I was fifteen.
My church in East Texas sent me to a “Leadership Training” camp for Baptist students. Although in retrospect, it was nothing more than a Christian youth camp with bells and whistles, I still consider it an important week in my life, because I heard God there. At least I think I did.
After a full day of studying the Bible and playing crazy games (orchestrated brilliantly in late afternoon to release pent up energy and endorphins in preparation for the “Big Show,”) we filed into a large auditorium for a worship service with music that was hipper than what we experienced in church (in early 1990’s Baptist life, this meant with a synthesizer keyboard and “praise songs” written in the 1970’s,) and a preacher who “got us” more than our preachers back home did.
The preacher was a man named Louie Giglio. He didn’t preach behind a pulpit, or even in one place for that matter. He walked around the stage, Bible in hand, often with arms outstretched, and said a lot of Bible-y words with great conviction. Passion, if you will. At the beginning of his sermons he talked like we talked to our friends. Like he had found something real cool in the woods and was setting up the story of how it happened. As the story went on, his words became more charged and the sentences became longer until eventually we were wondering when in the world he would come up for air but we really didn’t care because these charged words and unending sentences MUST mean that the story was something of great worth and relevance to our lives unlike our own preachers who although they could raise their voices and use Bible-y words with the same amount of vigor still talked as if there should be some commas and periods in their sermons like in books.
After these services, just before bedtime, we met in small groups. They were called “Family Groups,” because we were family. God’s family. An adult led us in talking about what we had just heard and what we thought God might be telling us. Thursday night, (the night famous among evangelicals for the day of the week at youth camps where God does the most talking,) is when I think I heard God. I couldn’t tell you now what I heard, but I’m sure I had an answer back then. It probably had something to do with taking my faith more seriously and being as excited about God and the things of God back home as I was during that week.
But for the story I have to tell, what was said and what I heard isn’t important. What is important is where it was said, and where I heard it.
In the grass on the southwest corner of Penland Hall, with a straight-line view of I-35, the spine of the great state of Texas, and the road that carries tens of millions of people past this town every year, unsuspecting of the power this place holds, and that God speaks here.