June/July 2009 The Cove Clay Meyer
Emotions are never in short supply during open-mic time. Although not many people knew this particular couple's past when the man grabbed the microphone, during the brief minutes that followed, they became part of a story they would never forget.
With tears in his eyes and a quiver in his voice, the man explained to the crowd at the 2007 FCA Couples Getaway at The Cove that he and the woman next to him didn't really know how they got there. They'd been separated for quite some time and had planned to get together that weekend to see if they could talk through the broken remains of their relationship. It just so happened that some of their friends weren't going to be able to fulfill their reservations for the retreat, and they invited the pair to go in their place.
Looking back, the man thought it all might have been a set-up, as he continued to explain how the weekend's teachings and time spent alone with his wife had ministered directly to them. Their eyes had been opened to the Lord in new ways. They both realized that the past didn't have to be the future.
"The Cove is the ideal spot for Chris (pictured left) and me to be," FCA President Les Steckel (right) said.
With that, the man turned to his wife and asked her to forgive him and marry him all over again. She said yes.
Stories like that and the others born out of the annual getaways at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove bring a smile to the face of FCA President Les Steckel. They are the main reason why he refers to the getaway as, "a little like Heaven on earth."
For the past seven summers, couples from across the country have been navigating the state highways of the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Asheville, N.C., to get to The Cove. The retreat has given couples the opportunity to spend three days away from the distractions of everyday life and reconnect with each other and their Creator in a beautiful setting.
Past attendees have raved about the spiritual time, fellowship with other married couples and time spent learning more about each other. Marriage bonds are strengthened and, in some cases, broken relationships are healed.
Steckel and his wife, Chris — the official hosts of the weekend — are committed to the ministry that occurs at The Cove. Their support of the retreat, now in its eighth year, makes it one of FCA's most popular and fruitful events, as they have seen registration for the weekend fill up faster each year than the one before.
"Of all the FCA activities I find myself being involved in, the weekend at The Cove is the one I look forward to the most," Steckel said. "My greatest passion in life is helping people and, more specifically, helping marriages. That being the case, The Cove is the ideal spot for Chris and me to be."
The couples getaway is hosted in an environment steeped in religious history and tradition. From the moment they reach the front gates of the conference center couples begin to experience God's presence and the release of stress.
"Just getting into that corner of North Carolina ... will give you an enormous sense of God's presence."
— Tom Rogeberg
"The place is such an anointed spot," said Tom Rogeberg, FCA's senior vice president of communications and development, who helps organize the event each year. "Just getting into that corner of North Carolina and crossing into The Cove will give you an enormous sense of God's presence."
Each couple is given a weekend schedule that includes a visit to the nearby FCA Coaches Camp at Black Mountain for some, and is followed by several general sessions emceed by pastor and longtime FCA volunteer Ken Smith. The sessions include prominent speakers such as Detroit Lions chaplain Dave Wilson and his wife, Ann, and comedian Kenn Kington.
"As I have told people before, I can guarantee them that they will laugh and learn for three solid days at The Cove," Steckel said. "It is a great place to come and get refueled and refreshed and have fun along the way."
Time is also set aside for the men and women to divide up and talk about certain issues unique to their genders. Seeking advice from Christian brothers and sisters has proven effective in maintaining the openness of the entire group during the weekend. As Dave Davies, FCA's vice president of gift planning, remembered from his and his wife's visit in 2007, "The time spent together with just our Christian brothers was great. Dave Wilson was unbelievably transparent about his own experiences, and I think his willingness to go to a place regarding issues that were unique to men really caused the group to open up with each other in the large group and small group settings."
In keeping with its reputation, the weekend's spiritual renewal facilitated through the speakers, worship and programs is something that cannot be matched. But Rogeberg also pointed out that some of the most fruitful experiences for couples actually take place in the quiet times together on their own.
"We schedule the getaway that particular week because it falls just in the right place in the sports calendar," he said. "Those few days might be the only ones that couples have together. With the schedules they have, coaching couples in particular can get re-acquainted with one another before the season starts.
"The fact that we give them afternoons off together and the opportunity to go deeper into Scripture — that and the solitude from everyone and everything else — is special," he continued. "While it can be a very healing weekend, it is still a lighthearted event. The intent is to refresh people."
The getaway at the Cove gives couples a chance to dive deeper into Scripture together.
Though returning to their everyday lives is inevitable at the end of the weekend, the lessons learned from the retreat can be carried back down the mountain regardless of how long a couple has been married.
According to Davies, no matter where two people may stand in their marriage, their experience at The Cove will be something that will influence them far into the future.
"We had a few couples going through difficult times, and they used that retreat as an effort to keep their marriages together," he said. "At the other end of the spectrum, there were people that, by the grace of God, had a good balance in their marriage and a good handle on things. They were then able to minister to and be an encouragement to other couples through their experiences."
Scanning through the comments of past attendees may be the key to understanding why Steckel compares the experience to Heaven. As one person simply stated: "We cried, we laughed, we learned, we prayed, we healed."
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove; Michael Hodges.