(Published in the May issue of the Hawaii Baptist Newspaper.)
Accidentally on Purpose
I wasn’t supposed to go on the trip to Pu’u Kahea. Money has been pretty tight for me lately, and anything that hasn’t been truly necessary has been cut out of my budget. So when I saw the price tag for the Gathering conference being held there, I automatically assumed there was no way I’d be going. Besides, I had never been on a retreat before, I didn’t really know what it was about, and it didn’t seem like my type of thing.
But then Arjay Gruspe, director of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, came to me and said, “I didn’t see your application for the Gathering. Why aren’t you going?”
“No money,” was my reply.
“If we could cover your fee, would you go?”
I didn’t like the idea of going for free, while everyone else paid full price, so I was hesitant to accept the offer. But people kept encouraging me to go, telling me what a great experience it would be, so I figured God might have some sort of purpose for me to be there.
I had no idea what to expect.
The Gathering is a weekend retreat held annually for college-aged people. It’s held at Pu’u Kahea, a plantation-turned-conference center along the Waianae coast. The building itself is three-stories, with the kitchen and dining hall on the first floor, a large lanai on the second, and a main conference room on the third. The grounds outside are lined with royal palms, and there’s plenty of room for field games, outdoor seminars, and other activities.
Pu’u Kahea has long been used for Baptist retreats, but if you haven’t been there recently, they’ve made some nice improvements. All the cabins have been renovated. They’re now completely air conditioned, with new, comfortable mattresses replacing the old, flimsy ones people say used to be there. There’s a newly built prayer garden in a tranquil spot off to the side, complete with benches and a little koy pond.
Around 50 people attended the event, with ages ranging between starry-eyed 18-year-old freshmen, to post-college guys likes me.
The guest speaker for the trip was Michael Kelley, a young, energetic man from Nashville. It was his first time in Hawaii. The title of his presentation was “Life on Purpose.” In the opening message delivered on Friday night he talked about our walk with God, and encouraged us to ask ourselves what we are doing to live a meaningful life.
After the worship we gathered into small groups organized by our year in college to discuss the message we had just heard. Each group consisted of roughly a dozen people. We sat in a circle and introduced ourselves, each of us sharing our most memorable story from our time in college. The guys tended to tell stories about pranks they had pulled, while the girls mostly told about weird things that had happened to them.
One girl told of how she met her significant other. It was a lengthy story, but she was so obviously in love that one couldn’t help but overlook the length. I guess that’s the difference between a casual relationship and being truly in love. When you’re truly in love with someone, they always seem to be on your mind. You can’t help but talk about them at every chance you get.
In the same way, when you walk with God and have a relationship with Christ, not just a casual relationship, but when you’re truly in love and committed to serving Him, he is always on your mind, and you’re constantly looking for ways to spread his glory.
As a group we spent so much time sharing stories that we didn’t get around to covering the remaining questions of the lesson, but I think it was time well-spent. The story each person chose to share seemed to be an indication of who they were and where they were in life. Some stories were funny, others were more serious, but all were revealing. We seemed to learn a lot about each other in that way.
We had some free time on Saturday afternoon, so a bunch of people decided to go to the nearby water park, some went to the beach, and some stayed at the plantation and played on the giant slip and slide they have there. But I and a few others decided to go on the hike to Kaena Point.
I’d never been there, but had heard that Kaena Point was the most remote point on the island. The only problem was that the person who was supposed to be our guide for the hike had decided to go to the water park instead. So the rest of us figured we would go on our own.
Coming on the hike was a guy who said his first love had been marine biology. He was forced to switch his major to psychology in order to graduate on time, but he still loved marine life. Also coming was a young freshmen couple. They were both about the same height, on the shorter side, kind of shy, and held hands for practically the entire time. They were inseparable, and seemed like they were made for each other.
Rounding out the team was Michael, and his wife, Jana. I guess I had assumed that as the speaker he would be too important and busy to want to go hiking with us, so it was a nice surprise.
But when Michael heard that none of the rest of us had been on this particular trail before, he seemed to get a bit uneasy. Not only that, but the sunny weather we had had in the morning had been replaced by dark clouds, so there was some uncertainty as to whether we should go at all.
We went anyway. We hopped in the back of a truck, and drove past the beaches of Makaha, the makeshift homeless camps, and the high ridge mountains. After about twenty minutes, we came to the end of the road, which is where the trail began.
The first part of the trail was covered with deep mud holes, but we were able to work our way around by forging through smaller paths in the brush. We were thankful for those alternate paths, because none of us wanted to walk through the mud.
As we made our way along, the muddy parts ceased, the trail became friendlier, and we had more time to enjoy the natural scenery. On our right was a large, green mountain with portentous clouds circling it. On our left was the ocean, pounding against the rocky shoreline.
Eventually we saw a large arch made out of rocks. It’s the type of thing you might expect to see at the Grand Canyon, but not so much in Hawaii. We stood admiring it. Michael decided he wanted a picture of himself underneath it, but to get there meant having to go down a rocky slope, which was unstable-looking enough to think that with one false step, you could fall and break a leg, or hit your head on the sharp rocks that lay below. There was no trail to follow.
But Michael really wanted to check out that arch.
“I’m going down,” he said, taking off his backpack.
“Are you serious?” asked his wife. “Don’t do it.”
“I’m doing it,” he replied. “You only come to Hawaii once. It’ll be fine.”
He started making his way down, as Jana continued to urge him not to.
The younger guy traveling with us finally let go of his girlfriend’s hand, and boldly said, “I’m going too.”
“Don’t…” pleaded his girlfriend. But of course at that point he had to do it, whether he still wanted to or not.
Jana said something about men being stubborn. I replied, “If I had someone to impress, and she were here, I’d probably do it too.”
As the younger guy made his way down the slope, rocks fell towards Michael. But the two of them continued on carefully, and made it down alright, posing underneath the giant stone arch.
“You got down okay, but how are you going to get back up?” asked Jana.
They kept walking and before too long they found an easy path that led them back to the main trail. Turns out they could’ve gotten to the arch without ever having to go down that risky slope.
Michael was having a good time. “So glad I did that!” he said. I think Jana was a bit perturbed by his risk taking, but glad he didn’t get hurt.
We continued on our way, and eventually came to the end of the island, the most remote point of Oahu. Looking out into the ocean, we saw whales. Directly in front of us were seals resting among the rocks.
“I love whales!” exclaimed the psychology major. “They were the reason I first got into marine biology.”
It was a peaceful scene, different from most beaches in Hawaii. It’s a natural wildlife reserve for birds, like the Nene, and native plants that can’t be found in too many other places. The land is shaped in a way that makes it look like it really is pointing to something out over the horizon.
“I’m glad we did this hike,” said Michael. I think all of us were.
There were a lot of things that could have interfered with our enjoyment of the hike. It could have rained, someone could have gotten hurt, or we could have simply decided it would’ve been more trouble than it was worth, and not have gone. Decision making is a constant in life. Sometimes you don’t know which way to go, or if you should even go at all. Maybe you wandered away from the trail and are unsure of how to get back. Or maybe you just don’t know what it is you can or should be doing. But when you put your trust in God, the path is always revealed.
In one of our devotionals, Michael reminded us about the story of Joshua, who led the Israelites to conquer the large, fortified cities of Canaan, most notably the famous walled city of Jericho. Such a task was daunting, and I’m sure there were a lot of people who thought it was an unnecessary and foolish risk. But had they simply gone around the city, they would have been left vulnerable to attack. Joshua placed absolute faith in God, and God told him what to do.
There are times when we may find ourselves hesitant to act on things because of the perceived risk of failure. But when we walk with God, there is no risk.
Michael wrote, “Maybe faith isn’t the absence of doubt, but the ability to give your doubts and apprehensions to God, and move forward against the walls anyway… Might God be calling you to take a risk for him?”
As part of his Saturday evening message, Michael talked about ways we could glorify God. He used the example of Christian movies, which tend to be preachy and boring. Movies are supposed to be entertaining. So if a Christian movie has good preaching, but isn’t fun to watch, who, really, is going to be moved to develop a relationship with Christ? Michael suggested that to glorify God, you didn’t need to make films that preached Christianity, just quality, entertaining movies with good values and messages.
Committing your life to God doesn’t mean you have to become a pastor, a nun, or a speaker. Not everyone has that calling. I think it simply means doing ordinary things with God in your heart, for when you do that, you are living life with a purpose, and actively seeking ways to make a significant, lasting impact.
“Christians are frequently speaking out against gay marriage,” said Michael. “But what if a heterosexual Christian couple spoke about the joys of their relationship, showing people what they are for, instead of what they are against?”
A lot of people seem to think of Christians as boring, stuffy, and judgmental. We talk a lot about the things we’re against. We’re against drugs, abortion, gay marriage, and other things that some people find acceptable or enjoyable. Michael’s point was that being a Christian shouldn’t be about telling people what they can’t do. It should be about showing people the right way of doing things.
If people come to see Christians not as stuffy and judgmental, but as contributing leaders of society, I think people will be more willing and interested in hearing about Christ. In this way God’s glory is spread.
Saturday night we sat around a campfire, making smores, and talking story. People sang songs, and played guitars. We even had a ukulele player and a violinist. Most of us stayed up far later than we probably should have, but we were having a good time making new friends, and getting to know old friends better.
As our gathering wrapped up on Sunday morning, Michael’s closing message cited Matthew 24:14-
Revalation 22:21, the very last verse of the Bible, says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone.” Not just some people, but with
We packed and cleaned, and thanked the Pu’u Kahea staff for their hospitality. As we left, Arjay reminded us not to leave anything behind, but to apply it to our everyday walk with God.
I wasn’t supposed to come on this trip, but I’m thankful I was given the opportunity. I didn’t come to Pu’u Kahea with a specific purpose in mind other than to grow closer to God. It so often seems we live life waiting for things to accidentally come our way. But when you walk with God, nothing is really an accident.
When we devote our life to a great cause, when we are willing to take risks and live not to serve our own desires, but to glorify God, we are living a life full of meaning and significance. We are able to achieve our fullest potential, and make an impact that outlasts us. We are making a difference that matters.
That’s what a life on purpose is.