Story by: Alix Hines
Pictures by: Alicia Garcia
Community is a word with strong connotations, but the Intervarsity community at VCU is bringing a whole new meaning to the word. Intervarsity at VCU left campus on September 24 for a weekend retreat at Camp Rudolph in Yale, Va., to explore how the basis of religious values and beliefs can bring students together to form a tight-knit community, a family connected by faith.
Focused on community building at the retreat, the group spent the weekend attending worship services led by the worship team, gathering into small groups for prayer and playing games. The group also participated in a retreat of silence. Saturday night was a special night dubbed “gender breakouts.” Male and female participants separated into gender based groups to pray for one another. Afterwards the entire Intervarsity community reconvened for a night of s’mores and songs by the campfire.
At each worship session, a speaker was chosen to give a testimony. The speakers– Luke Sjogren, Sara Tyer and James Denison all addressed their own struggles as Christians, and then discussed how they were able to overcome those struggles through the word of God. Sjogren focused on a community of joy, Tyer discussed doubt and Denison discussed self-humbling and boasting in the Lord.
Alicia Garcia, a junior in Intervarsity, said that the experience taught her that “God is big enough to handle every single problem and anything you have going on in your life. He wants to hear about it; he wants to be with you when you’re joyful and he wants to be with you’re not joyful.”
The retreat of silence was an important event for everyone who attended the retreat. It provided the group with a time for self-reflection and prayer. “It’s just good because at VCU and on campus with school and stuff, it’s easy to be around so much noise and be busy, but there it’s like a set time for you to just be still and read scripture,” explained Garcia.
As master of ceremonies, sophomore Rinu Ramesh was able to see another side of the retreat. She and other members of the worship team met for 15 minutes before the rest of the group arrived to rehearse. Ramesh commented, “It was definitely a blessing. I felt like even though it was student led, there was authority there. In a sense we were making sure that God was still there. We were still emphasizing him.”
Senior Tony Harris was involved in planning the retreat. “We didn’t want it to be the typical Christian youth group type of thing. We want to actually get to know each other, invest in each other and actually become that family inside Intervarsity.” There was an abundance of time set aside for games and other activities designed for group bonding. At one point, the group was split into teams and was given a list of tasks to complete, including doing the Limbo under the volleyball net, playing with a parachute, shooting five free throws, and even duct-taping a member of the group to a tree. Through these activities, the group gained a sense of community spirit with one another.
According to Ramesh, “A lot of people I know come into Intervarsity with uncertainty. I feel like having each others’ stories being shared and everything gives us hope. That’s when community becomes an important factor because we are there to encourage people and lift them up to a Godly perspective.”
The weekend gave new members a chance to become acquainted with older members and build faith in God through one another. Many of the members of Intervarsity have attended services held by other Christian organizations on campus, but all agree that the Intervarsity community is family. “We are brothers and sisters of God, and if we don’t take time to get to know this other person who is my brother or sister in Christ, then you’re breaking down the kingdom of God,” Harris concluded about the experience.