By 8th Graders Dakota Caton, Paige Lovelace, Braedyn Heckert, and Sarah Oley
and Mrs. Susan Leonard, 8th Grade Bible Teacher
On Friday, September 22nd, the 8th grade gathered for the Annual off-campus Servant Leadership Retreat. Superintendent Rick Kempton opened the Retreat with a vision for the 8th grade school year. He said, “When you decide to lead, ask yourselves, "Who will you follow?” Set an example for others and be bold to confess “I will follow Jesus” in your everyday conversations with others. You are all leaders and leaders have influence,” he said. He also told them to “Ask yourself: Who am I? What’s my purpose? Who do I want to please?,” and as the day unfolds, “Listen to the Holy Spirit for things that change us.”
8th Grader Dakota Caton challenged his fellow classmates with a similar message. Below is an excerpt of Dakota’s message to the 8th grade:
Hebrews 10:24-25 says “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” We need to encourage each other to love each other, and to do good works. Not to make that bad joke, or call out in class, but to love each other unconditionally, and to look out for places where we can serve each other.
This verse reminds me in part of the game Monopoly. In this game, there are 7.5 billion players. I am one, and everyone on this earth is a player. In Monopoly, the objective of the game is to gain money, power, and resources, and to make the other players go bankrupt. But we as Christians know better. We know that when we die, all the money, power and land we have accumulated is worthless. When our game of Monopoly ends, all the paper dollar bills are worthless. I will bet them away on a dime, as they mean nothing to me.
We are supposed to focus on what is eternal, which are people. All that matters is how we treat and encourage others. Jesus modeled this perfectly. He was a carpenter and He died for all of us, the rebellious, wretched people we are. I am not saying we all need to go martyr ourselves, but the very least we can do is to try our best to love each other, and to look for opportunities to encourage one another and to do good works. We should all follow Jesus’ example and try to not focus on the things that will fade in a day, week, month, year, decade, or century, but focus on the things that are eternal; Each other.
Upper School Dean Eric Hansen and Chaplain Doug Scheidt, the Retreat Keynote Speakers, said there are four ways each student can influence, or lead, now: 1. KNOW WHO YOU ARE; 2. MODEL THE WAY; 3. THINK BEYOND YOURSELF; 4. BUILD UP/DON’T TEAR DOWN. Eric Hansen said, “Build life into people. When you build life into people, crazy things happen.”
And that’s exactly what happened next. Crazy things.
Below is the testimony of Paige Lovelace, Braedyn Heckert, and Sarah Oley who, like many of the 8th graders, experienced the power of the Holy Spirit at the 8th Grade Retreat:
At the Retreat, we were participating in a team activity and began losing our patience and in the end we took out our frustration on our other team members. We were only thinking about ourselves and not caring what our team thought. When the activities were over, we were still in a bad mood and so we sat down on the river bank to console each other. We complained about the activities and about people. Just then, we looked up and we saw a boat that said “Follow Me.” In that moment, we felt overwhelmed. We started to regret yelling at everyone during team building. We decided to open our Bibles and read wherever God led us. Paige opened her Bible to Ephesians 4. It said, “With patience, bearing with one another in love eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in bond of peace there is one body in one spirit just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Also in verse 7 it says, “But grace was given to each one of us.” Each one of us started to cry.
Next, Sarah opened her Bible to Matthew 7. It says, “Judge not that you be not judged, for with the judgement you pronounce, you will be judged, and with the measure you used it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your eye?” This verse immediately made us aware of how broken we are. God truly opened our eyes to see our sin, greed, and pride.
The brokenness was so visible we felt lower than the very dust we are made of. God truly did open our eyes. As soon as we saw how broken we were, we prayed. As we prayed we were crying out to God to forgive us. It almost felt like Jesus was sitting in our circle with us comforting us. We asked God to forgive us for being sinful and unworthy of Him.
After we prayed and read the Bible verses we were in tears. We decided to talk to our Bible teacher, Mrs. Leonard. We wanted to tell her what happened. As we were talking she told us something truly incredible. She was going to come over and comfort us, but she heard a voice inside her tell her, “Give them some time.” That extra time allowed us to see the boat on our own that said, “Follow me.”
We talked to her and Paige said that when she came here for the first time in 7th grade she didn’t feel very welcomed at the school because everyone had their friend ‘bubbles’ and didn’t invite others in. Mrs. Leonard challenged us to be friends with everyone and ‘split’ the friend groups in our grade. She asked us, “Now that He has changed you, what are you going to do about it?” We decided that we were going to break up the “friend bubbles” and create a more close-knit community by sitting with different people at lunch who aren’t our friends. We are going to pray for our classmates and let them know that we care. We want our simple acts to transfer to the whole school.”
Later in the day, AACS Alumni Brooke Wadsworth and Garrett Atkinson joined us for lunch and spoke to the 8th grade in the Cafeteria. Brooke said, “Be intentional about your time and your relationships. Choose friends and teachers who invest in you. Leadership is in everything you do. Be intentional about how to lead well. This is what sets you up for greatness. Because of AACS, I can speak to who I am, I am confident. This place is special. Knowing people are here for you. It is nowhere else.”
Mr. Hansen was right. “When you build life into people, crazy things happen.” Crazy things happen because the Author of Life sends Life in the power of the Holy Spirit and when He does, He changes us. May God continue to send His Holy Spirit on these young hearts and minds as they seek restoration in relationships and a community that embraces and uplifts all throughout this school year and beyond. To God be the Glory forever and ever!