Students wrestle with God, life at campus retreat

Nearly 215 students from John Brown University boarded buses Friday evening for Breakaway. For the second year, New Life Ranch of Colcord, Okla. hosted the annnual school retreat.

Once students arrived, they flooded to the cabins, where they would spend Friday night in bunk beds.

The Breakaway planning team invited three speakers to minister to the students at this year’s event, which had “Wrestle” as its theme.

Laura Bailey, instructor of French and linguistics, spoke about knowing God on Friday night, after an extended time of student-led worship. She shared her journey of faith, which began in high school, took her to Thailand and led her to a deeper, more personal relationship with God.

Bailey encouraged students to “make Jesus the main thing” in their lives, especially in times of change, doubt and uncertainty.

“In the end, God finally answers,” she said. “He says, ‘See me, know me.’ That is enough.”

Following the service, students broke up into small groups to discuss their thoughts on the message.

Senior Jen Madsen said the small groups were a good part of the retreat for her.

“They felt smaller than in the past, and they made it easy to talk,” she said.

Freshman Meaghan Ranz said the groups gave her “time to process” and that she had a really good group.

“I needed to come,” said Ranz. “I needed time away, to rest, to be with the Lord.”

After the small groups, students dispersed to three stations where they could process the service and spend time with God. They could choose between a time of silence and meditation, opportunities to express themselves creatively with paint and chalk, or sitting around a campfire to talk with others.

Charles Lingerfelt, a transfer junior, said he really appreciated the three different places because God had been putting many things on his heart before and during the weekend.

“They helped me unpack and express that in a different way. It was awesome,” he said.

Later, screams filled the air as students zoomed through the night on the ranch’s zip-line.

Saturday morning, Cary Balzer, director of faculty development, spoke about wrestling with God.

“I had always trusted God because nothing bad had ever happened,” Balzer said.

All that changed when he woke up one morning with a mysterious numbness below his waist. He turned out to have Multiple Sclerosis. While Balzer’s case is not as severe as some, his feet are permanently numb and he lost some sight in his right eye.

Balzer told the story of Jacob’s midnight tussle with God to illustrate how he dealt with this. In Jacob’s story, after always struggling with men, Jacob finally wrestled God. God changed his name from Jacob to Israel, and Jacob left with a limp.

Balzer found parallels in his own life.

“I wasn’t just wrestling with MS, I was beginning to wrestle with God,” he said. “He changed my name and my life was no longer mine but God’s.”

Balzer referred to his MS as his “limp,” and sees it as a sort of reminder.
“Now I trust God more deeply,” he said.

Maxie Burch, associate professor of biblical studies, closed the series Saturday before lunch.

Burch used the biblical account of Joseph to describe a pattern he also saw in his own life. First, a vision is given, and then one wrestles with God as the vision dies. Finally, God supernaturally fulfills the vision.

“We don’t get all the details. We just see that God is working,” he told students.

For Joseph, that meant years of waiting on God as his character was tested and his dreams seemed unfilled.

For Burch, it meant for six years he watched his dream die.

“At the point you say ‘yes’ to God’s vision for your life and yielding your life to him, you become a dangerous person,” he concluded.

Students spent their afternoon of free time participating in activities such as the ropes course, canoeing, catching up on homework or hanging out with friends.

After dinner, a question and answer session allowed the speakers to address issues such as “What does it look like to pursue and know God?” and “Is it okay to wrestle with God?” The weekend then concluded with a time of worship and communion.

Several students mentioned the times of worship as one of their favorite parts.

Seniors Bryan Roe, Andrew Layden and Will Chesher along with juniors Jared DeFriese and Greg Murray led worship for the weekend.

“We tried to construct sets that would create the flow so the songs we sang would be an accurate reflection of what we’re talking about,” Layden said.

According to the University website, Breakaway exists to provide opportunities for fellowship, reflection and worship among the University community in an off-campus retreat setting.

“We look at what the campus needs to hear and who would best communicate that,” said Frank Hubert, director of discipleship. “We ask how we can create an environment where people can hear from God.”

Breakaway follows a four-year thematic cycle: communion, calling, community, and character.

“This year we looked at communion and intimacy with God,” said Hubert. “We spent time reflecting on the hindrances and roadblocks to that. One of those was ‘What do we do when it is hard?’”

The Student Ministries Leadership Team is in charge of the event. This year the core team included seniors Lizz White and Zack Jones, junior Abby Fennema and sophomore Bonnie Black.