College faith retreats let students refocus, regroup, and recoup

(Photo by Andie Unson)

Most college students are familiar with going away to college. It’s the going away at college that is unusual.

Yet Pepperdine University encourages its students to do just that: go away, refocus, regroup and recoup. Pepperdine is one of a select group of colleges and universities that actively advocates and organizes faith retreats for its students, believing they are essential for helping students grow spiritually as well as academically.

“If you wanted to fill up every evening you could, because there is so much to do,” University Chaplain David Lemley said.

Students have an immense amount of on- and off-campus retreat options available to them year-round. Options include House Groups, God in the Wilderness and mission trips to destinations all over the world.

The University Church of Christ and Campus Recreation are two on-campus groups that host numerous faith-geared experiences for students throughout the year.

The University Church hosts a fall retreat at the Salvation Army camp in the mountains, and focuses on community, building relationships and pursuing God, Co-Campus Minister Linda Truschke said.

The spring semester retreat at Lake Hughes in California builds off of the previous one and goes deeper in developing spiritual life.

“Pepperdine asks students the most important questions of life, like ‘Who am I? What am I doing here?’” Truschke said. “It is a safe place to pursue truth. Pepperdine is a place where we know God is big enough to stand up to any questions we have.”

The Center for Faith and Learning is launching a new distinguished retreat this January for students with leadership roles in spiritual life called “The Unplugged Retreat.”

“It is an invitation to be still,” Lemley said.

The University Church also helps students “go away” through what it calls “House Groups.” Several University Church families host a group of students in their homes once a week for dinner and relationship building. This opportunity allows students to be surrounded by older people for a change, in a family setting, Truschke said.

Campus Recreation hosts God in the Wilderness, which is a weekend trip to a California campground where students have the chance to hike, horseback ride, and participate in campfires, community building, devotionals and worship, Becci Prather, assistant director of Campus Recreation, said.

God in the Wilderness is offered once each semester.

“Just being underneath the stars with acoustic guitars really made me feel at peace which brought me into a deep worship,” freshman Leilani Zito said of her experience.

Students get four Convocation credits for the trip.

Pepperdine also arranges retreats for its students with no incentives and for no Convocation credit at all.

Convocation and the Pepperdine Volunteer Center offer a three-day spiritual retreat to a center in the Santa Barbara area once a year, to unwind and discuss faith. This trip is limited to 150 Pepperdine students only.

“There is always room for conversation about faith,” Director of Convocation Sarah Jaggard said.

In the past, Convocation has also teamed up with the PVC to present what is known as the full immersion experience in downtown Los Angeles.

There, a group of Pepperdine students collaborate with the Union Rescue Mission, a large homeless mission, and prepare meals, sing karaoke and host church in the park for the homeless.

“Individual exposure to faith is healthy,” Jaggard said.

Other local churches and organizations not affiliated with the university also offer students spots on faith retreats and mission trips.

The Malibu Presbyterian Church participates in mission trips almost every month to different locations domestically and internationally, said Tim Jones, director of Mission and Outreach at Malibu Presbyterian Church.

The church already has two separate mission trips lined up in Haiti, each for one week, Jones said. The first group will leave in the middle of December and the other at the end of February. This organization is also traveling with a group to Brazil for another mission trip in summer 2013.

The church is looking to expand and have more Pepperdine students join its missions, Jones said.

Instead of doing more mission trips however, church officials are looking to add various retreats, especially for the students, Jones said.

“It is imperative,” Jones said, that colleges integrate faith-enhancing experiences into their students’ academic journeys.

There needs to be a time for retreating from our business, to stop and listen to God, Jones said. “If we don’t listen, we’re not going to have anything to talk about.”

The Global Christian Task Force is another local faith-oriented organization that sends various mission groups all over the world. Pepperdine alumni started the group.

Its most current project, separate from that of Malibu Presbyterian Church, is also a mission trip to Haiti.

Two teams from Pepperdine have already traveled to Haiti this year. The third will go at the end of the year.

“We are challenged every day in our faith on a mission trip like this, and it happens far quicker and more often than sitting in a cubicle or a classroom,” said Phoenix Eyre, director of the Global Christian Task Force.

People are forced to grow under such circumstances when they see the things they have to deal with on these trips, Eyre said.

“Mission trips are a great blessing if you want to transform,” Eyre said.

Carly Hanna completed this story in Dr. Christina Littlefield’s fall 2012 Jour 241 class.