Thursday afternoon, my friend Jim Gentry took me and two others to Sandy Creek Bible Camp for Tres Dias. As the name implies, this is a three-day experience that focuses on drawing closer to Jesus. I had no idea what to expect from this retreat. I knew that Tres Dias is a sister organization to Walk to Emmaus, and that Jim had attended and highly recommended it. But I couldn’t find much information about what the experience would be like. The stuff I found on the Tres Dias website seemed intentionally non-specific. In fact, I did find another web page that deemed Tres Dias a cult-like organization because of its secrecy and its insider jargon. But I chose to trust Jim. I needed some time away from the busyness of daily life and church ministry, to refresh my relationship with Christ. I needed something different from the typical ministry conference. So I said yes.
We were told to leave our cell phones, watches, and computers at home. That, in itself, was a challenge. We were totally disconnected from the larger world for 72 hours. We were given an emergency number at which our loved ones could contact us just in case. Otherwise, we were totally off the grid, unaware of what was going on in the news, unable to manage our daily responsibilities at home or at work, and even completely oblivious to what time it was. Tres Dias invites 42 people to each conference (there are separate conferences for men and women), and over twice that many former attenders come back to volunteer at each conference (in fact, they pay for the privilege). These are the men who woke me up in the morning, guided me from meeting to meeting, prepared my meals and taught from the Scriptures. Basically, Tres Dias is a series of Scripture-based talks about what it means to follow Christ, delivered by men who have been through Tres Dias in the past, and punctuated by moments of worship and other spiritual events, plus several surprises. In addition, each participant sits at a table with 8-9 other men the entire weekend, and they share thoughts and questions with each other, building a bond among the group. Here are my thoughts on the weekend:
Great planning and care goes into each element of the weekend, and it shows. I was impressed by how smoothly things went, and how carefully and thoughtfully done each moment was. I can’t overstate that point: I found myself touched that so many people went to so much trouble (keeping in mind these men are almost all laymen with day jobs) so that I could have an experience with Christ.
The talks are very basic. Most of the speakers are not professional preachers. As a guy who has spent most of his life in Church, I didn’t learn anything “new.” But that didn’t mean the talks were ineffective. The speakers often illustrated their points with personal stories of ways God has transformed their lives. This produced some of the most memorable moments in the weekend, and also helped inspire an air of total openness that was key to the retreat.
Throughout the weekend, I was out of my element. I kept trying to check for the time on my empty wrist; I also thought several times, “I should google that,” or “I should text Carrie to see how she and Will are doing,” only to remember that I had left my phone at home. I wish I had a dollar for every time I had that moment of panic that says, “I’ve lost my phone!” In addition, the planners of the weekend kept things unpredictable. Anytime we thought we knew what was going to happen next, we were wrong; when we expected the heat, they threw a curve every time. It was rather a helpless feeling. Most of us construct our lives around the illusion that we are in control. Suddenly, I had no say over my own schedule. As uncomfortable as that was, I think this was an important aspect of the weekend. It helped me to focus my thoughts on Christ.
The secrecy surrounding this event is probably the most controversial thing about Tres Dias. When I told a friend about it before the weekend, he joked, “Are you sure you aren’t going to end up in the Klan when this is over?” But I now understand the point of the secrecy. There are several big surprise moments that would be spoiled if anyone shared. In the same way I hate to have the twist ending of a great movie ruined by that chatty jerk who saw it before me, I would hate to ruin this experience for anyone who may attend…even if, right now, they are sure they never will.
Here’s my warning, however: If you come, be prepared to be flexible. Go with it; you will enjoy the experience so much more than if you dig in your heels and refuse to participate. Don’t bring anything for your down time…there is no “down time” at Tres Dias. For 72 hours, you will be either sleeping, eating, or learning about Jesus. It is an exhausting pace. That’s especially true if someone in your dorm is a snorer (and, let’s face it, someone in your dorm will absolutely snore like a chainsaw…it’s some sort of corollary to Murphy’s Law). So bring ear plugs. If you can take the day off after you return, arrange to do that. I couldn’t, and the Monday after was tough. Several church members who saw me Monday asked if I had gotten rest, and I laughed…no, I certainly didn’t. But it was worth it. Rest is important, but there are moments when you can put off rest for a good cause, and this is definitely one of them.
The main thing that struck me at this weekend was the incredible power of Jesus Christ to transform human lives. I saw so many men change over those 72 hours. Big, tough men wept freely as they shared how the Holy Spirit had drawn them out of their pride and stubbornness and made them brand new, determined to love their wives and children more unselfishly, to lead their homes more gently and spiritually, to serve their churches and communities and take God’s love to their neighbors boldly. It made me long to see that kind of transformation happen more often in ordinary churches. That’s what the next Great Awakening in this country will look like, when God chooses to grant it to us.
I also was reminded of the power of raw, honest friendship. Forty-two men came to this retreat as strangers. For three days, they shared authentically, wept together, embraced each other, and left as brothers. Again, I am hungry to see this happen in churches. I long for the day when churches become places where people are open about their struggles, where relationships are real and love goes beyond a “Hey, how are ya?” I long to see us do life together like the original church did (see Acts 2:42-47). Then we will truly look like the Body of Christ; then the world will see His glory in us.
Who should attend this event? Anyone who hungers for personal growth. Anyone who desires to know Jesus, or to renew their love for Him. One of the leaders said it best: “Tres Dias doesn’t change anyone; Jesus changes people.” True, but a weekend like this can certainly help you get beyond all the noise that blocks out His still, small voice and give you a compelling vision of a better life.