I put my suitcase and sleeping bag in a corner of a meeting room at the First Covenant Church of Stockdale. I looked around, a little apprehensive about sleeping on the floor, in a sleeping bag, with eight other guys in their sleeping bags in the same room. I did not sleep well in unfamiliar places, particularly with other people in the room who might be snoring or making noise or breathing. But if I was tired enough, I would probably be fine. After all, last year I almost got five hours of sleep camping illegally on the beach in Moonlight Cove, so I would probably be able to handle this.
This retreat was called Spring Breakthrough. Or maybe it was Spring Breakaway, or Spring Breakout, or some other pun based on the retreat being during spring break. Instead of driving up to the mountains, like we had on the other retreats I had been on with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, we were just hanging out at a church in a nondescript suburban neighborhood in Stockdale, about an hour drive down the Valley south of Jeromeville. I would learn later that the McAllens, the head staff of JCF, had a connection to someone at this church, which is how we got it for our retreat.
Spring Breakthrough was also open only to second-year and older students. Freshmen had their own retreat somewhere else for these same three days, called by a different one of the aforementioned cheesy names. I forget which. Because it took up three days of a relatively short Spring Break, and because freshmen had their own retreat, Spring Breakthrough had fewer students attending compared to other JCF retreats I had been on, around twenty.
We arrived on Saturday evening, right after winter quarter finals, and for our first meeting, Brian Burr had set up a television and VCR. Brian, one of my roommates, was on staff with JCF part time, and he was leading this retreat along with the McAllens, the adult couple on staff full time. I knew exactly what we would be watching, because I had seen Brian working on this video earlier in the week. Before he started the video, Brian spoke about discipleship, the theme for this weekend. “Discipleship is intentional by nature,” Brian explained. “When you disciple someone, you become a part of their lives, to help lead their spiritual growth. To start you thinking about discipleship this weekend, I have prepared a video showing a very famous discipleship relationship among certain well-known characters.” I giggled at Brian’s description of his video. “Pay attention to what you see about the discipling relationships depicted in this video,” Brian continued.
Autumn Davies sat next to me, and when she heard me giggling, she whispered, “What’s so funny?”
“Just laughing at the way he described that,” I said, “because I know what the video is.”
“What is it?”
“Oh!” Autumn said, a look of recognition passing over her face.
Brian pushed the VHS tape in the player and pressed Play. The opening music and scrolling backstory of Star Wars showed on the screen, and for the next hour, we watched an abridgement of the movie trilogy, containing all of the scenes related to discipleship. I watched Obi-Wan teach Luke about the Force. After Obi-Wan’s death, his Force ghost led Luke to Yoda, who took Obi-Wan’s place in Luke’s discipleship.
After the video, which in our abridged version ended with Luke seeing the three Force ghosts, we got into groups of three or four to talk about what discipleship meant to us, and to share stories about someone who had discipled us. Autumn, Janet McAllen, and Evan Lundgren turned their chairs toward me.
“So what did you guys think?” Janet asked. “Who has discipled you?”
After a pause, in which everyone seemed to be debating whether or not to go first, Autumn spoke up. “For me, really, it was Leah, and everyone in my Bible study freshman year. I grew up going to church on Christmas and Easter, but it didn’t really mean anything until I got here. I met Leah our first day in the dorm, and she invited me to Bible study a couple weeks later, and I made a decision for Jesus after a few Bible studies.”
I did some quick mental math. If Autumn became a Christian a few weeks into fall quarter her freshman year, which was my sophomore year, that means that she had only been a Christian for a month at the most when I met her, when our group failed so hilariously badly at the car rally. I never would have guessed this, since Autumn always seemed so intense about living for Jesus.
Evan and Janet told their stories next, and finally it was my turn. I did not want to share. I was a little embarrassed. “I feel like it’s hard to talk about,” I said. “I don’t know if I want to share out loud, because the person who first comes to mind is in this room.”
“Brian,” Janet said with a look of recognition.
“Actually, I was thinking Eddie, last year when I was having a rough night, and he took me in and invited me over. But, yeah, Brian too. And all of you guys. You, when you told me about sin and Jesus’ death and resurrection. And Sarah, and…” I looked around, trying to remember if any of my other Building C friends were on this retreat; they were not, Sarah Winters was the only one. “And my friends from my dorm, who accepted me for who I was.”
“Wait,” Autumn said. “So you’re a pretty new Christian too?”
“Yeah. I made the decision to follow Jesus a little over a year ago.”
“I didn’t know that. You always seem to me like you must have been a Christian for a long time.”
“Funny you should say that. I was just thinking the same thing about you.”
“That is funny,” Autumn said. “I guess sometimes the Lord just finds you, and lights a fire in your heart.”
“Yeah. Someone else said that about me once.”
We shared prayer requests, then returned to the rooms where we were sleeping, Janet and Autumn to one room with the women and Evan and I to the room with the men. It took me a bit longer than usual to get to sleep, to get used to the unfamiliar noises and sounds, but I ended up sleeping fine after that.
We were staying at a church, and the next day was Sunday, so we all attended the service together. The pastor of the church introduced us at the beginning of the service; people turned around to look at us, and we all waved.
After church, we went back to the youth room, where our meetings were being held. Eddie Baker, John Harvey, Lars Ashford, and Xander Mackey had discovered the foosball table on the opposite end of the room from where we were sitting last night. I walked up, trying not to interrupt, since they were focused on an intense competition.
“Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.
“What’s up?” Xander asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Can I watch?”
“Sure, dude,” Lars replied. I watched as the four boys made the ball fly across the table with amazing precision that I never had known to be attainable on a foosball table. I had played around on foosball tables off and on over the years, but I was never anywhere near this good. As with most actual sports, everyone around me was better than I was.
John gestured out the window, where Brent Wang and a few others were throwing a Frisbee. “I’m gonna go outside and play Frisbee with Brent,” John said after their game ended. “Greg? You want in?”
“Sure,” I replied. I grabbed the handles for the defense side of John’s team, even though John had been playing offense; I hoped that Eddie would not mind playing offense. I did not want to speak up, since that would require admitting that I was not very good at foosball, and blocking shots seemed slightly easier than flicking my wrist and sliding the handles the way the others had been in order to score. Eddie grabbed the handles for the offense players without questioning this arrangement.
“So I found a foosball table for our house next year,” Lars said. “It’s used, but I got a good deal on it.”
“That’s awesome,” Eddie replied.
“You guys are living together next year?” I asked. The other three at this table had lived together last year, but this year Lars and Xander lived in one house and Eddie in another, along with John, who had been playing earlier.
“Yeah,” Xander said. “Us three, John, and Jason and Ramon. We got this really nice four-bedroom house on De Anza Drive. It’s two-story, with a balcony.”
“That sounds cool,” I said as I successfully blocked Lars’ shot. I was a little disappointed to hear that I had been excluded from The Cool House yet again, although I was not surprised. I had been reminded so many times this year that I was on the outside of the cliques at JCF, and I had come to accept that. I realized that I had not yet made plans for housing for next year, and while I had a feeling I would still be able to find something, I also began to panic in my mind. This distracted me enough that Lars’ next shot went streaming past my goalie. “Crap,” I said as Xander moved his team’s score counter up.
We had another talk about discipleship Sunday night, and another one Monday morning. Word spread quickly that there was a foosball table in the room, and most of our free time was spent around that table, playing, watching, or waiting our turns. Even Brent, who always seemed to bring a Frisbee wherever he went, had eschewed his Frisbee for foosball.
I finally got a win Monday afternoon. I was playing with Autumn on my team, and Tabitha Sasaki and Evan Lundgren on the other side of the table. None of us were particularly skilled at foosball, and Autumn and I won by a score of 10 to 8. After that game, I stepped aside to let the more skilled players back in.
A little bit later, shortly before our final session on discipleship, I left the foosball table and wandered across the room to where we would be meeting. Janet was writing a table of numbers on a large pad of paper attached to an easel.
|Preaching to 100||Discipleship of 1|
“Exponential growth,” I said.
“Yes!” Janet replied. “You get it, because you’re a math major. Isn’t it amazing how effective discipleship can be, when people get discipled and go on to disciple others?”
About ten minutes later, Janet and a few others walked around the room to gather everyone together for the talk. When we were ready to begin, Janet announced, “Turn to the person next to you, and tell them, what do you want to take home from this weekend?”
Xander was sitting next to me. As I tried to think of a deep answer, something I had learned this weekend that I wanted to put into practice in my life back in Jeromeville, Xander said loudly, “I wanna take home the foosball table!” I laughed at this, as did everyone else within earshot.
“I’m still figuring out what to take away from this,” I said. “I feel like discipleship isn’t something I’m naturally good at.”
“That’s okay,” Xander replied. “Sometimes it’s just about how you live. Spreading the gospel isn’t just about preaching. People see you helping out, volunteering to help the worship team set up their equipment, stuff like that, and they can see you showing the love of Jesus. And didn’t you say you’re doing something with the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant?”
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Those kids are gonna remember you. That’s a kind of discipleship too.”
After everyone finished, Janet spoke to the group. “I made a table here,” she said, gesturing to the easel. “This column shows how many people get reached for Jesus if you preach to a hundred people every year. But this column over here shows how many people you reach if you disciple one person for a year, and then each of them disciples someone else for a year, and then each of them disciples someone, and so on. Notice how fast the number grows through discipleship.” I smiled and nodded, thinking about having learned this in math class, as Janet continued, “And Greg can tell us why.”
What? Me? This was unexpected; I was not prepared to speak. But this was math, and I knew exactly what to say. I nervously stood up, and after no one told me to sit back down, I began. “Preaching is a linear function. The rate of change is always the same, so the same number of people get reached every year. But with discipleship, the more people who get reached, the more new people they will reach. The rate of change is proportional to the number of people reached. That describes an exponential function. The number of people reached grows faster and faster as more people get reached.” I sat back down, and all the other students clapped. I hoped that they actually learned something from my explanation, something about math and about Christian living, and that their applause was not just humoring me as I got an opportunity to use big math words.
As Janet continued talking about discipleship, I kept thinking about what I told Xander: discipleship did not come naturally to me. I often felt like I was not a very good Christian because I was not good at inviting people to JCF or telling strangers about my beliefs. But Xander did make a good point; living a life for Jesus can take many different forms. I seemed to be finding a niche as a youth group leader at church.
The last thing on the schedule tonight was dinner, and we would all be headed home to our respective spring breaks tonight. Before we went to dinner, though, Autumn suggested, “We should get a group picture!”
“Yeah!” Janet replied. “Where should we go to get a good picture?”
“Around the foosball table,” John suggested. “That’s pretty much what we did this whole time.”
Everyone liked John’s idea. We all gathered around the table and gave our cameras to Dave, Janet’s husband; he took the picture many times, on everyone’s camera, and then handed our cameras back to us.
After dinner, I packed and said goodbye to everyone. My spring break was only a week, so I would see them again soon. I had a two and a half hour drive home, plenty of time to think about all I had learned. I stopped at the first gas station to fill up, and while I was there I used the pay phone to call Mom with an estimate of what time I would be home. Before I left for the retreat, I had told Mom I would be home Monday night, but I did not know yet what time. I would not be getting home until after ten o’clock tonight; Mom told me to drive safely, and that she might be asleep on the couch by the time I got there.
I put in a new CD I had recently bought at the Christian bookstore in Jeromeville, by a new band from Georgia called Third Day. I had heard Eddie and John play this CD the last time I was at their house, and I liked what I heard. I still had nowhere to live next year. Neither Brian nor Shawn, my current roommates, would be in Jeromeville next year, so living with them was not an option. Fall quarter was six months away, but the housing market in Jeromeville was so tight that I needed to make a plan quickly. Living in The Cool House with Eddie and those guys would have been nice, but that ship had sailed. I knew enough people by now that if I started mentioning my need for a place to live and roommates for the 1997-98 school year, there was a good chance that someone would know something. I put the thought out of my mind as I drove; it would be a spring quarter problem, after I got back to Jeromeville in six days. I had a fourth roommate, Josh, whom I did not see as often, and I did not know if he would need a roommate next year. I had gotten closer to him lately, though, since he was also a youth group leader at church, and he would be the one who led me to my living situation for the following year. But that is a story for another time.
Much of the ministry model of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship was based on students inviting their friends to group meetings, Bible studies, or retreats. This was how I got involved in JCF, and how I learned what it meant to follow Jesus. But I just was not good at inviting people to things, and sometimes I felt like I was not a good enough Christian because of that. I knew that God had a role for me in his kingdom, and at least for now, being a youth leader was part of it. I was still trying to figure out exactly what form my acts of discipleship would take, and sometimes it was difficult to know if I was actually doing God’s will, or just doing what I wanted.
Hey, readers! Tell me about someone who mentored or discipled you in a memorable way.