Fall Leaves. Jesus Doesn’t 🍁

H2O Centennial Life Group in the H2Olympics


I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love. (Ephesians 3:17-18)


Greetings from Kent! I hope you’re enjoying the best month of the year in Ohio (which I consider to run from mid-September to mid-October). We certainly are, here in Kent! In particular, we’re praising God for the perfect conditions we had for our Northeast Ohio H2O Fall Retreat (September 23-24). We brought together staff and students from Kent State University, Youngstown State University, and the University of Akron. And God showed up in beautiful ways, like He does at every Fall Retreat! 

I found myself feeling profoundly grateful for the people who came out to Camp Elkhorn for the weekend. In particular: my family. It was the first time in several years that all five of us were able to make it for the whole weekend (high school extracurricular activities have often made this impossible). And it’s kind of amazing to have two Kent State University students in the family, who are both meaningfully involved with the ministry of H2O. For example, on that Saturday morning of the Fall Retreat, Elliot (now a junior, studying Marketing Management) pulled up a chair at the breakfast table and tried to help me engage with a couple of sleepy and shy freshmen. And then, later that Saturday evening, Olivia (now a freshman, studying Visual Communication Design) helped to baptize her friend Maya, who was a part of her high school youth group for years but is now in the first year of establishing her own identity as a follower of Jesus and cementing her own place within the H2O Kent community. 

Northeast Ohio H2O Fall Retreat: Maya's Baptism

We won’t always have the luxury of H2O ministry being a full-family endeavor, but there were a couple of moments where I kind of felt like the Lord gently elbowed me in the ribs and grinned with me at the scene in front of us. I’m getting a different perspective — the parents’ perspective, not just the collegiate missionary’s perspective — seeing the joy of having my kids meaningfully pursuing the Lord and community in a context like the Fall Retreat. Marci, too, got to spend some extra time counseling a new mother over the course of the weekend. And Cor (fortuitously free from Cross Country team obligations for the weekend) ended up being a key player on the Gray Team, during the H2Olympics. What a gift!

I played my usual role, as pastor and coach for the Centennial campus region. And we had a really great group from Centennial who attended the Fall Retreat. Our group represented a broad cross-section of the University: all different levels of education (except for juniors, strangely)… different ethnicities… and different levels of engagement with faith.

For instance, Riley is a sophomore studying Fashion Design at Kent State. But her only level of engagement last year was following the H2O Instagram account. She observed us from afar for several months. And then she finally came to her first H2O event — a Thursday night Bible study — on September 8th. It’s kind of hard to believe that was less than a month ago because I believe she’s been to every single H2O event since then: every worship gathering, plus lunch following the worship gathering… every Thursday night Bible study… She signed up for the Well, and has been attending this membership class faithfully… And then, of course, she joined us for the Fall Retreat! All while studying Fashion Design and staying involved with her sorority (which are both pretty significant time commitments!).

H2Olympics at the Northeast Ohio H2O Fall Retreat: Centennial

Riley’s mother considers herself to be a part of the Serbian Orthodox community — so that’s provided some baseline biblical literacy and Christian identity (at least culturally) — still, it seems like Riley is very early in her own identity quest, or faith quest. She’s surprisingly willing to put herself out there and ask questions. She’s said (a few times) that she’s never experienced a more open and accepting environment — and she seems to be especially impacted by the way that people within the H2O community are willing to talk about the “ugly” stuff in our lives. Several of us have already gotten a chance to share the Good News of Jesus with her, but we’re continuing to pray that she’ll put all the pieces together soon.

Even while she’s in process, however, Riley is bringing others along with her in her faith journey. Because she was still kind of new to the H2O community and not sure what to expect over the Fall Retreat weekend, she invited her friend and roommate, Iman, to come along with her. In our first conversation (at the retreat registration table!), Iman described herself as being “not very religious,” with one parent who is culturally-Catholic and another parent who is culturally-Muslim. Still, I was amazed to see the way that she was “all in” for the weekend — not just a casual observer, but an active participant. During our Life Group tie-down on Saturday afternoon, she said that she’s never really thought that much about Jesus. But the Fall Retreat provided an opportunity for her to observe the way that others from H2O benefited from their faith in Christ. And she said that she’d like to learn more about that. We’re hoping and praying that Iman will come to our Thursday night Life Group Bible study sometime.

Northeast Ohio H2O Fall Retreat Group Portraits: Celebration

These stories are still very much in process — along with many others — but it’s encouraging to notice and praise God for His work along the way. Would you please pray with us for Riley and Iman… and Emmett… and Angelina… and Kate… and the rest of our Fall outreach at Kent State University? Your support means the world to us. We’ll be in touch…

This entry was posted in Church, Family, God, H2O Kent, Ministry, Ohio, Prayer, Prayer Letters, Small Groups, Traditions, Weather, Young Adulthood. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *