RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Kayaking for the first time, some beginners toppled over into the bubbling water, laughing and sputtering as their new friends helped them up. Once righted, these intrepid novices joined their group for a carefree but strenuous two-hour paddle down the winding mountain river.
Many were back for more excitement the next day, this time surging down the face-splashing roiling rapids of the French Broad River, whitewater rafting in the shadow of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, owned by LifeWay Christian Resources, took an extreme makeover approach to the concept of a singles retreat this year.
The Singles Memorial Day Adventure Weekend combined stirring powerful Bible studies with such outdoor challenges as hiking the sun-drenched 1,200-foot-high Chimney Rock or descending into nearby caverns amidst stalactites and stalagmites to some of the continent’s darkest places.
“Right in the middle of that raging water, I could find serenity in my relationship with God,” said Paul Seago, 59, of Palm City, Fla., sunburned from his exhilarating day on the river.
The emphasis on the spectacular surroundings and outdoor component of the conference appealed to Seago as much as the opportunity to be with other Christian singles.
“It’s experiencing the things that God has for us and not just sitting and hearing all about it. I’m sure a lot of people stepped out of their comfort zones,” Seago said.
Seago, twice-divorced, said guest speaker Rob Eagar, author of “Power of Passion,” spoke to his heart with an enthusiastic message of focusing first and foremost on a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Eagar concluded the final session by entreating the 150 participants –- ranging in age from early 20s to late 60s –- to surrender their resentment and their demands that God give them a mate.
“God does not promise you an earthly spouse. He can’t promise you something that doesn’t fulfill you,” Eagar explained.
He likened society’s fixation with romantic passion with a quick fix of eating chocolate on an empty stomach, and then crashing. Holding up a five-pound Hershey bar in his trademark illustration of how out of proportion expectations are of romantic love, Eagar said 40 percent of new Christian marriages fail. Romantic passion is temporary and performance-based, while God’s love is perfect and eternal, he said.
The world tells singles they’re not complete without a mate, said retreat organizer Alan Corry, president of Turning Point Communications and editor of Living Solo magazine. Without Christ, he said a person actually looks for someone to fill their needs instead of finding their own purpose.
As Eagar put it, “Whether single or together, God has an adventure planned for every one of us.”
Adventures certainly abounded during the Memorial Day weekend.
Some singles opted for tamer offerings. They golfed, played volleyball, toured the Biltmore Estate in nearby Asheville and hiked Ridgecrest’s nature trails.
Faith Mitchell of Monroeville, Ala., divorced for 20 years, brought her recently divorced sister for some much-needed encouragement, but sheepishly suspected she was the one having the better time.
“I’m 53, and I decided I wasn’t getting any younger so I’m going whitewater rafting,” Mitchell said. She spent one day in an open-air car on the Great Smoky Mountains Railway ride thought the rugged and breathtaking Nantahala National Forest.
“I’m a speech therapist and I teach piano at night. I don’t have many opportunities to be outside. The mountain breeze was wonderful. The scenery was beautiful. For me, it brings you closer to God,” Mitchell said.
Sharing in the various weekend adventures, singles connected from across the country.
A fun-loving 30-something Sunday School class from Mabel White Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., plans yearly trips around spiritual enrichment and found the adventures intriguing.
“It brings us together as a family, and that’s what we are,” said Adam Smith, a member for several years since his divorce.
Vicki Horne, 46, a North Carolina-based healthcare consultant, had never been rock climbing before.
“We got scraped up. Some of us were bleeding,” she smiled. “We had a blast! It’s a challenge –- to find places to put your hands and feet.”
The shared daring experiences built instant rapport among her fellow rock climbers, she said, making the conference unique and fostering meaningful conversations about relationships.
Many participants said they’d be back for the Singles Labor Day Conference at Ridgecrest –- which has a more typical conference schedule. Now, however, they’re armed with knowledge of how to make the most of their free time.
The adventure weekend is a chance to “get outside the box of regular conferencing,” said Ron Pratt, national events planner for LifeWay Conference Centers.
“This event is designed to be different so that participants can appreciate all the activities in the beautiful Asheville area. They can spend their time outside, with each other and with God.”
The Singles Labor Day Conference will be held Sept. 3-6 at both LifeWay Ridgecrest (1-800-588-7222) and LifeWay Glorieta (1-800-797-4222) Conference Centers. Call for more details or check online at lifeway.com/conferencecenters. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HOOFING IT, FLOATING ALONG and SINGING AND CELEBRATING.