As all of you have certainly noticed, this month we’ve been writing about positive experiences the church has given us. Since I write about biblical context and backgrounds as the resident archaeologist, this has been a difficult assignment for me. It’s not what I typically do. That said, at the 11th hour, I seem to have come up with something worth sharing, a bit of my personal testimony.
Despite living in northern Oregon, most every summer during my childhood my family would pack up our motor home and drive all the way down to California for the Northern California Conference camp meeting in the great redwood forests. It was unfailingly the highlight of my year.
For those who haven’t been, the Redwood camp meeting is awesome. It’s a 10-day run of meetings, lectures, fellowship, being in nature, and connecting with God. At the risk of sounding like a Druid, being out in the forest, among nature and the trees and away from the insanity of normal life, it’s a spiritual place. This is what camp meetings were originally and what they ought to be, unlike the long weekend stints at the nearby college campus. Here, people actually, you know, camped. The Redwoods was always a special time for me but no more so than the summer following my freshman year of high school.
Like most people, my freshman year was difficult, although probably not for the same reasons. It started off with a close friend dying in a hiking accident and kind of just went downhill from there. Dealing with grief I was unaccustomed to along with being stifled in a tiny town and school plus the typical puberty hormones, I was pretty messed up by the time summer came around. I had committed to going to Upper Columbia Academy the next year (arguably the best decision of my life) but frankly didn’t know if I wanted to be a Christian, let alone Seventh-day Adventist anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, although I wasn’t so sure; more I just didn’t care.
Now I was intimately acquainted with the beliefs of the church and all the whys and so on. My parents had done a great job of teaching me the facts, something I am grateful for. But what they couldn’t teach me, what no person can teach another, is how to make those beliefs a real, living, faith of my own. I went through the motions because I had nothing better to do but it was stale. Once I left, I wasn’t planning on sticking to it.
Then camp meeting happened. I went to the youth tent of course where a pastor named Jonathan Henderson was giving the evening talks. He talked to us about David but it wasn’t the subject matter that woke me up. It was the way he talked about God and the way he prayed. He talked about God as if he was a real person, one that was active in his life and the world at large and not just some idea. It was so vibrant and undeniably real, it got my interest. I wasn’t drawn to him as much as I was drawn to what he had.
Over the course of the ten days, I got to talking with him and saw more of his faith. I don’t honestly remember much of what we talked about but just seeing that convinced me pursue God. I wasn’t sure what he had, but I wanted it. So I went after it.
That particular story is a long probably much more boring one. Frankly, I’m not sure if I’ve gotten to that sense of realness with God. At times yes; others, not so much. It’s daily struggle with its ups and downs, something I’ve come to accept. The journey isn’t over.
But it was that camp meeting that got me started on the journey. It is one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today. Pastor Henderson probably doesn’t remember me, let alone have a clue how his witness impacted my life (side note: if anyone knows him, feel free to pass along my gratitude or tell me how to contact him so I can say it myself). I shudder to think the person I would be now were it not for that summer.
Also, soon I will start a series on Who Were They, discussing the non-Israelite people’s of the Bible starting with the Philistines. If there is any people group you want to hear about or any other archaeology/Bible history/Bible context question you have, feel free to comment below and I’ll get right on it.