**This is a transcript from Ryan Francis who shared his story at the Alaska camp in 2014**
It is such a privilege to be standing here in front of you tonight. I say this because I grew up in your chairs. Not here in Alaska but in Moncton, New Brunswick way on the other side of the continent. I grew up going to hockey camp and it was there my life was changed.
You see, I grew up attending church but it was nothing more than just a routine. It was something I did on Sunday morning and nothing else. Hockey consumed my life. It’s funny, my parents were actually reluctant to sign me up for hockey but as I was tucked into bed by one of my parents each and every night I would ask if I could play hockey. Eventually they gave in, and little did they know how important that decision was. Hockey has played such a huge role in my life the past 15 years but not for the reasons I thought it would. I dreamed of a career in hockey, to have that stage that I thought professional hockey gave. That was the role I wanted hockey to have in my life. But in fact hockey led me in a total different direction. It led me to something much greater than that grand stage of professional hockey- it led me to assured eternal life in heaven.
As I said earlier I grew up going to church but as I got older and formulating more ideas and thoughts, I came to the conclusion that to me God was pointless. The whole idea of what I was taught in church was a joke to me. I don’t know why I felt this way but I felt like my time was wasted in church. I was in the pursuit of other things, things that I now know have little importance. Sunday school teachers would tell me about stories such as Noah building the Ark, Moses, Jonah and the whale, and I would sit back and scoff, eyes rolling. To me Jesus was nothing more than a character in a fictional book. It took peoples honesty for me to finally realize that in fact Jesus was actually my Savior and the Bible was the truth.
I got really good at pushing the Jesus stuff to the side. I almost came immune to it. I could answer the questions right if I wanted to but it had no weight in my life. When I attended my first Christian Hockey Camp I was able to do just that. I was happy enough to go to an overnight camp and play hockey every day for the week. I could handle the Jesus stuff easy. I ended up enjoying myself enough to return the next year. It was in my second year attending camp that even though I fought it hard, I realized I had to commit my life to Christ. A guy named Jason shared his testimony and it wasn’t even the words he spoke but his honesty. I had noticed during all week that the leaders surrounding me had something different to them and I wasn’t sure what it was. I figured it out when Jason spoke, it was Jesus. But I still didn’t want Jesus to have any influence on my life. I was almost proud of it, but I fought it off and declined the invitation to stay behind after chapel and headed to bed with a weird, uncomfortable feeling. I had a room to myself that year and in the middle of the night, around 2AM I woke up. I had lost the battle. I had been given a camp Bible and it lay on a desk within the room. I got out of bed and walked over to it. I sat down and flipped through, reflecting on who I was and where I saw my life headed. One time Jesus calmed a storm- the story goes like this, “One day he (Jesus) got into a boat with his disciples, and he (Jesus) said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they set out and as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and in danger. And they went and woke him, saying ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to another, ‘Who then is this that he commands even winds and water, and they obeyed him.” I don’t mean to blow this story out of context but Jesus was clearly capable to calming physical storms and that night he calmed my personal storm. I looked at my life and I knew it wasn’t right, I had to admit that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. And it was at this moment, alone in my dorm room I gave my life to Christ.
I can’t stand here and honestly tell you that after that decision that life got easier but what I can tell you is that it did get better. After graduating high school I headed to Liberty University, a whole country away from home. Liberty is a big Christian school but quite honestly at times despite a place that taught Biblical principles, I had never felt farther from God in my walk with Him and despite being surrounded by some 12,000 people and meeting great people I have never felt lonelier. Guys, there are many times in my life that I feel insufficient, insignificant to the world. I get walked over and feel so small. But in those times I have to remind myself that my God, my creator is so big and has a mighty plan and purpose for my life.
There are burdens that we all have. We have come with imperfections and are surrounded by imperfect people. But the cool thing about having Jesus in your life is that he can take care of that. I don’t know where all of you guys stand with Jesus, whether you are like me when I was younger, whether you are sitting on the fence, or whether you are actively seeking God- but I know there is always room to improve. I urge you tonight to take the next step. I urge you to let go whatever is holding you back and to take a step closer towards God. He loves you, he wants you, all of you. Your past doesn’t matter to Him. Your mistakes, your faults, your trials can’t keep you from His wide open arms ready to meet you where you are. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “… In the world you will have tribulation (difficult times). But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Guys, girls, God is here for us. It took me a bit to accept that truth but in my walk I have seen the power and beauty that God provides.
I do not stand here a shining example of Jesus Christ but what I can say is that I stand here tonight a perfect example of God’s forgiveness, grace, and love. We fail but His love doesn’t. It never does.
Take what you have learned this week and apply it to your lives. You were asked earlier this week what your testimony was. Think about it. What is your testimony? Are you denying it? If so why? Are you sitting on the fence, lukewarm? If so why? Are you following Him? If so, continue to do so but never stop growing, learning, and seeking Him. Regardless of where you are never forget that Gods is wanting you, supporting you, and loving you completely. I had this belief a few years after I came to know Christ that my story wasn’t cool, it wasn’t meaningful, and it was just bland. I was counselling at the camp in Dallas a few weeks ago and my kids shared that same idea that I had believed. But I came to the realization that if a story involves coming to know Christ, it is beyond cool, it is powerful, and exciting. It doesn’t matter what you have gone through or what you haven’t gone through. Regardless of your situation, a testimony is a testimony and you truly cannot get deeper than a story about coming to know Christ.
As we head out to our homes, I think it’s so assuring that it doesn’t have to be our final destination. Wherever I end up in the future I am comforted with the knowledge that it is not my final destination. This year some singer came to my school and she was telling a story about a sick friend on her deathbed. This singer, I can’t remember her name, but she was telling us how she didn’t know what to say her to her dying friend. As she walked into the hospital, she prayed asking God for the right words, and this wasn’t the point of her story but man did it hit me hard, she said “I am quite frankly a little jealous that it looks like my friend is going to meet You soon.” We have been granted such amazing days on this Earth so do not waste them in any sense. In comparison to eternity, your days are a short time so make the very most of them. But it fires me up so much that death will be a memory for me. Nothing will be better than that. Some of you guys have made commitments to Christ this week and that is awesome. Some of you guys have found new energy in your faith and that too is awesome. Some of you guys haven’t settled on anything and that is fine but I ask you to continue to seek for the truth for I am confident that Christ is the truth. But that great feeling, new energy you’ve gained this week, don’t let it fade as you head back to your normal routine. Let whatever has sunk in you remain throughout the year. I get it, life gets busy, and it has its ups and downs that you have to face but please remember that God’s love is always consistent. Let me leave you with this encouragement,
Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so tightly, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
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