Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Catch It" Caught On

     Thanks for praying for the big student retreat called "Catch It."  36 BMA students (a third of the school!) took part, and most weren't Christians -- most were kids wanting to spend time with friends and get to know more about Jesus.  The weather was perfect, the activities were ingenious, and the participants were very happy. I was invited to be a guest game designer (I created a "night game" about smugglers which we played in the woods from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.) and then I returned on the last day to share a half-hour testimony of how I came to Christ and how it affects me today.  Let me report on what I saw first hand, and then what I heard about the retreat from others.
     When I arrived to set up my night game, students had just listened to one of three talks about the gospel given by missionary Dave Patty.  Dave organized his message into three parts: "Who am I?", "Who is God?"  and "What's my biggest problem and how does Jesus solve it?"  When I got up the hill to the conference center on the first night, the students had heard this first talk and split into four-person discussion groups.  There's a coffee shop up there and as I got my caffeine fix to get me through the evening, I noted a lot of the groups having pretty serious and intimate conversations.  Then we all geared up for my game.  It was a bit crazy but the kids were patient.  Of course, the main element necessary for the success of a night game is to have people jumping out from behind trees and causing other people to scream and giggle.  By this standard, it was a pretty good game.
     I came back on the third day of the retreat, and found everyone still lively and really enjoying each other's company.  Before I spoke, we all sang some popular American worship songs led by a student band.  The participation and enthusiasm were great, but the thing that touched me the most was the position of the worship band's back-up singer.  These days, most media-saturated countries have some kind of "reality" television program that works as a talent show:  American Idol, X Factor or here "ńĆesko-Slovensko Superstar."  One of our BMA students was in it this year and had a dynamic run into the very late rounds.  This created an event for our school, since millions of Czechs were watching on national television and the young man included us when he presented his personal story on the show.  All BMA folk were regularly stopped in shops and asked about him -- "Doesn't he go to your school?  How is he doing?  Isn't he great?"  He really was a superstar and really had screaming fans.  But just a few weeks after he left the contest, he was singing back-up in a little BMA band, because he's a Christian and wanted to support his friends who were leading worship.  His humility and servant heart really moved me.  I don't know if it struck the students in the same way -- he's one of them.
     While the singing was going on, I noticed that notes from Dave Patty's last talk were still on the white board.  He had done a detailed version of the great chasm between man and God, the one with failed bridges representing human attempts to cross the gap (religion, for example, or good deeds.)  Only the cross of Jesus can bring man to God the Father.  I was excited to see that illustration, since I remember so clearly when I saw it for the first time, right after my own salvation.
     The kids organizing the retreat had asked me for my testimony.  Besides fasting and praying, two other things went into my preparation.  I asked Dave for more details about his talks, so that I could fit into the context he had created.  I also meditated on some creative writing that I have been reading.  In my English classes, I ask for a lot of story-telling, and many students have shared powerful accounts about their recent or current struggles at home or at school.  I decided that I would give them the context of my salvation -- teenage years when I was really troubled at school and having some tough times with my family.   I gave specific stories that I hope were a bit funny as well as sad.  I tried to explain how I woke up to my own "biggest problem:"  pride and selfishness (sin) that I just couldn't escape from by myself.  I described the Sunday School teacher who invited me to the Toronto Billy Graham Crusade.  That's where I saw and understood the illustration that was on the white board right behind me now.
I gave this talk in Czech.  I felt pretty good about it.  Certainly the kids were very patient -- I felt that I had the attention and support of all of them.
     I've told you what I saw of the retreat myself, but there was much, much more.  I eagerly asked everyone I could for more stories.  Dave apparently had a lot of success giving very detailed presentations of the gospel.  His sessions went longer than you might expect with high school students, but the kids listened intently all the way through and then gathered around him for serious questions afterward.
     Student leaders of the small groups told me that some were fantastic, and some didn't find the planned discussions helpful so they used the time to share life stories.  The 36 kids grew together as a family, and felt very connected to each other.
In the first week after, I saw some immediate results.  When I asked one student where she was at now on her spiritual journey, she said that she was like a baby about to born... A number of the first year girls with no Christian background have started coming regularly to the student prayer and worship times during morning recesses...
     All in all, this is thing that makes BMA unique and thrilling.  God has given us a place where we can give the gospel in all kinds of different ways, and possibly the most powerful is what the Christian students do to show love to their friends in a creative, natural and exciting way.  I'm honored that the teenagers invited me as a guest, and thankful to everyone who supported the event.  - Paul