September 1997 — It is 6:30 a.m. and the camp bell announces wake-up in the Rockies. Three hundred feet from my cabin window, the cold waters of Pine Creek sing their unending song. This crisp Montana morning the thermometer indicates high 40’s. I step outside to take in the view. The steep mountain peaks, dressed in fir, protect us in a tight circle. Elk roam these forests, and deer. Bears as well, and wildcats, along with raccoons and squirrels and other smaller creatures. Humans are the interlopers in this ancient and venerable scene.
Some 50 adults and half that many children have made their way here this weekend from towns across Montana — from Billings and Bozeman, from Helena, Missoula and Butte. Other places, too, which I do not remember. Among them are Jerry and Genevieve Christison, with grandchildren Nicole and R.J. Genevieve is my first cousin. We think we last saw each other in junior high school. Each person brings his individual pain and joy, her hopes and fears, personal struggles and successes. At this Retreat each hopes to find fellowship and refreshment, encouragement for living in this pioneer land of small and sometime-hurting churches. Rus and Shelly Hooper have organized the Retreat, with input from Wallace and Gayla Bradberry, and they have done their work well. We all are glad they arranged use of these picturesque premises at Yellowstone Bible Encampment.
Eddie Sharp and I present the Word this weekend. Eddie is preaching minister for University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He is a gentle and loving man, clearly gifted for the calling he exercises with humility and humor and grace. We are new acquaintances and we did not coordinate our six talks. Still it is evident that Someone has — the presentations flow together in perfect harmony, all focused on Jesus as we discuss “The gospel of grace in the book of Hebrews.” I teach and Eddie preaches, both supported by the Spirit and encouraged by eager hearers who receive the Word with faith. Bible pages rustle. The wood fire crackles in the large, stone fireplace. This message of Jesus encourages our hearts, energizes our spirits, and refreshes our souls.
The large log cabin where we feed our bodies and our souls resounds with songs of joyful praise. We share Communion, sitting in a large circle. We join hands for prayer. There are moments for personal affirmation of faith, for confession, for testimony. Most of us did not know each other before Friday evening. By Sunday noon we are exchanging stories and tears and holy hugs. These are “seasons of refreshment from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
I am not surprised to learn that film-makers chose this location for part of the movie “A River Runs Through It.” The River of God is also flowing through here (Ps. 36:8; 46:4; Ezek. 47:1-12; John 7:38-39). “This is holy ground,” we sing. The Risen Jesus is among us. We draw near to God through Christ’s sacrifice, in full assurance of faith. The Holy Spirit fills us with joy and peace in believing. We overflow in hope as we return to our homes and responsibilities and regular jobs (Rom. 15:13). God is very good.