Posted December 9, 2016 by
HoneyRock is known as A Place Apart. We find stories of personal transformation in the lives of those who come to HoneyRock to be our truth and the reason we exist. The following story illustrates how HoneyRock's mission "to build Christ’s church and benefit society worldwide by fostering the development of whole and effective people through transformational outdoor experiences" is more than just words on paper - it is real.
One very accurate way to describe my life as a whole before coming to Christ would be sex, drugs, and adrenaline. My life through jr. high and high school was filled with anger: anger towards God for killing off my brother, dad, cousin and friends, anger towards my dad, who was not there, and anger at the world for how cruel it seemed. I self-medicated with whatever drug I could get my hands on, threw punches at whoever got in my way, and took love from whomever would give it. The deeper I got, the less satisfaction I found, so I dug deeper and deeper into this angry, self-destructive lifestyle.
I was 18 when I accepted a challenge to go to HoneyRock for 2 years to work on operation staff and see life from a different perspective. At first, I thought “No way! Why would I do that?” But a few weeks later I found myself filling out the application to come and work. When I got there, the summer had just ended and the fall was coming fast. I hadn’t expected such a small group of people and wanted to come home for the first two weeks. I gradually got more comfortable as the staff got to know me, including my past, and began to love me out of my shell. A whole new side of life I had never explored before and quickly grew to love, that is life in the outdoors.
We worked hard on the new dining hall, cutting down the trees all winter long and framing out and finishing the basement. During the summer we spent long days out in the hay fields (when they still did that). I saw people in a whole new light, heard the gospel a thousand times, understood it to be true, but never it never took root. While at Honey Rock I developed a hard work ethic, a new love for adventure in God’s creation, a different perspective on people and an understanding of who God is, but it didn’t stick.
When I left, I spent the next five years working as a carpenter building houses and quickly rose up the ranks to be a foreman. I loved adrenaline and spent most of my leisure time skateboarding, rock climbing, and cliff jumping for fun. I was still drinking and smoking pot, but what was different was that I delved deeper into experiences with women and cocaine. These “good times” almost killed me. On October 5, 2002 I was in an accident where I was thrown from a scooter doing 30 mph and landed head first on a manhole cover fracturing 2 vertebrae and cracking my skull open. I then landed in a grassy area where I shoved dirt and grass into my brain. I promised that if God spared my life I would leave all of my destructive habits behind. He did and for the next 2 years I ran from my habits as fast as I could. Something was missing though and I could not figure out what it was. All I knew is that I had to leave my current situation; in my heart, I desired one place.
I asked to come back to Honey Rock and was accepted. On August 18th 2004 I went back to Honey Rock to work on the Elsen Operations Complex. This time was different though, I had been trying for two years to work my way into God’s good graces by quitting all of my addictions. The problem was that I felt worse. I did not understand why and while I was at Honey Rock I grew even more angry. I saw the graduate students talking about Christ’s love and looked at them with jealousy. I was reading my Bible looking for answers and when I got to the end of Matthew, where Christ died for the same people who were killing him, my heart started to change.
On Wednesday nights we would go to a full time staff member’s house to worship and have a devotion. On one such night, there was a message on Romans 5:8-10: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
We sang On Christ The Solid Rock and I broke out in tears. I left the house and confessed for an hour and a half as much sin as I could remember. I asked Christ to forgive it all because I was still guilty. The next day I felt that I could breathe again. After that, I read through the New Testament 3 times before Christmas, started making friends, and discovered who Christ said I was. That summer I signed up for and completed the Wilderness Leadership Practicum, found my calling in life outside of carpentry, applied to Moody Bible Institute, and met my future wife.
Since then I have gotten married, have had two kids, have graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a Biblical Studies/Theology Major and currently am the Director of Juvenile Justice Ministry with Youth for Christ Chicago. We led our first backpacking trip this summer (August 1-8) with youth from our City-Life program as well as youth that have been released from jail and used Black Bear Lodge for our return from the trail site.
If it hadn’t been for HoneyRock’s hospitality and openness to meet me where I was, I don’t think that I would have encountered and come to love and serve Christ as I do today.
~ Written by Derek with edits by Noah Lawrence