MBCollegiate students life transformation fall retreats

Fall retreats offer college students refreshment, community, life change

FALL. That time of year when yellowing leaves begin to waft slowly to the ground. When the mornings are cool and the evenings crisp. When the scent of burning wood and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot invigorate the senses.

It is this time of year when many college ministries attend or hold fall retreats. With several weeks of class behind them, students have had a chance to investigate the ministries available to them. They’ve started to build community – or are still trying to find it. The demands of schoolwork mount as they look toward Thanksgiving with no break in sight.

Providing an opportunity for students to slow down, get outside in God’s creation, deepen relationships and refocus on God is one of the best ways college ministries can serve their students this time of year. There’s nothing radical about the retreats themselves. They typically involve nature and hiking, bonfires and s’mores, icebreakers and games, worship and speakers, meals and snacks, cabins and bunk beds, late night activities and little sleep, and built-in time for individual reflection. But the Lord has a way of accomplishing a lot through these brief respites in the semester.

At the 8th annual 417 Retreat, 54 students from seven Missouri campuses gathered at Baptist Hill Assembly from Friday, Sept. 16, to Sunday, Sept. 18. This year’s theme was “Deeper,” taken from the life of Jonah. Over each of the four main sessions, they examined one chapter of Jonah.

Jerome Stockert, Campus Missionary at University of Central Missouri, brought 11 students along with himself and his intern. It was Central BSU’s first year participating in the retreat, and his students were challenged by the life of Jonah. “Several of the students have been struggling in some areas with regards to obedience. There were some clear reevaluations, and subsequent steps to be obedient where they had not been before,” Stockert says.

Eleven students from Missouri Southern BSU came to the retreat and returned refreshed and invigorated, according to their campus missionary, Jon Smith. “I had several comment on how they needed it to move forward spiritually and otherwise,” says Smith. Aaron Werner, campus missionary at Crowder BSU, says the retreat brought his thirteen attending students together as a group, especially as they worked as a team for the TikTok scavenger hunt. “For our freshmen, it was their first retreat with us, so those relationships started to be more personal,” he says.

Smith and Werner, veteran college ministers, founded the 417 Retreat in 2015 as a response to the hole created for their ministries when the Missouri Baptist Convention stopped holding Getaway, its annual college ministry fall retreat held at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, MO. For both of their ministries, Getaway had “served as a catalyst to move students in our ministries from interested to involved—a key step in our discipleship plans,” says Smith.

While at Collegiate Week in Glorietta, N.M., in 2015, the pair, along with one of Werner’s students, mapped out a new plan for a regional event that would meet the needs of their own ministries – and hopefully others as well. They planned the first retreat just a month before hosting it.

Smith says they were “flying by the seat of our pants.” Proof of that, he says, is in the retreat’s name. “We called it 417 because it was our regional area code.” They used 2 Timothy 4:17 as the theme verse that first year. Though half the schools that come for the retreat now are outside the 417 area code, the name stuck.

Christina Boatright, campus missionary at North Central Missouri College BSU, has participated since the founding year. This year she brought five students, including a new student who started attending Bible studies and worship services after coming to the retreat. The scavenger hunt on Saturday afternoon provided a fruitful context for NCMC students to bond like it did for other campus groups.

Three students from Three Rivers College recommitted their lives to Christ, and another came to faith in Christ for the first time. The student who came to Christ, Brent, had attended the retreat in 2021 as well. “Over the course of the weekend I could see God start a work in his heart,” says campus missionary James Mohler. “Both nights were spent talking through different things, and I got the opportunity to share the gospel with him.” Brent was curious, but “that was all at the time.” He disappeared after the retreat, only showing up to BSU dinners once in a while during the 2021-2022 school year.

This fall, Brent told Mohler he wanted to go to the retreat again and get more involved with the BSU. The first night of the retreat, he said he felt as if the pastor was talking right to him. “I explained how that was God speaking to him,” says Mohler. “We talked a little longer and went to bed. The next day he was doing the quiet time and was really challenged by what he read in the book of Jonah.” Later that evening, Mohler conversed with Brent before bed. “I asked if he was ready to believe and follow Jesus…he said YES!” On the final day of the retreat, Brent shared with the group what had happened. When they asked how he felt, Mohler says, “his response was that a huge weight was gone, and it felt funny and strange but good all at the same time.”

Two weekends after the 417 Retreat, Collegiate Impact in the Kansas City area held its third annual Abide Fall Retreat for college students and college-aged young adults. Growing from just five students in 2020 to 34, the retreat this year focused on Aligning Your Heart with Christ.

Collegiate Impact is a citywide web of on-campus ministries and partnering churches aiming to reach college students on all sixteen campuses in the KC Metro, as well as other college-aged young adults. It’s a unique model, and the retreat reflected that. Three partner churches provided meals. Speakers from three partnering churches, including one professor from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave the main session messages. A University of Missouri-Kansas City alum and her husband, who are ministry supporters and members of a local associational church, led worship. Students and young adults from across the Metro, from various campuses and churches, gathered under one ministry umbrella to realign their hearts with God.

In the post-retreat feedback form, one student said, “God taught me to spend intentional time alone with Him.” Another shared that she was struck by “how much He loves me and cares for me.” A young man was challenged by “the reality of how necessary discipline is in my life,” while another was reminded to “take encouragement in God and eternal promises rather than getting stressed out in the moment all the time.”

Executive Director Travis Hamm considered the retreat a success and an encouragement, writing, “At this year’s Fall Retreat we saw 8 partner churches work with our campus ministry staff to provide this event for 34 students from 8 Kansas City area colleges…this really embodies the mission of Collegiate Impact: a network of churches and campus ministries working together to bring the hope and peace of Jesus to Kansas City area college students.”

Retreats like 417 and Abide take a massive amount of effort to pull off, and that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the campus ministry staff. They plan, pray, and prepare; they handle registration and promotion; they organize food and housing logistics; they teach and lead; they plan activities and spearhead games; and they do it all on little sleep while pouring into their students.

But it’s worth it, because they’ve seen God use that context to work in their students’ hearts time and time again. Helping students move from interested to involved with their ministry and from curious to committed with Jesus is well worth the effort—and the lack of sleep.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Pathway, a publication of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Republished with permission.


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