through Romans 12, and our prayer for the weekend was that we would understand the Gospel, believe the Gospel, be transformed by the Gospel, and then live out the Gospel. We had four sessions over the weekend: Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night, and Sunday morning. Each session would open with teams pitted against each other. Which team could make a better human statue? Who could guess the most Ignite Staff baby pictures? Who was going to chug an energy drink and eat an entire sleeve of Oreo’s first? The room filled with laughter at the beginning of each session, but then we would come to a time of praise and worship before diving into the Word.
Over the first three sessions we discussed how we were born into sin and how our sin was deserving of the punishment of death, but that the Gospel was God’s payment for our sin. The Gospel sanctifies us and gives us a secure future with Jesus. We discussed how the Gospel radically changes and defines our lives as believers. The result of this transformation isn’t of duty and obligation, but of declaration and obedience. We have been rescued and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and that makes us different to the watching world. As a transformed believer, we can be identified by love and unity, by loving others and loving God, and by putting Jesus on display for the world to see. We were given 20 points to evaluate our transformation. Were we more like a caterpillar, not yet fully formed into our most beautiful image, or were we a butterfly, fully transformed and soaring high? As we walked through these 20 points, we focused on areas that we needed to repent and seek forgiveness for, areas that we needed to focus on, and areas that we could rejoice in. After each session we would break into small groups to discuss what we had just heard and how we could live out God’s Word more fully. As a small group leader, I was so in awe of the eight girls sitting around me at every gathering. Their love for Jesus burned like a fire in their hearts. Everyone participated in sharing their own stories and their own views. We learned from each other, grew from each other, and came to know each other. That carried on into free time as well. We had an open afternoon on Saturday, so what better way then to spend it at the beach! The sound of laughter, excitement, and crashing waves filled the atmosphere. Old friendships were being renewed and new friendships were just beginning. Corn hole and spike ball tournament brackets were full! We played until we couldn’t play anymore.
Then came Sunday, our last session. Adam wrapped up our weekend with a transformed appeal. We were reminded that we were purchased by God and for God. We were reminded that God gave each of us a gift to be used for His glory. We were not put on this earth to conform to everyone else, but to live out our gifts as offerings to Christ Jesus. In closing, we were challenged with remembering seven words, a declaration to remind us daily of who we were before being transformed, and that we can’t do this on our own. “I can’t. You can. Here I am.” With that, our weekend was almost over. For some people it was sad, but for 18 others it meant that they were about to rejoice in their new life in Christ. Adam called the 18 people to the front of the room to share their story in 30 seconds. These 18 people were broken sinners, lost in the ways of the world, but they all had one thing in common…they had been saved by the blood of Jesus and they were ready to declare it to the world! 18 baptisms happened that afternoon, and I was one of them.
Over the summer, I sat down with Adam and told him that I was ready to be baptized. I had chosen to follow Christ and I wanted the world to know. I also wanted to wait for Fall Retreat to be that time because that’s where my journey began a year ago. I stood on the beach Sunday morning and watched 17 people walk into the ocean, go under as old, and come up as new. The cheers and excitement from everyone on the beach as they watched could be heard for miles. With each newly baptized Christ follower, the celebration grew! People on the beach would stop and watch, ask questions, and some stayed to celebrate with us. Then it was my turn. As I walked into the waves with Adam and Stephen, I felt the excitement growing within me. I was ready to declare to all of my friends, family, and strangers that were standing on the beach, that I had decided to follow Jesus and there was no turning back. When I came up out of the water there was an overwhelming explosion of celebration, and it shook me to my core. I was a broken, worn down sinner, not worthy to be called a Child of God, yet by His grace and mercy I was saved.
Fall Retreat is not just a weekend for followers of Jesus to come and learn. Fall Retreat is a weekend for lives to be changed, for hearts to be wrecked, and for God to be praised! The weekend may be over and the excitement may die down, but the memories will last forever. We came as a group of college students, but we left as the Body of Christ. Now is our time to take all that we learned and put it into fruition. Now is our time to live for Christ. Whether it be on the campuses of FGCU and FSW, at Summit Church, at the grocery store, in our homes, or out with friends, now is our time to be used for God’s glory.
I can’t. You can. Here I am.