• Josh Anderson

Victory in Retreat

theHeart Youth Group experienced its first-ever retreat over the Memorial Day Weekend. The time spent learning more about how loved people love people allowed 14 middle- and high-schoolers explore their identities in Christ. They learned a lot. Laughed even more. And they immersed themselves in God's great love.

Middle- and high-school students, along with five volunteer leaders, experienced God's love during a youth retreat at Bonclarken Conference Center in Flat Rock, North Carolina. It was a dream come true.

During the past several years, theHeart’s youth ministry has grown beyond what we could have ever expected. We’ve moved locations, added students, started a Bible study, hosted many a game night, grown our volunteer team, and so much more. It has been such a joy to watch the Lord bless this ministry in abundance. And we desire to be good stewards of the opportunities He has given us in reaching the next generation of Kingdom-builders.

In January, Next Generations Director Ethan Hardin and Youth Ministry interns John Caldwell and Hannah Siegel sat down together and began dreaming up what the new year of youth ministry could look like. Hannah recalled her time of being a student in youth group at her church back home and what some of the most transformative experiences were for her during those years.

What stood out in her mind were the weekends spent away from home, fellowshipping with her brothers and sisters in Christ around campfires and in bunk-bed-filled cabins, and playing crazy games during youth group retreats.

“When I presented the idea that we take our students away for a weekend on a retreat, I knew it was a little crazy," Hannah admitted. "I knew it was even crazier as Ethan’s eyes tripled in size when he realized that I was completely serious."

Hannah went on to explain what had prompted such a bold suggestion.

"I just knew the Lord had been smiling over this ministry and He was waiting for the opportunity to transform these kids’ hearts even more," she said. "I truly believe positive experiences like this during middle and high school years are vital to faith formation."

"I felt the Lord leading us to this new opportunity as a way to impact these students while they are in such a vulnerable time of their lives.” — Hannah Siegel

Ethan was excited about the prospects, but he also had some pragmatic reservations.

“I will say that I thought five months was a short duration to pull together all the things that go into a youth retreat," Ethan said. "As a youth minister in Hendersonville, most of our trips came to me already developed, complete with forms, transportation plans, and budgeting guidelines. I knew it would take a team effort to make this retreat a reality—all from scratch."

That’s exactly what he asked for from Hannah, John, and the dedicated youth volunteer team. They all eagerly jumped at the opportunity to pull off such a ambitious endeavor. Even the volunteers who didn’t go on the retreat all pitched in to help plan and coordinate.

"It was truly a team effort," Ethan said with a smile. "Our church family never shies away from rallying together to build up our youth.”

Loved People Love People

We launched into full-on planning mode, not quite knowing what we were getting ourselves into. A date and location were settled upon, donuts were sold to cover some of the costs, and students began signing up.

The retreat theme, “Loved People Love People”, centered on identity. Being made in the image of God is a biblical touchstone of who we are. When you dig around for context in scripture and the ancient world, we find that this title means “living representation”, “royal representative”, and “child of God”.

The months flew by and suddenly a group of five volunteers and 14 middle- and high-school students were standing in the parking lot with luggage in hand. We loaded up into vans and headed to Bonclarken Conference Center in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

Volunteer leader Rachel Godwin had a van full of excited passengers.

Throughout the weekend we held four large-group gatherings that consisted of worship and studying God's Word together. And we spent time discussing what it means for us to embrace the identity followers have in Christ.

"Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." — Proverbs 22:6

Adolescence is a process of discovering identity, with all kinds of voices aiming to sculpt our youth. But at the core of it all, our goal was to remind our young friends who God made them to be: loved children of God representing his love to the world. We went deep into reflection about identity and living it out.

We also went deep into pudding cups…

With a creative use of pudding, students were able to better understand their identity in Christ.

In addition to the sessions, there was lots of time for activities including kayaking, swimming, pick up basketball games, pool noodle hockey, impromptu dance parties, and much more. All of these activities worked to bond the students closer together through teamwork, sweat, and a lot of laughter.