ATO RetreatHOT SULPHUR SPRINGS – Colorado. In the summer of 2011, Robby Thompson and I represented the Theta Eta of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity in Colorado for an inaugural “ATO Retreat.” There were already several national functions to choose from, but nothing like this… The objective of this retreat was to leave it up to God. We are the only fraternity based on Christian principles, and ATO desires to keep our foundation strong. We embarked to Colorado with uncertainty but left with a glass FULL OF GRACE! We peaked at 15,000ft at “The Ranch”. ATO partnered with Toth Ministries and JWAR (Jesus was a Rebel) to deliver God’s Word. I saw a different side of Jesus. When I left, I went from having this fear of God to walking alongside my Daddy. I made myself vulnerable, but knew more about myself than ever before. It proved to be a spiritual encounter that all of us would remember forever. We came to the party, drank from the cup and were filled with His presence. For once in my life, I was enamored by the Spirit.

Six months later, the same brothers met up with Wynn Smiley, ATO National’s CEO. He graciously welcomed us into his house in Indianapolis, but he wanted to talk business. Wynn had an unanswered question, How do we keep this thing going? We debriefed the weekend from back at the Ranch. This weekend was still filled with worship and lecture, but we wanted to discuss the future of this ATO Retreat. We met at ATO National Headquarters, and it resulted in a name change, Encounter. It seemed to be a reoccurring theme with all the people who attended. Everyone had an encounter with Christ! From hearing angels to feeling their Daddy press his mighty hand on their chest… there were encounters by the Holy Spirit. The ATO Retreat would forever be called, Encounter. We agreed to recruit brothers to replace ourselves and take Encounter back to our respective chapters.

With a combined effort from the ATO National Staff, alumni, Toth Ministries and JWAR, we are able to host multiple Encounter retreats to active brothers who want to further their walk with Christ, our foundation. When we began to stop worrying about the temporal and focus on the eternal, we saw growth. In under three years, we have seen more than 100 brothers impacted through this new ATO National Event, Encounter.

One more thing, accountability was a huge priority for us. We wanted to stay connected and not be diagnosed with kid’s camp syndrome. If someone from The Ranch asked, “Will, what’s your life look like on a Tuesday when you are back in Alabama?” It shouldn’t look any differently because I live with my promises in front of me! To keep us accountable, anyone who has gone to an Encounter is invited to “Re-retreat” in Indianapolis. This is designed to keep brothers in Christ connected.

This weekend marks two and a half years after the inaugural ATO Retreat. We are now at the Columbia Club for another Encounter Re-Retreat because we have slightly outgrown Wynn’s living room:

God planted new seeds in our hearts. Now, it’s time to give what we have been given!

Riley Blogging Off


Freshman Fun

At 18 years old, stupid decisions are often blamed on adolescence. At 21 years old, stupid decisions are placed on stupidity. I do not feel that I have peaked in my intelligence, but my constructs have been shaped quickly to not consider juvenile acts because of my roles in college as well as in the community. The realization struck me a few weeks ago when someone had asked, “Where is the old Will?” This phrase is far from foreign. This is a reoccurrence since I moved off to college or even when I became a believer in Christ — a new chapter is added, but I really enjoy this current “Florence State of Mind”. I will venture to say that I am one of the busiest persons at the University of North Alabama, and it is due to my freshman year decisions. Those decisions affected the trajectory of my collegiate career. I traded Freshman Fun for a serious approach to life. Jumping in the fountain or striding across the top of the student center used to be fun, but now it is viewed as illegal. What happened?

I am experiencing “Growing Pains” because I’m still adapting to having gained more responsibility. I discovered that it’s a privilege to have responsibility. Despite my duties, I need to nap… even Jesus napped. Setting time aside where I can freely think and have fun is crucial for my life.

Here I am in my final year in college; I have been reconnecting with my old freshman-self, and my brain is finally getting a rest.

Riley Blogging Off