As a staff person with Cru, we do go to our share of conferences. But one of my favorites is the annual Winter Conference for our region, which includes California, Arizona and Hawaii. It has been in San Diego right after Christmas for the past 20 years, but this year it changed its title, location and time. “Radiate” happened on MLK weekend in mid-January, and was a great conference. I will freely admit that my ability to fully “experience” conferences is limited, since being there with kids means I don’t stay up ‘til 1am and don’t end up attending every session, but there were a number of things that I really enjoyed about our time there, and I am so thankful that the 50 or so students from UC Davis that went seemed to love it and were blessed and challenged by the conference in some powerful ways.
First, Jeremiah’s role at the conference was to run the bookstore/resource center. He selected and ordered books and ministry resources to have available for students and fellow staff to buy, and tried to figure out when to be open in the midst of a very full conference schedule. I enjoyed helping him with it a bit, since we both have a passion to help students get wisdom and to grow in their walk with God. This is not surprising since we both continue to long for more of God’s wisdom and continuing growth in our own lives as well, and solid books, alongside God’s Word, have played a big part in helping us move towards that. It was fun picking out books in December to order and then talking to students who came to brows the bookstore about what books might be just right for them where they are at in their walk with God. I always walk away wanting to read more and even wanting to re-read many great books that I have been blessed by.
Second, I loved watching students hearing God speak to them through the speakers, music, testimonies, and seminars. One of my favorite thoughts from a main session (our main speakers were JP and Donna Jones) was that “Following Jesus means we make knowing Him our life goal and pursuit.” It is a process, a pursuit, and a real relationship, and it does take a lifetime to really get to know him. It also means that we know the value of knowing Him and that it will change our decisions and our path—we do things with intentionality, on purpose, to move towards Him and living for Him, because we believe and know that true satisfaction is found there. A small picture of this on a human level is when we change our life trajectory or even just temporary plans to be near someone we want to marry. Jeremiah changed job locations and moved to South Dakota where I had a job after law school so that we could be together; I decided to join staff instead of pursuing government jobs so that we could serve in ministry together. Now we both look back and see how those decisions were motivated by relationship and that God used them in our lives to teach us and change us in many ways. How much more is that magnified when it is the God of the Universe we are getting to know and are making decisions to glorify. It is definitely worth following Him with all of who we are.
Yet all of these great sources for input at conferences produce life-change best when experienced in the context of a safe community, and it is fun to see some of the Davis students starting to be that for each other. I was able to talk with one of our students who at first felt a bit isolated at the conference, but then was able to bless and encourage several other students, realizing that she wasn’t alone and that authentic relationships grow when we are vulnerable and don’t try to perform.
Third, a fun side-benefit of these conferences is building relationships on the staff side, and not just for Jeremiah and myself. We both enjoy connecting with our fellow Campus staff (working side by side with them to run the conference and fitting in some encouraging conversations along the way), but it is also fun to see the kids building relationships with the other staff kids; they come to the conferences excited to see and play with their friends there, and enjoy the times in childcare during some of the sessions. They also get to play with fellow staff kids during the couple hours of free time in the afternoon.
This year, many staff families headed down to the pool at the same time and there were 18 staff kids in the hot tub at the same time! Don’t worry, they were not disrupting any other hotel guests, as the only adult in the hot tub at the time was one of the staff dads.
Interestingly, the day before, we had also squeezed in a quick trip to the pool before dinner, and had the chance to talk with the main speaker for the conference, who we interrupted reading on his kindle in the hot tub. We enjoyed talking with him about ministry and life, and then the other woman sitting nearby volunteered a thought, joining the conversation. She and her husband and daughter were hotel guests on vacation, but it was fun to cross paths with her at the pool, because we not only got to hear about her spiritual background, but she was very interested in hearing from Jeremiah and J.P. about what Jesus’ life on earth accomplished and why his death and resurrection are such good news for us. The next day, she saw Jeremiah again, said hello, and thanked him for the Bible he had given her from the conference bookstore. We praise God for the ways he works and the opportunities he gives us to join in!
On the relational side, we also had the joy of seeing a graduate of NAU who we had worked with there—she came down for part of a day, hung out with us and played with the kids. It is so great to be able to see how God is continuing to work in and through her as she trusts Him with her plans. Then, after returning home, we had another former NAU student come and stay with us in Davis for a couple days. I was so encouraged by both of these lovely women that are very dear to me, and I am thankful to still be able to spend time with them and to pray for them.
Fourth, Isaiah had a unique opportunity this year to participate in a dramatic performance at another conference close by for another ministry of Cru (Epic Movement). The Bema Seat is a powerful play put on by one main actor with a number of volunteers. It presents a Christian man’s experience at the second coming of Jesus, how he meets Jesus and experiences complete acceptance, love and forgivness, but also reflects back on his life and what were the things that mattered and brought the greatest joy in an eternal sense. Isaiah was part of a vision from the man’s past, a picture of the main character as a boy. It was a fun experience for Isaiah, he did a great job, and was able to be part of something that touched many people’s lives. I think it caused him to think about the choices we all make on a daily basis and how they matter in eternity as well.
While he was at rehearsal, I had some special time with Bethany and Judah at the Mall nearby, and we tried some cotton candy for the first time in years…
Finally, the whole process of getting to and from the conference allowed us to see God provide for us in our travels in amazing ways. We don’t want to let it slip by without giving Him the glory for protecting and providing for us! The drive down was rather disconcerting for the 7 of us in the van (our family, a fellow staff woman, and a volunteer), since every time we went over 60mph, the van started rattling and shaking, then locking all of our seatbelts so that we could barely move. We figured it was just a tire out of balance after stopping and examining things. But it got us there, and worked well enough to drive us around as needed. On the way home, we decided to go up 99 instead of Highway 5, and it was a good thing. As we pulled off the freeway for dinner, one of the back tires went flat. We rolled right into the Costco parking lot, took it right up to the tire service, and went in to have some dinner. How amazing is that! God is so good, because anywhere else would have entailed changing a tire on the side of the freeway in the dark. We got back into the van after that, and all breathed a sigh of relief (and praised God for His provision) as it did not rattle or lock us in our seats anymore. We arrived safely at home a couple hours later.
Then the next morning, Jeremiah drove the kids to school. When he got back in the van, it wouldn’t start. We ended up having to tow it to a mechanic, who said the starter was bad. We were able to fix it and get the van up and running in a couple days. We praise God for the timing of this as well, however—the van didn’t break down until we were back in Davis, walking distance from home, and with a trustworthy mechanic nearby. Praise Him! I am often amazed at how the Lord provides and cares for us.