Every fall the BSM at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) takes their students on a retreat, usually somewhere close to campus, but far enough away to feel like we've escaped the bustle of school and replaced it with the serenity of the woods (even if we still have phone reception and Wal-mart is only 20 minutes away, in case we underestimated when grocery shopping). Fall retreat is an opportunity for new students to get plugged in and bond with older students, for old friends to reconnect after the summer, and for everyone to spend time in worship and the Word of God.
For the last few years, we have intentionally planned our Fall retreat to take place just a few weeks prior to Engage 24, and we use the retreat to start introducing the idea of Engage 24 and emphasizing the importance of sharing the Gospel with people on campus. This year we asked Gary Stidham to come from UT Arlington and share with us some of UTA's strategies for campus evangelism.
Gary spoke Saturday morning about escaping the Christian bubble, in which many of our students either currently find themselves or have found themselves in the past. Especially for people like myself, who grew up going to church and have Christian families, it is quite easy to go about life without meeting or making friends with many non-Christians. And at this point in my life, working for BSM, I actually find myself more in the bubble than I did while I was in school. Because I no longer have classes to go to or random roommates I've been assigned, the majority of the people I spend time with are either from my church or the BSM, and I have to be very intentional about building relationships with people who are not yet Christians. Gary shared that to be a true disciple of Jesus we must love one another (Jn. 13:35), abide in the Word (Jn. 8:31), bear fruit (Jn. 15:8), and carry the cross (Lk. 14:27). He made a point that resonated with me strongly, as well as with many students I spoke to over the course of the weekend: to grow as a disciple, we must share the Gospel. If we are sharing the Gospel, we must be in the Word and spending time with God in prayer; true growth comes from doing all three of these things, but it is easy to pray and read Scripture without ever actually sharing and stretching ourselves to grow.
Gary also shared some very practical ways to improve our personal ministry, such as praying daily for opportunities to share the Gospel, meeting as many people as possible, accepting people for who they are instead of trying to referee their life decisions, and praying consistently for not-yet-believers in our lives. He spoke about the importance of seeing people as people, not as projects, asking questions, and truly listening to the answers people give us. One of our student leaders had to leave directly following Gary's talk because her sorority had an event that evening, and she decided to take the lesson to heart and take advantage of the opportunity to share the Gospel. Another of his practical suggestions was to have a few simple methods of sharing the Gospel that you feel comfortable and familiar with. Mackenzie was able to share two of these with a friend who knows God but didn't know how to share his faith, and then she was able to share the Gospel with two students the following Monday at our free lunch. Just days after retreat, we are already seeing the fruit of what God taught during that weekend escape.
Apart from worship and Bible study, another advantage of retreat is time to simply relax and have fun together. For many of our students, mid-terms have begun, and it is really nice to spend some time not thinking about school and focusing instead on Gaga ball, Dominion, volleyball, and Nerts. I'm actually unsure about how many students took a nap in my hammock, hanging between two trees near the cabin. People went for walks in the woods, or sat on the back porch and sang worship songs. Retreat allows us to live life together for a few days, sleeping in bunk beds and doing literally everything together. There were students up practically all night talking, good conversations around meals, and even while doing chores likes washing the dishes and taking out the trash. It was really just a good weekend. People connected. No one was left out. It was restful. And it was fun. Praise God!
Kinsey Cline serves as a campus missionary at UTD with Go Now Missions.