If you asked me at the beginning of the summer why I wanted to go to the Coloma Summer Retreat with the college ministry of Kairos, I would have told you that I had absolutely no idea. I was in a bad place spiritually, suffering from complacency and ennui, and I was just feeling very down cast. I had previously become a Christian the summer before, and was baptized in the very same place on the American River. So I argued with myself that it was most likely sentimentality that was drawing me to go back up to the gorgeous forest, to help set up a tent with a group of girls that I didn't know well, and sit with a bunch of strangers once every evening to listen to the youth pastor speak.
A Rocky Start
Naturally nothing happened easily.
Within the first two hours of getting to camp, we realized that the zipper on our tent was broken, so to fix it, we had to grab duct tape and skewers to sew it together. Not exactly protection from the elements, or skunks which were running rampant in the night.
Then our stove blew up. Literally caught on fire and started spewing it everywhere, so one of the guys (Buzz) from the camp next to ours had to figure out how to get it out, without seriously causing it to explode.
A hippy's off leash dog ate our bacon.
And we forgot an axe for our fire wood.
Plus one of the girls that I was tenting with was already starting to complain about wanting to go home.
I was beginning to really doubt my reasoning for why I had come on this trip.
The Heart Melting Experience
But God really had a purpose for me to be there at the retreat. When worship started, something about being surrounded by the trees and nature, and a huge group of brothers and sisters in Christ, really started to do something to my heart. The sun was setting all golden over the tops of the trees, the dust was trembling in the air, the geese were grazing down on the grass by the waterfront, and all around me, people were raising their voices in worship to God.
And when Pastor Phil stood up to speak- it was exactly what I needed to hear.
We hear a lot about Jesus's sacrifice, but sometimes we forget about what it means to us, or sometimes our hearts become numb to it. When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are essentially saved from death, and saved from the sins of our past, our present, and our future.
Imagine this. You are starving, so you steal some bread. You are caught, torn away from your family, and put in prison. The warden is a ruthless and unjust slaver, and he forces you to work to pay off your debt and bail, but all you make each day are pennies and dimes, and what you owe is unpayable in your life time. You live your life in rags, with shackles on your wrists, completely hopeless.
Until one day, a rich man, a King, comes into your prison cell and says, "I want that one."
This King is glorious, from a distant land, sparkling with jewels and diamonds. You can't even look into His face, because you are so ashamed of your poverty. But He takes you by the hand, says your name, and pays your debt.
What's more, He brings you back to His kingdom, and instead of making you a slave for Him, He dresses you in riches and adopts you into His family and gives you everything forever and ever.
I had never thought of my life like that before. But it became so apparent that night in the warm summer evening.
The Sacrifice. What everything meant for me. How thankful I should be.
From that point on, my entire trip was changed.
I really understood and got it, and my attitude changed from one of anxiety and grumpiness, to complete thankfulness for everything that I had.
As night fell, we divided into two main places to hang out. The main camp fire where folks sat around and played games like Mafia into the early hours, or the campfire at our camp site, where people gathered with their guitars and played and sang worship songs late into the night.
Sweet Summer Fun
The rest of the trip was a mix of relaxation, meeting new people, and just praising God for who He is. Our campfire became the designated site for worship, and there was a running joke that somewhere around there were at least three guitars going at once.
In the afternoons we sat around and talked, but the main attraction was taking tire tubes and going down the rapids!
The water was lower this year than the year before, so the trip down the American River wasn't quite so perilous as before, but of course, quite a few people were thrown out of their tubes and got bruises and battle scars to show for it.
Then late at night we would always go for night hikes. We went all the way down to the place where we get out of our tubes on the water, and in the pitch black beneath this bridge, myself and at least twenty other people lay back on the rocks and stared in silence across the water, dappled with the light of the moon and stars. It was almost inevitable that someone would begin to pray and soon we were all just speaking words of prayer together as we took in the beauty of that night.
Baptism of My Brother & My Brothers and Sisters
The last day before we headed back home, was the baptisms.
It was amazing seeing so many new friends and old ones being baptized, to symbolize their dedication and new life as followers of Christ. Hearing a lot of their testimonies for the first time was hard, because I learned so much about where these people had been in their lives, and what Jesus had saved them from.
Among them was my little brother Jordan.
He gave his life to Christ well before I did, so I looked up to him as a spiritual leader even though he was younger than me. Seeing him being baptized by his mentor was a very proud moment for me as his sister.
The little boy that I knew, who was the front man of a hard core band, who made a lot of mistakes in his youth... I really got a chance this year to see him turn into a real man, and a real man of God.
Baptisms were very emotional for me.
I am so happy for everyone who was there to hear their testimonies, and those who were ready to take that outward step to show their dedication to following Jesus.
Farewell, But Not Goodbye
Coloma was an amazing experience this year, just as it was last year.
In retrospect though, this one was much more meaningful, and I believe it was a huge catalyst for change in my life, not just an experience.
It motivated me to take God seriously, to not take my salvation for granted, and to really be thankful for what I have in Christ-
For my adoption as His child.
I can only continue to pray that every year, more and more people will be touched as I have been, by the retreat, the wonderful Godly people there, and that God will continue to reveal Himself.