Fanning the Flame
of Faith

Winter Retreat 2022
at Camp Spark

Faith starts with a spark.

A split second of blinding light contained in a small, steady flame. Feed the flame and it can grow into an unstoppable force of light, consuming any darkness in its path. 

Experiencing God’s truth and love in Christ was the spark Austin Leeviraphan, Director of Student Ministries, and Pastor Trey hoped for as they led 26 students to Winter Retreat at Camp Spark this past January. Camp is a special time of intentionality for students. With little cell phone reception on the campgrounds in Hinton, OK, most distractions are put aside and students can just be present with their peers, and with leaders and mentors who love and care for them. For some students this was their first time, and for others like Sandhya Golahalli, it was an anticipated reunion with camp friends. “My favorite part of camp is reconnecting with friends from other churches and places and watching everyone come together for worship.”

Students from around Oklahoma engage in outdoor worship.
Pastor Trey and students enjoying the view from the top of canyon.

Students’ lives, much like adults, are often filled to the brim with school, work, events, programs, practices, extracurriculars and other obligations, not to mention friends, church, vacations and other responsibilities. The more time is spent on other things, the less time students have to truly experience God in deep and profound ways. Austin sees how the camp schedule allows McFarlin students to slow down and experience God. “At camp kids worship together, you have time with God, you talk about things with your small group, you have time for reflection and then there’s nothing to get ready for but more camp, the next experience. It’s all about the moments and experiences at camp that build on one another.”

Spending intentional time with someone is an important part of deepening that relationship and it’s the same for our relationship with God. The more time we spend, the more comfortable we feel in being authentically ourselves with God, liberating us from obligation or pressure to be anything but beloved and active children of God. Through conversations with students, Austin understands the challenges students face in finding time with God, and that many of them feel disconnected when only reading about God, but not experiencing God. 

“Our youth are really wanting to not just hear what the church is saying is true, but see it,” Austin says. “Camp gives kids the ability to be around kids they don’t know in a space where they can genuinely connect with them because they are most likely going through some of the same things you are—there’s no pressure to perform or produce.”

Students’ lives, much like adults, are often filled to the brim with school, work, events, programs, practices, extracurriculars and other obligations, not to mention friends, church, vacations and other responsibilities. The more time is spent on other things, the less time students have to truly experience God in deep and profound ways. Austin sees how the camp schedule allows McFarlin students to slow down and experience God. “At camp kids worship together, you have time with God, you talk about things with your small group, you have time for reflection and then there’s nothing to get ready for but more camp, the next experience. It’s all about the moments and experiences at camp that build on one another.”

“Kids have a real fear that they’re going to go back to how their life was before camp, before having moments of deep connection and experiencing God’s truth. We always encourage them to take this experience and not make it isolated, but actualize it when they return home—bring it into their everyday life.”

Austin Leeviraphan

Spending intentional time with someone is an important part of deepening that relationship and it’s the same for our relationship with God. The more time we spend, the more comfortable we feel in being authentically ourselves with God, liberating us from obligation or pressure to be anything but beloved and active children of God. Through conversations with students, Austin understands the challenges students face in finding time with God, and that many of them feel disconnected when only reading about God, but not experiencing God. 

“Our youth are really wanting to not just hear what the church is saying is true, but see it,” Austin says. “Camp gives kids the ability to be around kids they don’t know in a space where they can genuinely connect with them because they are most likely going through some of the same things you are—there’s no pressure to perform or produce.”

Evening worship at Camp Spark

Camp provides an opportunity for kids to learn from each other. Kids from all over the state come together and find connection through shared experiences and relatable challenges. Peer relationships can provide powerful healing and transformative experiences for kids because they realize they’re not alone. One student shared why she chose to come to Winter Retreat this year. “I came because I love every church trip I go on and my small group was just full of great people. My small group leader, Matt, knew a lot about stars which helped me realize just how vast God is.”

A vital part of the camp experience is taking what they’ve learned home with them and continuing the growth they’ve experienced. Leaders pray these experiences will encourage students to plug into weekly engagement opportunities so they can continue spending time with God, fanning the flame that deepens their relationship with Christ and with others.

“Kids have a real fear that they’re going to go back to how their life was before camp, before having moments of deep connection and experiencing God’s truth,” Austin says. “We always encourage them to take this experience and not make it isolated, but actualize it when they return home—bring it into their everyday life.”

Evening worship at Camp Spark

Students coming back from camp were asked what kind of important experiences they would be taking back home with them. Many said they would be adding prayer and reading the Bible to their daily routines. Others said the relationships they formed will continue beyond the camp experience.

“I loved this experience so much,” one student said. “The people and worship are the best experience. These people you really connect with and you start to love them. Worship is the best, you really feel God’s presence with you and beside you.”

We desire to make Student Ministries at McFarlin a safe and inviting place for young adults to thrive in their relationship with Jesus and with others. Reach out to our Director of Student Ministries Austin Leeviraphan to get plugged in. You can also check out the Student Ministries page for an overview of our ministry. aleeviraphan@mcfarlinumc.org // 405-321-3484