Ellie the Elephant Seal: An Unexpected Guest at a Retreat

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In the fast-paced and demanding world we live in, the idea of a "retreat" holds a special significance. At the Greater Seattle Fil-Am SDA church, the church family has long yearned for a retreat at the serene Marine Laboratory Research Center of Walla Walla University at Rosario Beach, Anacortes, Washington. Unfortunately, the pandemic caused the church to lose its spot for the annual September retreat. However, our perseverance paid off, and earlier this year, we were thrilled to secure a spot for a retreat that will take place from May 31 to June 2, 2024. The excitement and anticipation among the church community for this upcoming retreat are tangible, as we eagerly prepare for a time of spiritual growth and fellowship.

The Family Ministries Department has taken the lead in organizing the program, and we are delighted to have invited Dr. Jym Tayag to speak during the retreat. The theme, "Called, Chosen, and Faithful," sets the tone for our time together, emphasizing the faithfulness, truthfulness, and love of our heavenly Father who has called and chosen us. We are looking forward to a deeply meaningful and enriching experience at the beautiful Rosario Beach.

On the peaceful Sabbath morning, a group gathered for morning worship on the tranquil beach. The service began with a poignant retelling of the biblical account of Jesus and His disciples on the Sea of Galilee during a fierce storm from Matthew 14:22-33. The narrative served as a powerful reminder of Jesus' unwavering faithfulness to His followers, even in the face of turbulent trials.

We reflected on three profound truths revealed in this story and their relevance to our own lives. First, we pondered the significance of Jesus commanding the disciples to embark on a journey across the Sea of Galilee, drawing parallels to our own purposeful existence in this world. This contemplation filled our hearts with hope and reassurance.

Next, we delved into the image of Jesus praying on the mountain while His disciples battled the raging waves. This served as a poignant reminder that amidst our own struggles and challenges, Jesus is ever-present in the heavens, interceding on our behalf. The verse from Hebrews 7:25 provided a comforting affirmation of this truth.

The third truth highlighted the rescue mission of Jesus, as He saved the disciples from the treacherous night at sea. This served as a powerful symbol of the ultimate salvation that Jesus offers to all of us, the hope of His second advent, delivering us from the trials and tribulations of this world.

Before engaging in a thought-provoking group discussion, Dr. Jym Tayag expertly presented a compelling talk entitled "Did You Hear the Call? Moreover, Who Called, Who Chooses, and Who Is Faithful?" His eloquent exposition beautifully illuminated the themes of faithfulness and the deliberate choice made by Jesus to call and choose each one of us.

While contemplating the exquisite beauty of God's creation on a sacred day, the majestic presence of the Northern Elephant seal drew the eager attention of both children and adults alike. Early in the morning on that special Sabbath, a sea creature made quite a spectacle, capturing the fascination of many. Word spread about "Ellie," a 1,500-pound northern elephant seal, who had timely chosen to make an appearance during the Greater Seattle Fil-Am SDA Church retreat for her annual molting. This natural process involves shedding old skin and fur to grow a new layer, essential for keeping warm in the Pacific Ocean, while also removing potentially parasitic skin. The symbolism of this process was not lost on the observers, as it encouraged reflection, reevaluation, and the removal of metaphorical "parasites" through confession to God (1 John 1:9).

As the evening of the Sabbath approached, a volunteer group focused on advocating for the protection and preservation of sea creatures appeared. This provided an opportunity for many to satisfy their curiosity and be amazed by the sight of stranding network volunteers, who work tirelessly to protect these magnificent creatures. A warning line was put in place to ensure that onlookers did not encroach upon Ellie's space. The captivating presence of Ellie, a northern elephant seal, served as a powerful reminder that no sea creature or natural marvel could ever surpass the inherent value of humanity. Indeed, the words of the Lord in Isaiah 13:12 resonated deeply: "I will make people scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir."

The Sabbath afternoon was filled with the exuberance of youth participating in engaging discussions. The central theme of the discussion was "How Sure Are You That You Were Chosen?" Following this, a refreshing nature hike took place around Bowman Bay, the beach, and the surrounding trails. As the day drew to a close, sundown worship marked the end of the Sabbath, and the Education Department organized a delightful dinner to raise funds in support of Adventist Christian Education.

The evening unfolded into one of the most captivating parts of the retreat, with social gatherings, heartfelt fellowship, and harmonious songs around the campfire on the beach. Witnessing God's children revel in each other's presence, singing praises, engaging in heartfelt conversations, and forming new bonds was truly heartwarming. As the night crept in, around 10:00, most retreated to their cabins to continue their cherished time together, while others embraced a well-deserved rest.

The subsequent morning brought the closure of the annual retreat, marked by a commitment message from our speaker and a hearty breakfast lovingly prepared by the Education Department. As we bid adieu to the retreat, we tidied up our respective cabins before some of us indulged in delectable ice cream from Snow Goose Produce, a fitting conclusion to a memorable weekend despite the rainy afternoon. Anticipation fills the air as we eagerly await the next gathering, fellowship, and feast on September 12-13, 2025, at Rosario Beach, Anacortes, Washington

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