Torrey Conference gives face to suffering

Biolans crammed into the gym and overflowed into Crowell and Sutherland Halls Wednesday to kick off this year’s Torrey Conference.


Erik and Donna Thoennes, both Biola professors, hold up signs with their daughter, Caroline Thoennes, during a procession of cardboard sign testimonies at Wednesday’s final Torrey Conference session. The couple, after being childless for 19 years, adopted Caroline from Taiwan two summers ago.

Harmony Wheeler, Writer

Kay Warren held a dying woman in her arms.

The woman, HIV positive, cried out in her native tongue, saying what Warren could only assume were words of despair and loneliness. Warren told the woman she was not alone, that there was a God who loved her, and that, even with all the suffering of her past, she could have something to look forward to. In that moment, Warren suffered alongside that woman and offered her comforting presence in a time of suffering, things Warren said all Christians should learn to do.

A key speaker at this year’s Torrey Conference, Warren spoke to students Wednesday about this and many other experiences in which God had used the suffering of her past for good. Warren joined Tremper Longman III, of Westmont College, in the first of a three-day conference series centering around the topic of suffering and featuring speakers including Rev. Adrian De Visser and Francis Chan. The day also included times set aside for reflection and 24-hour prayer rooms in the SUB.

In the three main sessions and two reflection periods so far, students worshipped God and listened to Longman speak on Psalm 69 and Warren speak on how to deal with personal suffering and the suffering of others. Some students came to learn, while others sat in the back, watching movies on their iPods.

Betsy Still, an AS Chapel Board member, said students began prepping for this year’s Torrey Conference at the end of last semester. A team consisting of about 11 or 12 students have worked diligently in the past couple weeks especially to make the conference come together. Still said the team’s goal was to “engage students.” Numerous students have told Still how pertinent the topic of suffering is in their lives.

“God honestly just perfectly orchestrated everything up to Torrey,” Still said.

Warren explained that the future may not hold pleasant things, but people can always look to God, who has left hidden treasures for them in the darkness.

“It’s like an exciting scavenger hunt,” Warren said. “God is trying to give us something of extreme value.”

Warren faced death when doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer years ago. Since then, she has recovered, but she also watched several family members and friends suffer from life-threatening situations. Now, she said, she no longer fears death.

“I get up in the morning more passionate,” she said. “Every day matters, and I’m able to relate to others, to say ‘you matter to me.’”

Warren used her new insight in her ministry to those affected by HIV/AIDS. She challenged students to follow Christ’s example in reaching out to outcasts and those in pain. Recalling the passage where Jesus said, “I thirst,” Warren said she could not go back in time to bind up Jesus’ wounds or save His life, but she can follow Jesus’ advice found in Matthew 25 and give water to the thirsty of today through offering her presence to those suffering and choose to suffer with them.

Both Longman and Warren said students cannot expect perfection or world peace in a fallen, broken world, but said it’s OK to cry out to God in such times of suffering. Longman encouraged students to follow the examples of the Psalms and cry out to the Lord with their pleas and complaints, confess their sins, call on God for justice, and praise God through it all.

“The Psalms are more than mirrors to our souls,” Longman said. “They’re also seeds getting us to think about God and showing us the way forward.”

Students’ response to the speakers varied. Sophomore Genevieve Vallotton and her sister, senior Amber Vallotton, don’t plan on returning for any more of this week’s sessions. They said they were frustrated with both the required attendance and with this year’s “irrelevant” theme. The sisters said they prefer the spring Missions Conference because it gives different topics for students to choose from based on what relates to them most.

Junior Josh Wooster disagreed.

“The topic is important,” he said. “Sometimes as college students we take advantage of things and get hot-headed. The topic of suffering can humble us and make us rely more on God.”

After the first session, senior Jenni Scroggins expressed her disappointment.

“It was more intellectual than I though it would be,” she said. “I thought Longman would talk about something personal he had gone through. It was interesting, but not what I expected.”

“I’d rather be sleeping,” said sophomore Lauren Gay. “But I did think the morning session was really good, and the reflection sessions gave students time to spend with God. Some people don’t normally have that time.”

“Last year was the bomb,” said junior Leah Schwartz. “I had super high expectations from last year, and I don’t think the first session met the same quality of last year’s conference. Longman didn’t relate to me through humor, stories, or experiences.”

Despite her disappointment, Schwartz said she would attend every session.

“I love Torrey,” she said.

As for those who don’t love Torrey … well, they’ll just have to “suffer” through it.

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