By Jacob Lee
What happens when you take away the junior high students’ favorite retreat place and replace it with a completely new one? What happens when you take away the big, shaggy dog that everyone loves to pet on their way to the familiar chapel? What happens when you break the news to your students, “I’m sorry, but the church that usually comes with us will not be coming this year”?
These were the anxious questions swirling around my head as the weekend drew near. I couldn’t imagine the kids getting over all the new changes and actually having a good time. I expected to have numerous conversations throughout the retreat that began with a student asking, “Why couldn’t our friends from the other church come again?” or “Why couldn’t we go back to that same place again?” But to my surprise, I didn’t have even one of those conversations! In fact, this retreat turned out to be the best experience I’ve had so far at a JH retreat in New Life in terms of group unity — praise the Lord!
God has a surprising way of taking our worries and turning them into blessings. The students were so excited to explore the new terrain together. And the fact that we went alone turned out to be such an unexpected gift! I believe it took many more months last year for our group to feel like a family. This was the result of our students spending the weekend exclusively with each other. What a joy!
Our weekend involved shooting arrows at each other (okay, maybe not at each other), a nature walk, girls pranking the boys and the boys laying down their lives by not retaliating but instead cleaning up the girls’ mess, lots of hot chocolate for kids, lots of coffee for leaders and, of course, potent messages that were delivered by Cooper Pinson which were all centered on Jesus. We even got to see a couple of our students lead worship for the first time. This experience was a great reminder that Jesus is in charge. He is a God who redeems. He takes things that look bleak and makes them into something beautiful.