Just about the time when students begin to feel the pressure of reading assignments and papers, the College Retreat offers them a fun opportunity to let out the steam, connect with their peers, and be challenged by Scripture. This year, 65 College at Southwestern students attended the weekend retreat at Latham Springs Baptist Camp, Aquilla, Texas, Sept. 9-10. Among them were 45 new students, which comprised more than half of the freshmen body.

“Our aim was for students to experience connection and community,” says Phillip Box, associate director of Student Life, who helped organize the event. “Students have a great opportunity at the beginning of the semester to step away from classes and connect with new students and start the process of forming community with fellow classmates.”

The speaker for the retreat was Eric Fuller, a Ph.D. student at Southwestern and high school pastor at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga. Preaching from Genesis 4, Colossians 4, and the book of Amos over the course of three worship services, Fuller encouraged the students to deal with the problem of sin and to devote themselves to prayer and evangelism.

After each sermon, students broke up into small groups to apply the message to their own lives. As they discussed the meaning of authentic faith and how they could live as witnesses in their local surroundings, participants were able to experience the encouragement of spiritual community and camaraderie. Several new students decided to get plugged in to local churches and ministries in order to serve rather than float around without commitment.

“It was great, because there were a lot of great conversations of being honest about where they were in life,” Box says. “All the sermons really encouraged students to grow in the areas of being authentic with who they were and to focus on where they were. ... Students in small groups also got to know each other on a closer basis and build stronger relationships.”

One of the fun highlights of the retreat was the Olympic Night Games on Friday, during which students split into four teams and enjoyed games such as capture the flag, the human knot, and human tic-tac-toe. Instead of focusing on athletic ability, Box says, Student Life designed games that would help students get to know each other better and encourage a friendly team spirit toward everyone. Following the Olympic games, many students also continued to play board games into the night.

“It was really fun, and being able to open up with people like that in games really created an atmosphere of communication,” says Bryce Roberts, a freshman in the Bachelor of Arts in Humanities and Biblical Studies program. “Playing games made us open up to trust one another and create relationships and memories. It was definitely good for building up a sense of community and camaraderie.”

“Coming together with real people who have a real desire for the Lord was an experience I will never take for granted,” says Hannah Hiester, another freshman in the bachelor of arts program. “College Retreat 2016 exceeded my expectations. It was a glimpse of the power and glory of God that is shown when a group of strong believers come to seek the Lord even further. No regrets—only a hope to go again next year!”