The Virginia Military Institute is a strange place to go to college. It’s a small state military school hiding away in the back woods of Lexington, Virginia, population: minimal. The Institute is inhabited with young men and women who chose to sacrifice the typical college experience and set their eyes on greater things. Instead of frat parties, dorms, fast food dining halls, lack of curfew, class schedules that can be molded to sleep patterns, and over all freedom; VMI dictates the structure and stress of a military lifestyle. These young men and women get up at dawn to do PT, wear formal uniforms to all their classes, live in military barracks and have to march to meals every day. This is a college career that takes dedication and determination that most of us do not have. The Keydets of VMI are a breed of people I could never be, yet I admire and one day, when I grow up, I’d like to be just like them.
This past weekend we met around 50 VMI cadets and staff members at a small retreat center in the mountains about an hour outside of Lexington. Renegade was invited to lead worship for their winter retreat. It was an honor and a privilege to spend a weekend with these outstanding young people. The speaker for the retreat was Ranger Chaplain Jon Knoedler out of Leavenworth, Kansas. His topic of focus was IDENTITY. Throughout the weekend we studied Romans 8, in its entirety, to discover who people say we are, who we say we are, who people say Jesus is, who we say Jesus is and Chaplain Knoedler closed it all by focusing on who God says we are.
We were there to lead worship. In a new place, with new gear and a couple new musicians, it seemed like a daunting task, but God showed up and made it all work out. Not only that, but the experience of worshiping with this particular group of people was inspiring. They sing louder and prouder than most chapel services I’ve seen through the years. These kids are not bashful in the least about raising their voices to praise our Father. It was exciting and inspiring and only made the band want to play louder and longer than we were expected to. In fact, during one session we got prayed off the stage, ending our set a little earlier than we expected. Maybe some of the older staff couldn’t keep up. Nevertheless, the weekend went on and went strong.
During meals, along with choking down bad lasagna, we got to learn a little bit about these kids and where they want to go in life. Some of them want to join the military, some of them want to be missionaries, and some of them still don’t have a clue what the future holds. But they were all present in the moment and there for the purpose of discovering their IDENTITY in Christ. For this small amount of time they were not defined by their class, or rank; they were all there as children of God, and they knew it. Outside of the barracks walls that colored them all grey and uniform, they were experiencing and expecting something great.
We closed the weekend with a song by Christ Tomlin called “God of This City,” and my prayer as we finished was for these students to go back to the craziness that is VMI and continue to expect God to do great things. I pray that they remember that God is God of all and this retreat doesn’t end Sunday night when they get back to their barracks room. The great things God does will spill over and flood the barracks as they have flooded this tiny retreat center hidden in the mountains of Virginia. As long as these kids, who already chose greatness, remember their IDENTITY in Him, then His greatness will continue.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this retreat. As Renegade continues to grow, may we also be reminded of the great things God is doing, and our IDENTITY in Him.
“Red, White, and Yellow float on high
The Institute shall never die
So now Keydets with one voice cry
God bless our team and V. M. I.”
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