-Abby Friend, Guest Services Director
When I was in middle school and high school, some of my favorite weekends of the year were the ones spent on weekend retreats with my youth group. Most of the time we would retreat in the fall and spring to a camp a couple hours north of my hometown where we’d spend less than 48 hours cramming in all the fun and growth we could. I’m thankful my youth pastor knew then what I know now – there is value in getting away to have fun with friends and trusted adults, there is growth that happens on retreats that is difficult to replicate elsewhere, and God can do a lot in a weekend.
As we arrived at camp, our excitement would bubble over as we got out of the van and got our first glimpse of the lake and the brightly shining stars. We had arrived, and we knew just by breathing in that cool, changing-season air, that this was going to be good. There was something about being away – away from home and the routine, the weight of school and grades – that I couldn’t have named as a teenager, but that I felt. I felt relief and freedom and joy just by getting outside, staying in cabins, laughing loud and long late into the night. Being away gave everything an extra measure of fun – the volleyball and the dizzy bat relays, shaving cream fights, wiping down tables after meals and playing capture the flag in the dark. Really just waking up in the morning was exciting, because we knew a day of adventure was ahead, and it was all amplified by the beautiful setting and being with friends.
The retreat experience was definitely heightened because I was with several of my closest friends and adults who cared about me. We bonded over conquering fears at the high ropes course, worshipping together, inside jokes, and competitive game play. I felt loved by my youth pastor when we paddled a canoe together during free time. I bonded with another leader over their embarrassing high school memories. My friends and I shared secrets and struggles and prayed for each other, feeling close and vulnerable when we could finally let our guards down. I am still in touch with many of those friends (and adults) 15 years later, and the foundations of our friendship were built on those weekends away.
The beauty of these retreats was that while we were having fun with friends, we were also drawing close to God. Once, after a morning session, we were sent off by ourselves for reflection, and I lay in the cool grass, the sun shining down warming my back and my face. I looked out through the grass and out to the lake, and I just knew that God was with me. He met me (and all of us) as we worshipped and as we spent time alone and corporately in His Word. And as I sat silently in the grass admiring the beauty of His creation, I never wanted to leave, never wanted to know a time when I didn’t feel the warmth of the love I felt right then.
I’ve worked at camps for over 10 years now, and I’ve seen countless groups come away on retreats. My hope and my prayer for them is that they experience the life change I did as a high school student as they get away to meet with God and friends.