Students Get Real on Real Life Retreat

by Danielle Vanaman '06

Several college students gather in an outdoor amphitheatre lit only by the brilliant stars in the night sky. The air fills with the rustling of leaves from the surrounding trees, the gentle rushing of a nearby mountain stream, and the sound of voices worshipping the Lord. As the music fades, students begin to stand up one by one and share with incredible transparency about the joy and heartbreak of what God has been doing in their lives.

For most students caught up in the whirlwind of urban college life, this scene seems like nothing more than a distant dream. But on the weekend of September 26-28, it became a reality for nearly 200 APU students. Eager to get away from the "daily grind," they piled into vans on Friday afternoon and headed to the rural Forest Home camp for the annual Real Life Retreat, sponsored by the Office of Chapel Programs. For students who didn’t know anyone else on the trip, it was a bold step outside of their comfort zone. For those who went up with friends, it was a chance to spend some time with loved ones. For everyone, it was an opportunity to grow closer to God, and to fellow members of the APU community.

Throughout the weekend, many students spent time hanging out with friends or enjoying God’s creation in solitude, but several planned activities were also available. Some of the most popular included five sessions offered on Saturday, featuring topics ranging from love and relationships, to knowing God’s will. One of the sessions, led by Campus Pastor Chris Brown '95 and his wife, Amy '93, encouraged students to build healthy relationships based on clear communication. Using vivid examples from their own relationship, Chris and Amy advised students to remember that "expectations unsaid will always go unmet." Afterwards, Erin Magnold ’04 said, "It was the first time I’d ever heard love talked about in such a romantic yet realistic way. After seeing Chris and Amy talk about their relationship so honestly, I’m not as scared of getting married as I used to be."

Another session discussed biblically-based forgiveness, and was led by Haggard School of Theology Professor Bruce Baloian, Ph.D., a favorite among APU students. "We forgive because we’ve been forgiven," said Baloian "As we do this, our awareness of God grows. When Christ tells us to forgive, He isn’t trying to make us into doormats, He’s empowering us by showing us the way to freedom." His challenge to let go of painful grudges left many listeners determined to let old wounds heal, and to restore broken relationships.

While these sessions were widely attended, they were far from the only options available for participants. Several students chose to set out on a worship hike that explored God’s beautiful creation, while others took part in the various outdoor activities offered by the camp. Saturday drew to a close with a student-led worship session and an open-mic period where Chris Brown encouraged students to share openly with their peers by completing the sentence "Lately in my life, God has. . ." Following a church service the next morning, students packed up and headed back to life on campus.

"I really enjoyed the way we could choose how we spent our time," said Candis Regan ’04, "because it meant that you got out of it exactly what you put into it. The speakers were amazing, and they had so much to offer that I came away with a journal full of information to reflect on. The leaders really set the standard with their authenticity, and that created an environment where everyone else could just be authentic and real too."

Although the Real Life Retreat only lasted for one brief weekend, its impact will last much longer as 200 students return to campus with fresh perspectives, strengthened relationships, and renewed hearts for their God and His creation.