"Who here is a Christian? Where is the evidence?"
These were questions posed to transfixed 8th graders last week as speakers Ray Banks and Joy VanderVennen worked to lead them to examine their spiritual walk with the Lord and to train them to become the leaders God wants them to be this year and beyond. The class of 2017 was pushed to demonstrate that evidence as they worked, played, worshipped, and lead together at the first annual 8th grade overnight retreat at the Christian Reformed Conference Grounds.
Learning to become a leader and building a community takes time, effort, and a willing spirit. The goals of the retreat were to give students the tools and time they needed to begin to think about what true community and leadership look like.
Sometimes learning and building was manifested through trying to squeeze a classmate through a very small 'spider web' opening, while working through difficulties and varying opinions on how to get the job done.
Other times, it meant pulling weeds in the rain at Millennium Park without complaint, and by the time the 6th and 7th graders arrived Friday morning, it meant the 8th graders were waiting to greet their small groups with welcome signs, bandanas, and smiles.
Friday gave students an opportunity to stretch beyond themselves and their 8th grade class to include the rest of the middle school. It gave them a chance to show the evidence of their faith, of their leadership, and of their developing community as they lead their small groups in games and other activities.
A powerful moment after Friday's talk brought students to pray with adults, sharing their lives and opening their hearts to what God has for them.
Observed one of our moms: "It brought tears to my eyes to see the impact this opportunity is having on the lives of our students."
Although community can be built through organized activities, many times it is built through memories made during unorganized time. Swimming in Lake Michigan on a beautiful late summer day, throwing water bottles to the rafters to see if they would stick, comforting a friend who is sad, praying with students, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, and (somehow) smacking (welt-leaving) ping pong balls at each other all work to create a beautiful example of what life is all about - a life worth doing together!
Scripture points to the importance of community - but also of building each other up and encouraging each other in the spiritual journey. These two days began to cultivate these qualities in our 8th grade students and in our middle school.
Our prayer is that this cultivation will continue throughout the year.
So when you are touring the halls of the middle school this year, I challenge you to look for a difference, to look for community, to look for evidence...evidence of what it means to walk with Christ and lead by example.