There are times in life when being out of place is just fine. Take three winter-weary fellows from the northern reaches of the mid-west and fly them to the balmy pacific coast of Southern California for three days of spiritual encouragement and equipping. Sounds like a good combination, huh? The founder of Victory Academy, Pastor Steve Schroeder from near Chicago, met up with our present director, Mark Massey and Dan Raught at O’Hare airport to travel to the Shepherd’s Conference at the site of Grace Community Church and Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California.
Three days were packed with hearing messages and workshops focused on the truth of the gospel and how that gospel is the key to the ministry we do. It is the gospel truth that we speak into the lives of Victory students every day. It is this life-changing message that changes lives and produces real change in young men’s lives. We were challenged regarding our role of being sanctifying agents in the lives of the sheep we lead. What a great privilege to be in the business of seeing God change people even as He is changing us.
It was a special joy for Mark and Dan to enjoy this quality time with Steve Schroeder, who God used over thirty years ago to put action to the vision to establish a home setting in which to help young men to function in their own home setting in a way that reflects the reality and effects of the Gospel. At that time, it was known as Victory Homes. While many things have changed through the years, our commitment to the sufficiency of the truth of God’s Word and our commitment to helping families has never wavered. We came home from the balmy western shore thankful for the opportunity and energized to work for the Lord with His truth and in His power.
The more I study the Scriptures, the more passionate I am about our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Though life gets busy with all sorts of details, projects, and relationships, the energy and focus to press on comes from the quiet times and moments of reflection on Jesus and His amazing grace.
The busyness of life has brought opportunities to travel around meeting people and talking about our Great God and His work here at Victory Academy. In these first two months of the year, my travels have been:
Though busy, it is a joy to me to be able to travel and meet up with friends and meet new friends that have a passion for the Gospel and bringing that Gospel to hurting, struggling people. It seems to me that the world is full of struggling people and the hope of Christ is the answer to that struggle. So, whether I’m traveling somewhere to meet, teach, or counsel a family; or whether the other staff are on a retreat with students or ministering to the students in the “regular” program at Victory or WildHeart, know that we appreciate those who sacrifice financially and pray faithfully for us. We rejoice in Truth and in bringing that hope to teens and families amidst their struggles.
We brave the frigid temperatures and the rustic accommodations of the Harlow Lake Cabins every year, and every year we come back with unforgettable memories and stories. Even for some of our students that have done some camping before, this particular trip is packed with new experiences. We reside in a rustic cabin with no running water or electricity and get to visit breathtaking sights by way of snowshoe, x-country ski, and fat bikes. It truly puts new meaning to "Winter Wonderland."
We started off our trip by visiting the Eben Ice Caves. Over the course of the winter, a continual, slow flow of melt water freezes over the edge of a small cliff.
The guys enjoy exploring the different cavities of the caves and sliding around on the ice. However, their favorite part about the caves is the steep snow-covered hills around the cliff that they can body-sled down!
We stayed in the rustic cabins of Little Presque Isle situated on Harlow Lake. They are small, quaint cabins that serve our purpose of being off-grid very well. Although only 20 minutes away from Marquette, MI, they give us the feeling of being alone in the wilderness. There is one other cabin on the peninsula, but we were blessed to be the only occupants of the cabins that week. The guys had to sled in wood provided by the park service for our fires and we lived by the light of the lanterns.
Presque Isle is a 323-acre forested peninsula that extends into Lake Superior. It is one of Marquette's city parks and offers a variety of things to do. In the summer, one could jump off the cliff that you see us standing on the picture and enjoy the clear waters of Lake Superior. There are also plenty of interior trails that we took with our snowshoes. The views of Lake Superior from this Isle are gorgeous.
Little Presque Isle is a much smaller peninsula that actually can become an island if the current and waves sweep away the sand bar. In the winter, ice forms on the sand bar and gives hikers access to the Isle. Last year, the ice slopes were too treacherous to get across. This year, however, the ice bar formed a nice, easy bridge that we used to cross and visit this exotic gem.
The Snowshoe Retreat is a fantastic venue to discuss purity. All the white snow draws our minds to God’s substitutional righteousness and our need for it. For those same reasons, this retreat is well-suited to spend a great deal of time discussing sexual purity. When we approach this topic we do so from the standpoint of satisfaction. The grime and filth of this world is trying to lure us all into the false belief that it can truly satisfy. This includes not only sexual sins, but also our attempts to find satisfaction in money, friends, food, and the panoply of ideas and items with which Satan tempts us. However, in the end, only a heart submitted to God will ever experience true, glorious, and ultimate satisfaction both here and in eternity!
There is much to be done here at Victory! Andy Morrison does a fantastic job in taking care of the maintenance and upkeep of our buildings and grounds and we can’t keep Mark Massey away from his tools. Still, we find ourselves with unfinished projects or ones we haven’t even started. Our task list is the proverbial bottomless well!
We are excited to have Bay City Baptist join us this weekend for another work day! It is always a blessing to have these sweet people with us. We heavily rely upon churches and individuals that will volunteer their time and talent to help accomplish important projects. Below is a list of projects for which we are actively looking for help:
HVAC (install heaters for several different areas)
Vehicle and Heavy Equipment Mechanic (electrical and brake repair for old payloader)
Burning/Mulching/Cleaning up in Logged Areas of Forest
Remodel of Main Shop (exterior siding, interior walls and ceiling, and shelving)
Work for Licensed Electrician
If you are interested in coming up and serving for a day, please contact Ben Barrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a particular trade skill or hobby, let us know. Several of our projects need an experienced hand. We also have several projects that just need a faithful worker, skilled or not.
It is always a difficult thing to send our students back home for two weeks for Christmas break. We know that, in many ways, they simply are not yet ready to submit to the authority of the parents. If they were, there would be no need for them to return for the spring semester.
Although the students may not be ready to return to their normal life at Christmas, we do desire to see growth in key areas of their life. One of these goals is to see a change in their communication. Each student has a unique personality, so this change will be different in every case. We encourage the parents to evaluate transparency, honesty, and respect in their son’s communication. Although manifested in various ways, these are spiritual fruit that should be evident in the life of every growing Christian. However, not all of our students are professing believers; our approach with these students is to always go back to the gospel. Unsaved individuals can pragmatically find ways to co-exist with conflict for selfish reasons, but they will ultimately fail. True heart change only happens through the power of Christ.
It is encouraging to hear reports from the parents during break. Not all of these reports are positive, but they reveal the parent’s heart. We are broken people working to encourage broken people. These parents make mistakes and watch the relational consequences happen in real-time. They have their moments of pure ecstasy, as they watch their children walk in truth. Such is the roller-coaster of family life! By the grace of God, these families are seeing change. They are having open conversations about life, theology, the gospel, and family. In many ways, the battle for their son's heart is just beginning. Once a Christian starts to show an interest in the things of God and works to remedy broken relationships, Satan gets busy. Be in prayer for these families, as they continue to seek growth and change to the glory of God!
Last month, we had 63 people gathered together in our Lodge to celebrate Thanksgiving. We ate too much, played hard on the football field, laughed at Charlie Brown’s excuse of a Christmas tree, and cheered on Josh B.’s grandma as she bench-pressed 45 lbs! Needless to say, there is much fun to be had when you cram that many people into one building.
Although we love the festivities, the focus quickly transitions on Friday morning. The two days after Thanksgiving are spent in general sessions and personal family counseling. What a blessing it is to be a part of what God is doing in the lives of each of these families! The dynamics of every parent gathering is different. Not only do you have personality differences, but you also have differing levels of commitment and buy-in. God was working in our midst this Thanksgiving, as we answered many great questions from the parents. The questions that these families were asking were coming from a thirst and hunger for Biblical answers. This fostered an environment of growth that motivated each family to be transparent in their needs. Each family desired to take the truths given in the sessions and work to implement them into their homes.
A truth that God impresses on my heart every time I counsel families is that I am a broken person. I may be a counselor, but that just means that I am a professionally broken person. These counseling sessions challenge Aaron and I to be the parents that we need to be. We have the same struggles; we are just in a different place of our journey as parents. We need these truths as much as the families with whom we work. Continue to pray for the young men, their families, and for us as we all seek to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.