What I learned at a Christian retreat
October 31, 2011 3 Comments
My junior and senior years of high school were spent in a small South coast town in Oregon. Though I was the only active member of the Church in my class, I spent my time with other, very devoted Christians. Who I am today is certainly a reflection of those friends. None of us were perfect but we were good kids. Part of our social experience was a non-denominational youth program called Young Life. Like the Mormon mutual, this group would get together weekly at someone’s home, sing songs, eat food and have a brief spiritual thought.
Young Life also sponsored what was called “retreats”. Like Mormon youth conferences they would go to a camp for the week-end, play games, eat, sing, and learn about Christ. I attended a few of these retreats and had a wonderful time. Looking back, I am impressed with the patience of the adults running these programs. There I was, a Mormon kid sharing LDS theology without realizing they believed differently. (I distinctly remember baring testimony about how incredible I thought it was that we, through Christ, could become like Him and the Father…poor pastors)
At the end of my senior year a mega retreat was planned for a camp in Northern California. Many youth would attend the week-long adventure. I saw this as my last hurrah with my friends and somehow talked my parents into letting me go. When we arrived I couldn’t believe how many youth were there. As I scanned the crowd, I noted someone wearing a BYU shirt. Could it be another Mormon? I approached him and asked if he was LDS and sure enough, he too was a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood and attending this camp with friends. We quickly figured out that we were the only Mormons among 400 youth. We promised to watch each other backs.
It was an awesome week filled with fun and games. But most of all, I was forced to really consider my spiritual position. The lead pastor was a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His family was still in Utah and active members of the Church. All the youth at this camp loved him. He was very out-going, funny and knowledgeable. He was the John Bytheway of Young Life.
About midway through the week, Shawn (the other Mormon) and I were summoned to meet with this pastor. The three of us sat down and he said, “I want to explain to you why the Book of Mormon is false and the Mormon Church a lie.” He articulated his position for nearly an hour. I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. As he finished, Shawn looked at me, sat straight up and thanked the pastor for his information and concern and then proceeded to bare witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. “I have read it myself. I have prayed about it. And I know it’s true” he said. I didn’t say a word. We left agreeing to disagree and finished a fun-filled week.
During the rest of the week and for months following, I spent a lot of time wondering why I didn’t speak up. Why I couldn’t say what Shawn had said. I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon but was just scared to say it. Because of that experience, I decide two things:
- I would never let another opportunity to bare testimony of the Book of Mormon go by without saying something, especially if it was in its defense. I would be bold in my beliefs. I would be spiritually “all in” for the rest of my life.
- I would someday create a camp, like the one I attended, for LDS youth. Not a glorified or woodsy EFY – something different. It would provide spiritual experiences for our youth and help them decide, once and for all, whose team they’re on.
The first goal I continue to strive to accomplish but can say that I’m not afraid to speak up. The second goal will be the subject of my next post. It is finally time to make this happen.
In General Conference of October 2009, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave one of the most intense testimonies of the Book of Mormon I have ever heard. It is this level of boldness I strive for in professing my belief in Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, the Gospel and the Restoration. I have included a video clip from this moving talk. Among other things he declares, “I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world … that the Book of Mormon is true.”