Stories from ReFresh: Ready For College

Posted by Vince VitaleJo Vitale on August 13, 2018

From July 24-27, 170 high school and college students from all across the US (and some journeying from as far as Malaysia!) joined us at the Zacharias Institute for ReFresh: Ready for College? Our team went into the week with high hopes, but God undoubtedly exceeded our every expectation. It was a full week with musical worship, morning devotionals, apologetics teaching, daily group discussions, practical evangelism training, multiple Q&As, and opportunities for prayer ministry and one-on-one mentorship throughout the conference.

Of particular note were the Q&A times. The students’ questions were both intellectually rich and, at times, disarmingly vulnerable. They shared their burdens, pain, and struggles with one another. The discussion seminars were also a highlight, as every day each group of 35 or so students had the opportunity to bring their own views to the table, and to learn from and lean on one another.

The students came to ReFresh at varying stages in their own faith journey. For some, like the student who approached Jo on the first evening of the conference in tears, ReFresh provided the opportunity to face up to their doubts about the Christian faith that they had been secretly wrestling with for years. As that one student shared, “I grew up a Christian, but I’m doubting whether God exists. I don’t know if He’s there.” For her, ReFresh was the opportunity to bring those struggles into the light, to begin working through them with our team, and to experience the relief of knowing that the God revealed in the Bible welcomes our questions, because asking deep questions is how you get to know somebody.

Over the course of the week, our team had the opportunity to pray with a significant number of students to become Christians. Some of these prayers began with the words, “I’m saved, but…”, as numerous students realized that while they had grown up in a Christian home, they had never personally given their lives to Jesus Christ. One student who came forward for prayer after a talk on “Why the cross?” explained, “Even though I knew Jesus died on the cross, I never realized what it meant to me until today.” He then began confessing his sins and prayed to receive Christ into his life. Another student who had begun the week seriously doubting God commented on the final day: “I am not sure what would have happened if I had not come to ReFresh.… Thank you for this conference. It truly has changed my life.”

For other students, although their faith was intellectually strong, their struggles were intense: from depression to bereavement to pornography addiction, the challenges were severe. Such was the honesty of these students that during a discussion group on sexuality, one girl’s brave decision to share about the sexual abuse in her past led to a corporate confession amongst the male students that they all needed to treat women better and to repent of the ways that they had not done so in the past.

Thursday evening was especially moving as Shawn Hart’s powerful testimony on freedom from pornography, followed by Ravi Zacharias’ challenging message to the students on “Building Your Private Life,” led to swathes of students coming forward to kneel at the front as Ravi and the team prayed over them. Many of them were young men making a renewed commitment to sexual purity.

At the end of the week, what a joy it was to see so many students stand at the final commissioning, committing to live boldly as witnesses for Christ on their college campuses. In the words of one youth pastor: “Our kids had a blast and are so excited to bring it all back to their regular lives! Two of them already scheduled some time to go and talk with friends who are struggling with their faith.”

Thank you so much for your tremendous support and prayers, which make events like this possible. Speaking for the RZIM team, I know that each of us felt a renewed sense of hope at the thought of these students heading off to college excited to share the gospel and to live out their faith with fresh conviction and confidence.


With immense gratitude,

Jo and Vince Vitale