History Repeats Itself at the College Campus Retreat
It was a moment of déjà vu for Tom Teekel. Sitting amidst the pine trees in East Texas at the Wesley Weekend All-campus Retreat, it was if he had flashed back to his freshman year at Texas A&M when he attended his first Wesley weekend in 1989. “When I stop to calculate it, I realize I have been to over 20 all-campus retreats, either as a participant or campus minister.” says Tom, “Wesley Foundation activities and leaders like Max Mertz have been very impactful in my leadership development and the personal calling I felt during my sophomore year to go into fulltime ministry.” Tom continued to stay active in campus ministry throughout seminary and finds new passion with each new semester. “I love the fact that students want to be here at the Wesley Foundation and they have an expectation of new things,” he says. “They seem to eagerly serve in their giftedness and be very receptive to the gospel. College gives young adults a fresh start in many situations, and I love seeing them mature spiritually and as leaders over the four or five years they are typically on campus.”
This February, 130 college students joined a dozen leaders from across Texas for spiritual reflection and fun at Lakeview Conference Center. Students came from universities including: Prairie View A&M, Lamar, Kilgore, Wiley, U of H, UT Tyler, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Tyler Jr. College and Texas A&M. The “Pursuit” theme featured Kingwood UMC pastor Matt Stone with special worship time with Youth Ministries Director Daniel Edson of FUMC Hallsville. One of the students shared an artistic dance interpretation that was “particularly inspiring,” according to Tom. Having this spiritual life retreat in a connectional setting also greatly facilitates fellowship among the students.
Rachel Behee, student at Tyler Junior College agrees. “Matt Stone had an awesome message on pursuit, but one of the biggest things I took away from the retreat was to be able to talk to other campus ministries and see how they are pursuing students on their campuses and bring that back to our campus."
Angelea Caton, a freshman at SFA, thoroughly enjoyed her first retreat, and returned to her campus with newfound enthusiasm and inspiration from stories shared by Prairie View students. “We heard about how other students did prayer walks through campus, wearing T-shirts inviting others to Tap here for prayer,” she shares, “and I could hardly wait to get T-shirts for our students, and organize a prayer gathering at the Stephen F. Austin statue in the middle of campus. We have the freedom of religion to publicly pray, so what better way to exercise that than on a college campus!”
Campus ministry has its challenges – and rewards, says Tom. “Every few years, cultural and social norms change and as leaders we have to keep ahead of that and make sure we have a system in place to connect wherever the students are spending their time. They seem to be bored with Facebook and moving to InstaGram for example, but thankfully we do not view social media as competition, but as a great and inexpensive tool to interact and connect in relationship.”
Sometimes that connection is best accomplished in face-to-face settings.
Rev. Sunny Farley, Director of the Wesley Foundation at Tyler Junior College and University of Texas at Tyler, adds, "We love having this annual retreat for the college students of the Texas Annual Conference. It is a joy for all of us to take time out of our busy schedules and have intentional time with God. This year, I could really see the students connecting with one another and with the Lord. I think everyone had a good time and all of us in Tyler look forward to next year!"