With over 110 students, and over 50 volunteers, MyGroup braved the autumn wilderness of Camp Tahkodah.
My twelfth time to take students to this retreat site was, again, our best retreat ever. God’s blessings for MyGroup and the MoSt Church, and His provisions for our students and families, are completely amazing, and there just aren’t the available words to describe God’s favor in that place.
This year I felt different, though. I felt peace. Favor. Blessing. Providence. And not that those were absent before, but this year, God took away my worries and stress, and I heard a voice tell me to trust. I did. And it was a peace beyond understanding.
Because God loves these students and these families more than I do.
I have seen the brutality of broken relationships and sin and guilt, as they have waged war on these families, and on these students. I still see the destructive results of bad decisions, and pray, fervently, for those stains to be washed clean.
But at Tahkodah, I also see renewal and revival, in the hearts of so many. It is a sacred place, a holy place, that transcends any program I can bring, or any creativity I can offer to the schedule. God works through me, but He also works in so many of our adults who not only pay to attend, but also miss work to attend. There is a great substance to this ministry, and this place, that I see lacking in so many churches and student ministries. Consistency. Patience. And waiting on God. Those qualities, though they build suspense, and tempt us to worry and self-indulge, come to great fruition at an old camp in the middle of nowhere. Flash and bling get you little traction with students. But the Gospel message, still, in Paul’s words, is God’s power to save. Few people, few students, can resist the great story of redemption. Even in today’s America. It’s just too good.
I am so thankful for faithful servants to our students. Amazing volunteers, with amazing talent, bring those gifts as offerings to this retreat. With creativity and ingenuity and design, they teach and interact and minister to so many kids in mighty ways in just 36 hours. Thirty of those adults spent every waking moment teaching and mentoring students, and I can’t help but thank God for them. And the kitchen staff prepared a little over 700 meals in 36 hours, and did so with incredible hearts of service and giving. I pray that God redeems the time they gave for so many.
And there, in that camp, next to an old creek, a student gave his life to Jesus. Those still waters are holy.
One quick thought, though, to leave with you.
Due to a burn ban, this was the first camp I have ever attended, in my entire life, that did not have a campfire. No warming in the night. No light sparks to float in the dark night. No lingering smoke in the midst of the cabins. The sacred time of singing there, in the night, with the orange glow of light on so many, was absent.
So I distributed glow sticks.
Each student received one, and in an instant, there were 150 neon lights that burned brightly in the dark woods. And our students sang great songs, powerful songs, of redemption. The voices, and the harmonies, were absolutely beautiful, as they echoed against the soft bark and the rustic cabins. I sat outside the circle to listen, and to let those sings minister to me. And for thirty minutes, there was music in that camp, without a fire, and without the sparks.
And then, as we sang, one student took his glow stick, and tossed it into a pile of leftover ashes. That one sight became an instant movement, and over 150 glow sticks soon burned in the middle of all of these students, in a campfire of neon. The night, and the camp, became united in song and purpose, with simple toys that produced soft light. It was an amazing moment, and one of the most memorable experiences of this retreat in these dozen years for me.
That was a moment to remember. A moment when God brought together, in just a few short hours, the likes of so many students and adults, with different stories and different tragedies and different successes. He brought us together, with that campfire of neon, and we were given a moment when God reached into a great sea of blackness, and awakened us all to unity and purpose and breath. And it was awesome.