By Brenden Van Der Werff
I was born in a Christian home, went to church, etc. Somewhere along the line, I decided that my parents’ faith was not something I believed in. God was distant and impossible to prove, and His actions were nonexistent in daily life. My dissociation with religion was like a child letting go of an imaginary friend. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need it anymore; I became an atheist.
I continued to go to church because that was what my family did. More importantly, I continued to go to Placerville. For those who don’t know of it, Placerville is a camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s this little chain of cabins that always seem to be on the verge of rolling down the hill into the creek. More than any other place, Placerville is where I find home. Between the amazing friends, the summer camp shenanigans, and the beautiful scenery (Black Hills), I found myself returning to camp each summer.
The summer before my sophomore year, however, something changed about camp. I moved up the age ladder into the high-school camp. The high-school camp (Crossroads) has a number of changes from the middle school camp (Faith Explorer. It’s a day longer, the material gets more serious, and perhaps most importantly, there is this event called Prayer Chapel.
Prayer Chapel came at the end of the week, and it was the pinnacle of the camp experience. After Vespers (translation: evening chapel) we were given an hour to prepare, until the sound of the bell called us back to the doors to the chapel basement. Outside, some brief instruction was given by suddenly solemn counselors, culminating in words:
“Take off your shoes, for the place you are about to enter is holy ground.”
We entered on our own time, with each person sitting on the hillside in silence until they felt ready to enter. I spent very little time preparing, and rushed in to explore.
The first thing I saw was darkness. The second was light. Candles filled the room like stars, creating pockets of illumination in the chapel’s darkness. Music mingled with the whispers of quiet prayers. Stations were set up throughout the room, calling out with sand, water, and glass. That night, I came into contact with something I had never before experienced. It was alien and familiar, beautiful and intimidating. That was the night I met God.
I wish I could claim that Prayer Chapel made me a Christian, but the truth is different. Rather, that night was what shattered my walls and allowed me to be open to God’s reach. Several months of war between faith and doubt ensued. Eventually, I gave up the fight and offered my belief, pleading with God to confirm it, but threatening to ignore everything if He did not. God answered in his own time, and the response was terrifying and unexpected.
The process which started at Prayer Chapel came to completion that night, the night by which my faith journey began.
And since then, my faith journey has been full of left turns and right turns, full of ups and downs; it’s been a journey where God has led me from the mountains of Taiwan to a special needs camp in Missouri. All in all, I will never forget that first Prayer Chapel, the night I met God.
Thank you for sharing your story of being born-again into the family of God, Brenden. To encounter our living God who draws close to us to seek us out and to save us to himself, what a wonderful truth it is to know we’re loved and pursued by Jesus.