Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is Born! It’s been two years in a row I’ve had the blessing to attend OCF College Conference. Last year I attended the entire duration of the Conference, while also being the representative for Camp Nazareth at the Orthodox Job Opportunity Fair. Thankfully I had the help of fellow Camp Nazareth staff who were in attendance. Last year I made a lot of friends, built strong relationships, and grew spiritually. This 2014 College Conference was no different. I met new people, made connections, grew spiritually, and represented Camp Nazareth once again at the Opportunities Fair. The only difference between this year and last year is that this past year I was only at the conference for a day. I had prior commitments, but I was asked to attend the Opportunities Fair to represent the Camp, my schedule had a miraculous way of clearing up. So although I was only at the Conference for a day, I certainly have a lot to say.
I arrived at the Conference Sunday afternoon. After unloading the car, which was packed with Camp Nazareth materials, it was impossible not to see someone I knew. Whether a “family member” from Camp, or a friend from the Conference, every time I turned my head there was another familiar face. Regardless of whom I saw, I asked each person how the Conference was going, and each responded with a plethora of great things. Little did anyone realize Father Mark Leasure and the Myrrh Streaming Icons of the Panagia were waiting for students in the Chapel. Being one of the first people to see Father Mark and the icons, it was amusing to listen to other students making comments about smelling roses, but not knowing the source of the aroma. Literally, I probably heard at least fifty students making comments such as: “Does anybody else smell flowers?” Or “Oh my gosh! Do you smell that? It’s beautiful!” While waiting for students to finish their respective workshop sessions, the few of us who were in the chapel with Father Mark sang hymns to the Mother of God in preparation for service. There were four of us and it was intimate and beautiful.
When it came time for chapel, students gathered in the auditorium, which was well lit and capable of holding the huge group of attendees. Father Mark walked in with the icons, took the Kardiotissa out of the case, and blessed many students with the golden Myrrh. The Myrrh seemed to be thick, and was streaming off the icon quickly into the hands of students. Within minutes a majority of students had tears streaming down their faces. As Father Mark shared stories of healings and experiences with the Icons, it was impossible not to feel emotionally and spiritually moved. Some students seemed to be in a state of shock at what they were witnessing and hearing. Some students couldn’t do anything but cry. Some students had smiles from ear to ear, while still crying. As for myself, stories I’ve heard over a dozen times still made me cry. The Mother of God changed the entire dynamic of the Conference. To be honest, it was quite difficult trying to keep myself composed having just witnessed and experienced the power of God and the grace of the Panagia.
Church ended and it was time to setup for the job fair. I was in the room 30 minutes before any other organization, and I was the last person to finish setting up because I had so much information and visual aids from the Camp. Someone actually made the comment that Camp Nazareth had the best table in the room. And to be honest, we did have the best table in the room! It was beautiful, neat, full of Camp photos, media, giveaways, information; you name it, we probably had it. But it wasn’t just the table that made the event so successful; it was the Camp Nazareth staff. My job for College Conference was to stand at the table, pass out information and collect information to show the college students the opportunities Camp Nazareth has for them to work. When dealing with 300 college students, that task is overwhelming for one person.
However, prior to the Conference all our Diocesan students attending the Conference were asked to take turns at the table to help me out. All of our Diocesan students at the Conference had been campers, staffers or both at the Camp. It turned out that every single Diocesan student was at the Camp table during the entire Job fair. It was amazing seeing all of them in Camp shirts and talking to their peers about how amazing Camp Nazareth is. It was also amazing how each CN staff member came up to me asking what they could do to help. The bottom line was to show others how incredible Camp Nazareth is. The mission was far more than accomplished thanks to the dedicated staff of Camp Nazareth, who took time out of their College Conference experience to stand around a table and share their love for Camp with their peers. I think this says a lot about the impact Camp Nazareth has on its campers and staff.
The Job Fair ended, and after packing up the car, I stopped back at the chapel to see the Panagia one more time and ask her intercession for a safe trip home. The chapel was completely full to capacity with college students. As I was walking out the door, I saw a group of our Diocesan students standing next to Father Mark. The chapel got silent, and Father Mark started leading the beautiful Prostopinje hymns to the Mother of God. Many students just stood there quietly listening to the beautiful hymns, gazing at the icons and praying. Other students sat on the floor simply overwhelmed. Other students were holding each other, comforting each other and being pillars of strength for each other. How often is it, I wonder, when college students have experiences like this? I can’t help but think not very often.
This is why College Conference is important. College Conference gives students the opportunity to experience quiet, to experience prayer, to experience God. College Conference allows for Orthodox Christian education and spiritual growth. College Conference allows Orthodox students to find job opportunities related to their faith. College Conference allows students the ability to make friends and connections with others of their Faith. College Conference changes lives, spirits, beliefs and opinions, for the better.
Last year at College Conference Father Mark had brought the Icons and I personally witnessed 2 miracles. A paper icon started streaming myrrh, and a student’s hands were actually streaming myrrh for about 3 or 4 hours. It was the most amazing and unbelievable thing I had ever seen. Well, I saw that young man again this year. After catching up with him, I couldn’t help but ask, “How has your life changed since last year when your hands were streaming Myrrh?” In the most humble way he replied, “Dude, you know, I doubted and I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing last year. I didn’t want to think it (the myrrh streaming icon) was real. God really showed me, and I’ve got to admit, it kind of freaked me out. I mean, my hands did that (streamed myrrh) for hours. All I know is, God reveals Himself in the most amazing of ways, and the world is still quiet. What’s changed? Dude, I believe, and nothing will ever change that.” I will never forget what he said to me. I will never forget what he said, because he’s absolutely right. How often does God work wonders and reveal Himself in the most incredible of ways? How often is the truth right in front of us and we look away, or stop listening?
College Conference has the ability to bring students together and have experiences, discussions and debates that bring them closer to our Lord Jesus Christ. Although I was only at the Conference for about 6 hours, I left it a changed person from who I was when I arrived. The joy of the experience is still with me, and I cannot possibly be more thankful to God and His Most Holy Mother, and to OCF for making the College Conference experience possible.
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