This weekend we were surrounded. Surrounded by God’s presence, His Word, fellowship, love, the Holy Spirit, worship, grace, and prayers.
Thank you to those of you who surrounded us with prayer. You were as much a part of what happened at this year’s youth retreat as the 37 of us who attended (31 youth and 6 leaders).
Let me just share a few things I learned (or was encouraged by) during the retreat:
1. Be flexible.
This is something that I struggle with often because I am such a planner and scheduler. I created the schedule for the retreat and knew that we’d most likely get off-schedule, but that still doesn’t make it easy for me to accept. Our bus driver got lost trying to find the camp (we had to turn around twice), but I’ll admit it wasn’t quite his fault. It was rainy, really dark, and those Wisconsin roads have no lights and tiny signs. So by the time we arrived at Camp Timber-lee, we began our evening program about an hour late. We cut a few things short (like fewer ice breakers and worship songs) and it didn’t seem like the best start to the weekend because I felt like my Bible study that night was very rushed (and it got too noisy to hear…our meeting room wasn’t that big). But our time is not God’s time and I am reminded that He is constantly working. It doesn’t matter if things are going according to my schedule as long as they’re going according to His.
2. Barriers were broken.
We’ve been working a lot this past year and a half with our youth group on breaking down barriers (between gender, age, cliques, etc). Last year we studied Ephesians and talked a lot about unity in the body of Christ. We made a lot of progress in integrating different groups of people together since then, but this weekend it seemed like that happened even more. It was amazing to see guys and girls getting together in small groups on their own initiative to pray together and to pray for each other, supporting one another. High school students and junior high students joined together to go tobogganing and tubing together. Older students encouraged younger students through group activities and with encouraging notes, which we call “Sunshine Mail.” Newcomers were immediately welcomed. New friendships formed, aquaintences became friends, and old friends grew closer. There’s nothing like realizing that all this happens because of what GOD is doing–not by us counselors motivating the kids to hang out with each other.
3. Don’t doubt God’s work in someone’s heart.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if and how many of the students were being impacted through the retreat that weekend other than getting time to hang out with each other for what was like one long, extended youth group meeting. I wasn’t sure if they were engaging with what the speaker said or the things we talked about in our workshops because sometimes it’s just hard to tell. There were a few that you could tell were being more moved emotionally, but for the rest of them, I just wondered…and I prayed. I prayed that God would move powerfully in their lives and transform their hearts.
It wasn’t until after the retreat when we read the response cards that we could really see how God was working that weekend. He challenged them. He movtivated them to want to change their lives to live more for Him, to evangelize to their friends and invite them to church, to read the Bible more, to trust God in everything and to make their faith more real. We got great feedback on our workshops with teens saying how they gave them new perspectives and how they enjoyed what we shared with them.
This gives us a lot to follow up with and a lot of encouragement. Even though I might not have been able to physically see how God was transforming lives, He was doing it. I’m encouraged by that–and by the number of students who raised their hands to accept Christ/recommit their lives to Him or to take a step of faith. God is doing and will continue to do great things in this youth group. The school year isn’t over yet and I’m excited to see what God will do. I’m expecting the unexpected to happen.
One other thing I learned from this retreat: Gerald and I make a great team. We worked together to lead a workshop on godly opposite sex friendships and boundaries in opposite friendships (just briefly touching on dating). We really only spent a good amount of time working on it two weeks before the retreat doing some of it together in person and finalizing most of it through Google Docs and via webcam (since we live so far apart). We only briefly got to go over it the day before the workshop, but through working together, I saw how we could use our relationship to glorify and honor God. We worked off each other’s comments during the workshop (even though sometimes I was waiting…somewhat patiently…for Gerald to finish talking so I could throw in another point). One of the girls told us that we were cute leading together, which shows me that hopefully our relationship can be an example to them too of what a godly relationship should look like. We do fail at that sometimes, but thankfully we’ve been given grace–by God and from each other.