The Rest and Renewal Retreat held in early March at Camp Au Sable attracted 300 people, including 200 non-Adventists. | Photo credit: Wes Peppers
In early March, when Covid-19 was an unknown threat in the U.S., a group embarked on a unique type of retreat, one that would end up transforming the lives of several hundred people.
The weekend was an experiment that ended as a divinely innovative break-through in personal and public evangelism. Focused on “Christ’s Method Alone” for reaching the heart, it created an opportunity for any Michigan lay member to bring a non-Adventist friend and enjoy a relaxing retreat and an opportunity to study the Bible together.
The registration fee was simple: invite and bring a non-member friend, family member, neighbor, co-worker, or church attending visitor, and both would enjoy the weekend for free. For the first time in history, Camp Au Sable was banned to church members who weren’t accompanied by someone not of our faith!
Wes Peppers, the Michigan Conference Evangelism Coordinator wasn’t sure how many would respond. He was hoping for a total of 50-75 people. However, the Lord brought almost 300, with nearly 200 non-Adventists! For some, this was the first “vacation” they had ever taken in their lives.
Attendees ranged from lifelong Christians of many denominations to agnostics and even atheists. Some had read the Bible through every year of their life, while others were reading it for the first time. “Camp Au Sable was packed to capacity for Jesus!” remarked Peppers, who also serves as Michigan’s associate Ministerial Director.
The weekend began on a Thursday evening and went through Sunday lunch. There were three key areas of focus:
On Thursday evening, most of the attendees weren’t sure what to expect. They settled into their rooms and then into the auditorium for orientation and the first meeting. They sat in awe as the Bible came to life during the message. The next morning was the same. After a day of R&R activities, they came back to the Friday evening meeting glowing with joy. The day of rest had completely eradicated any reservation they had about the weekend.
One of the most significant things that happened is that guests willingly kept coming back to the meetings. They weren’t required, but the auditorium was packed every session. People were hungry for the Bible truth they were learning, and the friendship they had with those who brought them broke down most every barrier. They were in a relaxed environment without the stress of daily life, and they received with gladness the truth presented to them.
As Christ’s method was followed and members ate, lived, fellowshipped and studied the Bible together throughout the weekend, the trust and confidence that often takes weeks or months to gain was accomplished in a few short hours. Why? Because people knew that we cared about them, and they were ministered to physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This readily opened their hearts to the messages. It was a mini Acts 2!
A young adult member from mid-Michigan invited several members in her family. They asked if they could also invite others, so a crew of about seven ladies came! Throughout the weekend, they were amazed as they learned Bible truth that they had never heard before including the Sabbath, the heavenly Sanctuary, and several prophecies. They were especially thankful as each topic was completely Bible based and Christ centered. Several of the ladies made commitments to follow Jesus fully and decided to begin keeping the Sabbath. Many others experienced miracles and freedom from many challenges from their past as they yielded their lives to Christ. The weekend was filled with the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.
Through each meeting, decisions were called for, and people responded. Invitations were also given for people to enroll in Bible Study Offer. Appeals were made to the members to continue studying with their friend once they returned home. Both were accepted joyfully. By the end of the weekend:
As the meetings closed, no one left early, and no one wanted to go home. The Spirit of God was in every heart, and people rejoiced in their new walk with Christ. Many asked the person who brought them if they could also visit church with them. One young guest actually asked the older man who brought him to give him Bible studies when they returned home. Miracle after miracle took place, and it was truly inspiring.
Peppers said that he believes this is a model that can be duplicated in every local church. “It doesn’t take much to create an environment where people can be ministered to and open their hearts to truth,” he said, offering that they plan to do more of these weekends.
Even without a retreat such as this, Peppers encourages members to reach people personally wherever they are. “Use your talents for Him, whatever they are!” he said. “As we follow Christ’s Method through the Cycle of Evangelism in personal and public ministry, the Holy Spirit will empower us to lighten the earth with His glory as we share His message of hope and truth with the world.”
Wes Peppers, Michigan Conference, Associate Ministerial Director|Evangelism Coordinator, with Lake Union Herald staff.