Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed, behold; the new has come. – 2 Cor. 5:17
Last year’s Fall Retreat was where I first experienced the truth that what Christ did on the cross was for me too. Yes, even me.
I grew up with divorced parents and wandered for the next 16 years dead in my sin. Truthfully, it was only because of a friend’s perseverance to get me to go on the retreat that I got into a car with some other guys heading to Deerfield Beach.
I spent the first day with my GoPro and a journal, sitting on a big rock, staring into the depths of the ocean. I reverted back to a familiar place in my mind, sifting through the sadness and shame I felt for the things I had found happiness in before. It was there, in my nothingness, that things began to happen (which I couldn’t explain at the time). I met two guys from IGNITE, John Michael and Darius, right there on the beach, and they invited me to walk with them. I had a lot of fear leaving that rock overlooking the ocean and that place in my mind. I was way too comfortable there.
Later that day, we all piled into the hotel ballroom for the first session taught by Jim Murphy on 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6. He spoke on the weight of the gospel. I thought I knew what the gospel was, but really, I had no clue. To me, it was just a bunch of words.
We went on to play team games, go swimming, and eat at IHOP. I remember sitting at dinner with a couple guys, talking about our highs and lows of the trip so far. Most of the lows were about the drive to the retreat, but their highs sounded exciting. I didn’t really have any highs. And if I did, I left them back at that rock. “I guess being here is pretty cool, and getting to meet you guys and hear about your lives,” I said.
When we got back to the hotel, someone I had met before back at FGCU invited me to walk the beach with their small group. We ended up walking for nearly 40 minutes to a fishing pier where we sat for another hour. This time brought about a unique sense of freedom I had never felt before: openly talking about my life with a community that genuinely listened and cared for who I was as a person.
I shared my story with them—how I grew up, what made me the person I was, and who I still was at that time. My shame had haunted me for years, and it only took a three-hour discussion at 2 a.m. on a beach with people I had never met before for me to realize how dead I was inside and how broken my life was. I heard the gospel that night, for the hundredth time. But this time, it wasn’t just words. This time, I understood. It was while I was walking on the beach, laughing in a hot tub, praying at the IHOP, playing games of spike ball, listening to the speaker sessions, and participating in small group time and worship that I realized I was not who I was supposed to be.
The next day I talked with Stephen, our College Minister, about being baptized on Sunday morning. He told me he was excited and that he’d be going through the baptism interview process later that night. Truthfully, I had no idea what baptism was. I just knew it was something everyone looked forward to doing and watching. Someone I was getting to know better walked me through it. “It’s an outward expression of an inward faith; a type of celebration that displays you, as a new creation, proclaiming that Jesus is Lord in front of and with your new family.” I asked him what he meant by a “new creation.” He took me to 2 Corinthians 5:17 where it says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed, behold; the new has come.”
I got bug eyes from reading that verse. It meant that I no longer had to be “the reason” my parents divorced. High School and college rejections didn’t hold my identity anymore. I didn’t have to be a slave to the abusive friendships I was chained to. Sports didn’t have to be a false source of life anymore. I wanted a new life, deeply rooted in the perfect love of Christ. Some friends had prayed for me that night, that God would not only see my brokenness, but that He would know it from the very day it started. That the blood of Christ would drown my shame, my sadness, and my hurt. That the Father would save me and make me a new creation, and make me look more and more like His Son, Jesus, every day for the rest of my life.
Later that night, I sat down with Stephen and my community group leader, Iggy, for the baptism interview. They asked me to share a little bit about who I was, and it wasn’t 30 seconds into it that I found myself again longing for the love of Christ. God didn’t let me sit on the verge of crying. No, He wrecked me. After telling my story, Stephen told me that he thought God would love to adopt me into His family. The hinges went flying, tears were rolling, and I found myself joyfully hugging two brothers of my new family. On Sunday morning, I and seven others proclaimed the name of Christ to hundreds of people, gathered on the beach (some of them weren’t even part of the retreat).
The IGNITE Fall Retreat spearheaded my path: I became a covenant member at Summit, began serving through the church, walking in discipleship at IGNITE, found restoration through the Recovery ministry, became certified in biblical counseling, and I am now interning with Summit Students at the Naples campus.
Now, I ask that you would join me in praying for this year’s Fall Retreat. Pray that the gospel would lead the next student off his or her rock and onto their knees. Pray that those who come without many friendships would be willing to join others in worship, games, dinner, and find their place in community. Pray that our leaders would be faithful representatives of Jesus! Pray that true friendships would be formed. But most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit would open eyes to the beauty of the gospel, and many, many more students like me would be saved!
- Robby Barr