By Maria Niña Bañares
“This fast-paced life requires much of our time to do the things that are required from us and as a result, we don’t have ample time for ourselves. We tend to be more focused on the things that help us to be a better student or employee, but we forget to develop our relationship with the Almighty. I believe that if we, the next generation, spend our summers in retreats like this, we would be better prepared for later decisions in life and for every spiritual battle that we will encounter,” said one of the delegates Cinderella Bañares, a secondary education teacher, when asked about her expectations of the retreat.
The said conference which was focused on the JECPP theme, “Empowering the Next Generation” was participated by the delegates from Evangel Family Church Cagayan de Oro and all its outstation churches namely EFC Lala, EFC Naawan, EFC Manticao, EFC Balingasag and EFC Malaybalay. It was facilitated by Pastor Rowena Kwong, and administered by Pastor Andrew Kwong, Pastor Roberto Padinit, and Pastor Vic Louie Pacaña.
The Holy Spirit did a great job in empowering the spiritual lives of the young people throughout the two- day camp. Pastor Andrew set the mode of the retreat on the first night by stressing Joel 2: 25 on his preaching, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – my great army that I sent among you”. He started off by defining locust as a type of insect that caused farm infestations that devastate crops and cause major agricultural damage and human misery through famine and starvation. He then metaphorically compared the swarm of locusts to the cruel infestation that Satan brought to the believers causing spiritual devastations, misery, coldness and dryness of the present generation. Such devastations weaken the hearts of this generation and hinder the passing on of the great commission of faith, but there is hope in the future with Jesus. God has promised to restore this hope in us by repaying the years of havoc in our lives. And true enough, as the song in the praise and worship went, “these dry bones will live again, we’re nothing without You, nothing without You…”, young people in the Northern Mindanao region responded to God’s message in a desperate cry of restoration. Indeed, God’s outpouring is overflowing; it was a night of healing from pain and disappointment, pure surrender and deliverance from selfish and worldly desires that corrupted the minds and hearts of the young generation. The night ended with a promotional video from Evangel Center for Missions and Evangelism (ECME). One delegate from CDO Section, Milyn Mayake took the challenge to step out and accept the greater call to join the mission field and study in the Bible School.
After all cares were cast to the Almighty on the first night, the young people were once again set on fire for a greater encounter with God on the second day. Pastor Vic Louie Pacaña of EFC-CDO dared the young people to experience or re- experience the infilling of the Holy Spirit on his short message delivered during the early morning devotion. After which, cries of hunger and thirst from the empty vessels echoed throughout the hall. Among those filled was a young boy who is the son of one outstation pastor.
The morning service was led by the energetic praise and worship team from the Naawan section. Pastor Andrew commended the worship team and even expressed his great joy upon witnessing them lead Bisaya songs in fragrant worship to the Lord. Because of this, he proposed for Battle of the Bands for next year’s retreat and all outstation pastors to take turns as Speakers. “This is so good because we are all one body. Through this, we will grow together, challenge one another, help one another and polish one another,” he said.
In the morning service which was entitled “The Generation that Seeks God”, Pastor Roberto Padinit shared a very relevant message out of his experiences of faith. He led the young people into an awareness that there is a spiritual warfare or battle (immorality, idolatry, media, education, music, pornography, drugs, and civil initiative promoting same sex marriage) going on around us, and that they are obliged to bring about this awareness into each of their circle of influence. “We are enjoying right now because of the generation before us that picked up the good news and suffered and sacrificed for us to receive the freedom of worshipping the Lord. Now is the time for us to take up the battle. We are the next generation! If we don’t take up the battle, then we are doomed! It’s time for us to see the cause and pass it on to the next generation,” Pastor Robert said on his sermon. He added that in order to be empowered to fight a good fight of faith and to pass on the battle to the next generation, Christians need to declare the mighty and awesome acts of God’s greatness and majesty. To do this, we need to understand that we are created by God; we need to know that God cares for us; we need to trust on the cross of Christ; we need to follow Christ and be sold out to Him; we need to live the correct way of living – having wisdom and integrity, and we need the Holy Spirit in our daily undertakings. He wrapped up his sermon by saying that Christians need to arise because we have been called to be the light and salt of the world.
The day was concluded with the campers’ encounter and tracing back of the seven stations of the Cross where the pastors explicated Christ’s sufferings and battle per station. Pastor Andrew gave emphasis to the value of the soul by asking the question: “What is a price of the soul?” He further stated “The cost of the soul is the life of the Son of God – that is how precious and valuable our soul is. God gave His life for our souls. He conquered the greatest battle of mankind which is death. Jesus’s earthly life ended, yet He remains forever. He continues to live with us as we continue to pass on this life to another generation.” Knowing the price that Jesus paid on the cross empowered the young people to really take up the spiritual battle of this generation.
“The stations of the cross activity helped me to contemplate how great the battle he faced just to give us a chance to live a second life that will be of great use to His kingdom. As a response, I am now willing to give my life and will back to Him”, one high school camper said.
During the camp, strong camaraderie was also built among the young people from the various outstation churches through various activities such as group cheer competition and outdoor pool swimming. Special song numbers were also given by nine-year old Hannah Padinit, Pastor Robert Padinit’s daughter, on the first night and Sheen Cabañeros from EFC-CDO on the second night.
When asked about her insights and realizations after the camp, this is what Mariecris Michelle Uy, stage 2 cancer survivor from EFC Manticao said, “I had so much fun during the retreat. I made new friends and I enjoyed the food, the place and the fellowship. Everything was just so smooth, relaxing and no pressure at all. I felt like I already had a vacation, I am truly blessed by how God touched my heart. He made me realize that I am loved, that I am of such worth because He gave His only Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for me, for all of us. Isn’t that the sweetest thing that could ever happen in the history of mankind? It made me appreciate myself more, and it made me love God even more. I just felt so amazingly happy, loved and blessed. Thanks EFC for the wonderful experience”.
It was indeed a very successful retreat. The campers went to their respective places and homes filled, revived, and empowered by the presence of the Almighty to arise to the spiritual battle and become the light and salt of this earth.
Capping off the whole retreat were few words from Karl Angelo Almueda, lone delegate from Metro Manila who flew in to experience church youth retreat for the first time. “This retreat is undeniably a great and fulfilling experience in the sense that it gave me a taste of real spiritual encounter with God. The Conference taught me how to individually reflect and relate my present lifestyle to the standards God has set for me to live by. It made me realize that there is a great spiritual battle around and ahead of me as I go back to Luzon on Monday. God helped me to really take up this battle and rise as one of Christ’s servants. It is so awesome to know that this vacation is definitely one of my best and will always be cherished as I go back home EMPOWERED!”