Brittany Cowdery emailed me two days after our student retreat at Camp Tahkodah ended. Here’s what the email said:
I know I always love hearing how the Spirit worked from different people’s perspective. I was so touched this weekend that I just had to write it all out to help process it all. I thought I would just share this with you to see how the Spirit worked and the effects of some of the beautifully simple lessons you gave through faith. Thank you for the part you played in an incredible weekend. Praise God.
After I read what she wrote, I was so moved that I wanted to read it to our entire church family. I received her permission to do so, and then read her testimony last Sunday. I am posting her testimony here. To protect the privacy of the girls, Brittany and I both believed that, for a public reading, their names would need to be changed, and so the names are different here.
Prepare to be moved.
A Life in Color. A life with colorful relationships with the poor, smelly, sick, and hurt people. A colorful group of people with different gifts, passions, and ways of serving. A life centered on the kingdom of God. God is the only solution. He is the only One that needs to show up. 36 hours in the woods, old cabins, and not enough clothes to stay warm. One night and two days packed full of the Spirit of God working more than I’ve ever experienced in such a short period of time.
I knew I was going, but maybe I should take a student with me??….Jessica….yes, I want Jessica to go with all of my being. She has grown up Pagan and is under the influence that she is a witch. I want her to experience the gospel of Christ and relationships with Christians. The Lord had laid on my heart the first person to ask. I procrastinated to ask at first with fears I had about the situation, but then realized the Lord would lead her to Himself, all I had to do was be faithful. I kept praying. A friend….she needed a friend to be there. Someone who understands she is a little different from most other people. Lisa. Yes, Lisa was my second girl, I felt confirmed by that in the Spirit. I asked both of them that day. As I was asking Lisa, another name….Sarah…the Lord gave it to me quick, that’s right, Lisa’s older sister who I taught last year. “Hey Lisa, you should invite your sister to come too!” Three girls. I was excited and a little anxious about the whole situation. Three rather unchurched girls coming to a rather spiritual event. I thought this was all I would take at first. I had 3 seats in my car anyways. Then, Valerie walks in, “MS. COWDERY!? Lisa and Jessica said they are going to some church camp with you! Why didn’t you invite me?!” Here she was, my fourth, as soon as the words came out of her mouth, it was right. Valerie was in. The Lord hand-picked these four girls I am convinced.
We had a silly car ride to the camp, and I thought it only appropriate to teach them a country song, “I’m From the Country” (they haven’t stopped singing it since!). The weekend got started off good: writing encouraging love letters to each other, scavenger hunts including hiking bluffs in pajamas, rope swinging into freezing water mid-October, and drawing creative facial hair with permanent marker onto each other. They started making friends and quickly decided they never wanted to leave, and definitely wanted to come back next year. The evening got more serious. We gathered around a huuuuuuge bonfire for evening worship. I was praying. I was praying with my whole soul. These girls have never sung like this, worshipped like this, and heard the Word of God like this. I prayed for the Spirit to hit them like a ton of bricks. The simple gospel was preached. It was beautifully simple. (Jessica especially was intently paying attention and occasionally leaning over to ask me clarification questions.) It was a message on the kingdom coming, a message of everything in our lives being kingdom-based. If our lives don’t revolve around living through the Spirit everything else will fall apart. It was a message of Jesus and his mission, a mission of associating with the outcasts, a message of the miracles that WILL happen when the Spirit of God is involved.
The last activity of Saturday night was the game changer: an hour of prayer. There were 5 stations set up, no one was allowed to talk, music softly setting the mood in the background. We were in groups of about fifteen, and we rotated in between these glow-lamp-lit stations. Station 1: a place to write your requests to God and clip them up to a net and pray for all the requests. Station 2: Love thy _________neighbor. Choose a type of person who you find hard to love and pray for God to change your thoughts and actions toward this type of person. Station 3: Before I Die I Want God To Send Me…..we write a specific or broad idea of where we think God is trying to send us. Station 4: walk further out into the woods and listen. JUST LISTEN. No questions for God, no thanksgivings, just listen to the Spirit. It was during that station that I laid prostrate on my knees to just listen.
4 statements. Very clear. Jessica needs the gospel. Lisa needs to know Christ thinks she is beautiful. Lisa will reach Sarah. Valerie needs more knowledge.
I started praying over these statements and for more to be revealed to me when the time was right, but for now I had what I needed. I heard crying though at the end. I get up, turn around, and I think it is one of the guy counselors. Nope. Jessica. Jessica is on her knees crying. During the prayer time and listening for the Spirit, this girl — who thinks she is a witch — is crying. I ask her to explain it to me. She explains, “I don’t really know what’s happening, but I’ve just been dealing with a lot of anger, and I just let it all go. I’ve just been so angry. I need to forgive my brother for the things he has done to me; I’ve realized everyone needs forgiveness and its time to let go”. I lose it at this point and just start crying. This girl, this girl who consumes my prayers, is crying. She may not know why yet, but I know the Spirit of God is working in her, and I am overwhelmed and amazed. She hugged me, looked me straight in the eyes, and with all the sincerity she had said, “Thank you, seriously, thank you for inviting me here.” WOW. Just wow. More tears of course. I just held her while she continued to cry.
The next morning we had church in the woods. It was breathtaking…dew on the grass and the sun shining through the trees. The girls made a statement about how they didn’t know church could be like this. Jessica also questioned about what was sitting at the front (which was the communion) so I had a chance to explain how Jesus had a meal with his friends, and now we do the same so that we can remember his mission and his sacrifice. I let her read the Last Supper passage in the Bible for herself. Once again, the lesson was incredibly powerful, but simple and beautiful enough for them to understand. The gist: We don’t need all these solutions to our problems: therapists, counselors, advisors and programs. We need the Spirit. We need to focus every day, in every relationship, on the kingdom of God.
The day finished out with more fun activities and relationship-building. I was amazed as I watched them pack-up in their cabins, hug onto girls they just met, with their nicknames for each other, and calling each other best friends. Valerie told me she wanted to come to church every time with me now. How in 36 hours did all of this happen? How did they JUST meet, and now they are holding onto each other, calling each other FiFi, Ring Pop, BBQ, and all other sorts of silly names? How are they writing beautifully encouraging “love letters” to each other? The Spirit. That’s how. The Spirit creating a Life of Color. Beautiful relationships full of color and based on the kingdom of God. Praise the Lord.