Summer Conference 2019: A Campus Minister’s Perspective

This year at Summer Conference (or “SuCo” for short), in order to raise money for those who had been affected by Hurricane Michael that struck nearby Panama City, RUF sold SuCo stickers with the tagline: “The Best Week of the Year.” This is a phrase that is often applied to Summer Conference. It is one that I used frequently to promote it with our students because I really do believe that SuCo is one of the best things about RUF. But this year I realized that while “best” is a superlative term, it is also a relative term.

This first hit me through several conversations I had with one of my students throughout the week. To put it mildly, this student had a rough year at college. Many of his relationships had soured, he had faced some legal trouble, and he also received a discouraging mental health diagnosis. It was frankly miraculous that he was even at Summer Conference considering the ups and downs of the semester and his last-minute decision to attend. As we continually talked about the week, he expressed some discouragement to me because he had been hoping for some sort of extraordinary, transformative experience at SuCo. What this student struggled to see is that what appeared ordinary for others was in fact extraordinary for him. In light of his past semester, going a week away from home, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word, and spending time with people who loved and accepted him was an incredible testament to God’s transformative grace in his life. Though seemingly ordinary, it really was the best week of this student’s year.

This occurred to me a second time the week after Summer Conference as I was having lunch with another student to hear more about how the week was for her. This student had also had a hard year. Several months into the fall semester, she had confided to me her struggles with anxiety and depression. As we peeled back the layers of this throughout the spring semester, she eventually revealed that her anxiety had manifested in issues with food. While she knew she needed help, the guilt and shame had made her very reluctant to tell anyone. Over time, she told a counselor, then her parents, and then a trusted friend. Then, unbeknownst to me, one night after worship at SuCo, she opened up to our whole group about her eating disorder. Even though she is still in the midst of her struggle, her openness about it was a huge step in coming out of the darkness into God’s healing light. It represented a new “personal best” for her.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that as we behold the glory of the Lord, we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” As the Lord works in our lives to bring healing, change, and growth, it often comes by degrees. Each degree of transformation may seem insignificant, especially when we try to compare it with others, but each degree actually represents a new “best” for each of us. These degrees of glory are also evidence that God “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). This is what college students experience at SuCo, and it is what makes it “the best week of the year.”