The inaugural Young Adults Retreat saw participants spending quality time with God and one another.
Koinonia is the Greek word for communion. And that was what the young adults from City Harvest Church did on a three-day-two-night retreat—fellowship and share the life of Christ with one another.
From April 29 to May 1, over 700 young adults gathered at Johor Bahru’s KSL Hotel for the retreat aptly themed “Koinonia”. “With the recent series taught by Pastor Kong (on slow-down Christianity), it was a good time to retreat and spend time with God and one another, to grow stronger in the Lord,” Pastor Edmund Tay, head of the organising committee shared regarding the aim of the retreat.
“We wanted the young adults to be revived in their hearts and come to a place where they are not afraid to detach and let go. Sometimes it can be hard to let go perhaps due to a fear of missing out, and sometimes there could be practical concerns and cares of life.”
He added, “The overwhelming response received for the retreat showed us that our young adults have a hunger to draw near to God, despite competing distractions. We’re also blessed because the church really came together to support the event, like how HarvestKidz sent teachers to help with the children so that the parents could attend the sessions.”
THE CASTLE ON THE INSIDE
The first session happened on the evening of 29 Apr. Many participants had spent the morning braving the traffic at the Causeway and were physically tired. Yet, their hearts were full of expectancy.
After a time of exuberant praise and worship, members from Pastor Lee Yi Lun’s zone went onstage to share how through their personal encounters with the grace and power of God, they were able to overcome addiction, suicidal thoughts and thoughts of guilt and shame.
Pastor Kong Hee then started the session by sharing a picture of a garden—one of the most common metaphors for one’s communion with God. He stated that Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden—which means “paradise” or “delight”—while Jesus had to go to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Pastor Kong then introduced the writings of Teresa of Avila, who lived in the 16th century, a time when the Church was in disarray, nations were at war and there was a global pandemic. In her book The Interior Castle, she described this of the soul: “as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions”.
Pastor Kong shared, “Teresa of Avila says, ‘If we’re always trying to fix the outside while we are a wreck inside, then whatever we do on the outside would also be a wreck.’ Our hearts are choked up with selfish desires, pride, greed, lust, anger, envy and excessive love of ourselves.”
He taught that if the young adults were to delve deeper into their souls by prayer and devotion, the Holy Spirit will take over their interior lives and dispel all darkness. The love of God would then be able to heal all the wounds in their hearts.
Teresa of Avila also described souls who do not enter the interior castle as spiritually impaired, or occasional visitors who are busy or distracted and unable to fully commit to their spiritual walk. Pastor Kong remarked how the young adults in attendance were youths who have grown up passionate for God. He encouraged them not to stay outside the “castle” as they continue to grow in life, and not to be occasional visitors, but to put their hearts where their treasures are, and to enter the “castle” through devotional prayer.
“The human soul is on a spiritual journey towards union with God (theosis). The more in union we are with God, the more light there will be within us,” he taught.
The first session ended with a ministry of consecration, where the entire hall became an altar unto the Lord as the young adults responded to the call to love God more.
DEALING WITH SIN: THE FIRST STEP TO ENTERING THE CASTLE OF THE SOUL
On the second day of the retreat, Pastoral Supervisor Vincent Tan took to the stage after praise and worship to share his testimony on how he followed God’s calling to serve Him full-time.
In the past, Vincent would chase after corporate titles and monetary increments. However, the Lord’s calling to serve Him full-time constantly prompted his heart, and he chose to obey God’s plan. “Whatever your calling is, I believe that true fulfilment is when we live out the life, the purpose and the will of God in our lives fully for Jesus,” Vincent said.
Following Vincent’s testimony, Pastor Kong continued his message on entering the castle of the soul. He taught that dealing with sin is the first step to entering the “castle”. Referencing Isaiah 59:2 and Ephesians 2:1, 12 (ESV), he reminded the congregation that sin hinders a believer’s relationship with God. He then preached about two key things that help believers counter sin: the fear of the Lord, and the mirror of humility.
The fear of the Lord, which is a healthy reverence and respect for God, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Just like how Jesus values His relationship with the Father and remained sinless, believers should delight in the gift of the fear of the Lord.
Meanwhile, the mirror of humility is a deep awareness of our weaknesses, and a willingness to surrender to God’s grace and guidance. Pastor Kong then gave an altar call where he laid hands and prayed for the young adults to receive God’s love, healing, and an impartation of the spirit of the fear of the Lord. Many experienced a tangible outpouring of God’s love.
Joanna Teo, head of communications at a startup, who is in her 30s, felt very ministered by the morning session. “My tears couldn’t stop flowing right from the start because the presence of God was really strong. I responded to the altar call and asked God to let my heart be pure. I told Him that I would serve Him all the days of my life. I pray that I will live out a consecrated life and walk in union with Him,” she shared.
The sermon gave Jolin (not her real name) a renewed perspective of God. “Before I read the Bible, I would always pray in a casual tone. When Pastor Kong spoke about the fear of the Lord, it reminded me of a vision I had a while back, of a castle in the sky. As I entered the castle, I felt His presence and fell in awe. I brushed it off then, but only understood what it meant now. I now speak to God with deeper humility and reverence,” she shared.
For Jolin, who was saved last February, it was also her first time falling under the power of the Holy Spirit when Pastor Kong laid hands to pray for her. As she waited in line to be prayed for, her hands started trembling and her heart rate increased. A strong sense of fear came upon her. But when the pastor prayed for her, she could feel her breathing instantly slowed, and peace filled her heart.
In the evening, the third session started with testimony by deejay Evelyn Tan Qijia, who shared how God led her to the media industry. As her career grew, she experienced “impostor syndrome”, having to put up a public facade that was not aligned with who she really was. The disconnect and stress eventually caused her to be hospitalised for lack of rest and nutrition. Ultimately, Evelyn’s encounters with God gave her a breakthrough, and she is now happier than before, as she continues to fulfil her calling.
For fashion designer Anzoe Sim, 31, the testimony spoke to her deeply. She said, “In my earlier years in the industry, I would be easily stressed because of the responsibilities I had taken up. I had to carry myself in a certain manner, converse and consult in a professional way even though I was just a fresh graduate, and that fuelled my anxiety.
“I eventually came to a place where I ‘ran away’ from pursuing a career in fashion even though I knew that that was what I was called to do. It was only a year later before I obeyed God and went back to the industry. In that one year, I had a lot of questions for God, laid out what I thought I could and could not do before the Lord and asked Him to lead and direct me. As I continued in the fashion industry, I would often consult God in my creative process and decision-making for the company instead of what works best logically.”
That night, the young adults partook of holy communion together. It was quite a sight as the pastors and pastoral supervisors tore into seven loaves of bread and handed the pieces out to the participants. While it seemed like seven loaves of bread would not be sufficient for the large crowd, everyone received their portion. One participant was overheard saying, ‘It’s quite a significant chunk, not just a tiny piece!’ The participants were excited to partake of communion in this manner for the first time and cheered as they received their pieces of bread.
After each participant partook in the holy communion, Pastor Kong shared from John 13, of how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. “Without a horizontal relationship with fellow believers, our experience of God’s love is limited,” he taught.
He then got the participants to pair up and wash each other’s feet. The hall was filled with an atmosphere of love and humility, as the young adults served and declared blessings over one another.
WHAT GOD REMINDED US IN THE RETREAT
In the last session, zone supervisors Ong Wei Ren and Pauline Kong, and associate pastor Veronica Tang took turns to share the revelation they received throughout the retreat. 24-year-old university student Carmen Zenia Chee was exceptionally blessed by Pastor Veronica’s sharing. “Pastor Veron exhorted us not to pile our plates with too many things and to know our limits,” Carmen explained. “This serves as a reminder for myself to be real with what I can handle. I also felt reminded to intentionally slow down and rest in God.”
After the sharing, Pastor Edmund led the members in a hands-on activity: each person was handed a piece of paper and a pen. They were to write whatever the Holy Spirit impressed upon their hearts. The members then prayed for one another according to what they wrote.
William Marthiono, 27, an event organiser, heard God speaking to him about consecration. “Coming into the retreat, I was praying for God to expand my capacity to be able to do more for Him. Towards the end of the retreat, I told God that I wanted to consecrate myself again and stay sanctified for Him. His response was the outpouring of His love that followed.”
To wrap up the session, the worship team led the congregation in a time of deep worship to the Lord. Through this retreat, many young adults bonded with their cell group and zone members, as they spent quality time over meals and outings to the mall during the free and easy time. Some also met new friends through the icebreaker games, and through serving as volunteers.
The retreat was not only a reminder for many young adults to keep pursuing God, it also inspired some to serve again. Aldrich Tsai, 36, a live band music provider at Atcoustic Music, served as a song leader during the retreat. “During the 2.5 hours of ministry time in this session, seeing people delivered from their bondage and receiving their breakthroughs and prayers were so impactful and heart-warming. Even though it was tiring for the band to keep playing for an extended period of time, we persevered through. It was all worth it to see lives changed.”
He and his wife had decided to bring their 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Jairus to the retreat because they wanted their son to be immersed in the church community and in God’s presence. “With family, work and parental commitments, the same decision we made when we were younger, seems to require a lot more sacrifices and involve a lot more stakeholders. For me, song leading is no longer a one-person responsibility. My wife, cell group members and CityWorship teammates all took turns entertaining Jairus while I served on this trip. There’s a saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Similarly, it takes a village to serve the Lord, especially after having kids,” he said.
For fraud investigation specialist Tso Chin Ho, 35, who attended the retreat with his wife Jacqueline Lu, the retreat reminded him of his first love for God. “I’ve been comfortable and living a routine life as a young adult. God spoke to me at the retreat, reminding me that He is the same in the past, present and future—the same God that I met in my youth. I decided to pick up my guitar and offered to play for my cell group if there was a need. I was really impacted when Pastor Kong encouraged us to stop staying at the gates and enter the castle. I want to encourage my fellow young adults to always depend on Him and not on ourselves.”
Joshua Ong, 33, who works in compliance, shared “One of my main takeaways is carrying the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. We need to guard our souls well.” His wife Jasmine Tay, 31, shared “It’s an honour for us to spend so much time together with Pastor (Kong) in the presence of God. I really sense God is raising up more leaders among the young adults, and I’m inspired to grow deeper and flow together in this move of God.”