Rest and Renew: Adventists and Non-Members Come Together for Retreat
Melinda Smith and Linda Finn were drawn to attend Rest and Renew because of its relaxing environment. They got that and more after partaking in a “spiritual feast” and being filled with a renewed spirit. “It felt like God wanted me to be here,” Finn said after the retreat.
Their experience echoes what many others have said about Rest and Renew, a retreat held at Camp Au Sable, October 27-30. Rest and Renew created a relaxing environment to recharge, while also engaging those interested in meaningful Bible study and spiritual renewal.
But there was a catch—each person who registered had to bring at least one non-Adventist friend along.
Kameron DeVasher, director of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries for the Michigan Conference, explained that the reasoning behind the event was to allow people to taste and see that the Lord is good. “It's gone from a theory you might have heard in study, or in a local church, to something we apply,” he says. “It’s basically an introduction to Adventism.”
Every meeting, breakout session, and activity was optional. “We don't have name tags and required meetings. It's us playing the host and letting them relax.” At the same time, participants were encouraged to participate in the morning and evening worship, as well as Bible study, painting, and community service breakouts. “I wanted them coming away, wherever they were on the spectrum of personal religious experience, saying, ‘Okay, I've learned something more here. What's something I can take away from this and integrate into my life?’"
Rest and Renew was first held in 2019 in the wake of Jesus on Prophecy. After the evangelistic campaign concluded, the Evangelism department at the Michigan Conference had an idea. “The idea was to have some sort of an opportunity to take people who were interested but had not yet made a decision…and bring these folks to an event where they can explore this relationship further with an Adventist friend,” DeVasher says. The event was a success, drawing in over 200 people.
The event was put on hold in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rebooted in November 2022, the event drew in over 100 guests, with at least half being non-Adventist. “This one was detached from a big public series like Jesus on Prophecy, so it was a smaller event. Local churches do public evangelism though, and we still wanted to give them that outlet for follow up.”
Each day began with breakfast and a morning meeting. After these preliminaries the “secret sauce” of Rest and Renew was strongest—open free time and optional breakouts. “We wanted that personal ministry aspect to be really highlighted. It's an opportunity for Adventists. Yeah, you're going to get a free weekend retreat out of it. But the goal isn't for you to just relax, it's also to deepen the connection between that person and, of course, Jesus,” DeVasher says. Throughout the retreat, a series of optional breakouts were available, including: two group Bible studies, led by Ariel Roldan, pastor of the Cadillac and Lake City churches; sessions on how to have devotions and the habits of highly successful Christians; and a fall painting class.
In addition to the breakouts, several activities were available to participants. These included canoeing, guided nature walks, horseback riding, wagon ride tours of Camp Au Sable, and more. After every evening meeting, participants were also able to attend a bonfire beside the lake. Each bonfire featured a sing-a-long time, adding to the laid-back atmosphere.
Each day, participants experienced morning and evening worship with guest speaker David Wright, Sabbath School and Personal Ministries director for the Carolina Conference. Wright focused his messages on the plan of salvation. In each session, he passionately laid out the biblical Great Controversy between good and evil in an easy-to-understand way.
“God is not hiding, he’s knocking…longing for entrance into your heart,” Wright told the participants during the final appeal. “God longs to give us the best of life and what it has to offer. When you open the door and let him in, the hardships will not just disappear, but you’ll be given strength from on high to meet those challenges.”
Wright urged everyone to make a renewed commitment to Jesus and take a stand for Him. “This doesn’t mean you’ll understand every outcome, but you’ll be given a peace because God holds the final outcome.” In response, several accepted the appeal and indicated that they wanted to make a renewed commitment to living their life for Christ.
Laura Boughton attended Rest and Renew with her daughter. She said that the retreat gave the pair time to refocus their relationship, while also growing spiritually. “I’m on a new journey with Christ through my daughter and my son…this was an opportunity to spend much needed time together with God, without the distractions of the world. It’s been wonderful.” Boughton especially appreciated the evening and morning messages. “Getting away from everything changes your perspective on what your life is about, and what’s going on. Some of the messages were very powerful and moving. It changes your perspective on your own life.”
For Smith and Finn, the retreat was a “wonderful gift.” “I’m really thankful to have been here. I feel like the teaching was wonderful, and God was present through all of it. He was worshiped and honored. There was a really wonderful combination of activities, free time, and teaching. It wasn’t haphazard…there was structure, but flexibility,” Finn said. “The breakouts allowed us to get to know other people in a more intimate way,” she added.
As for Smith, she says she could not have had a bigger blessing from the retreat. “The two of us talked about how it was a wonderful experience. There just needs to be one more day of this!”