Confessions of a Youth Retreat Speaker

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Ten years from now no one will remember anything I said. And that’s okay by me.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak at our church’s High School winter retreat. I arrived at the camp early as watched as the busses pulled in and all those kids poured out, sorting through the cargo holds for their bags, pillows, and sleeping bags.

It took me back. When I was in High School I went on several of these overnight retreats—with their late night games, bottomless candy-bar bowls, bunk houses, ice-breakers, and cabin time discussions about the topics of the day.

The morning after the first night, all the leaders and counselors gathered for breakfast to pray and go over the plan for the day. I asked the group, “How many of you would say an event like this played a significant role in your own spiritual journey?” Almost every hand went up. I know mine did. I came to faith at a High School retreat like this one—on January 21, 1989, at the Wandering Wheels Kitchen on the campus of Taylor University, to be precise. I was 15 years old.

In Ephesians 3:20, Paul describes God as one who is always doing immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. At youth retreats, leaders and speakers have these students for a concentrated period of time—time enough to dive deep into Scripture, into life, into struggles, into who we are and who we’re made to be. In my experience, God uses those events to do immeasurably more than we see or think. He plants seeds. He brings clarity. He grants a sense of belonging.

When I was fifteen at that winter camp, I had a moment of clarity. I heard the gospel and came to believe that I belonged to the Lord. With that faith came the sense that everything in my life would be shaped by it in one way or another. I was still a kid—falling in love with any pretty girl who would look my way, really into my music, generally unaware of a world beyond my own. But the Lord buried seeds deep in my soul at that retreat, and they grew. They are growing still.

Retreats are fun. They pump us up. But that high fades. It always does. I don’t remember a thing the speaker said when I was fifteen. I don’t remember the food, or the music, or the other kids’ names except for a few. But I remember being there, and I remember knowing I had met with God in a way that would stick with me.

I came home from this recent winter retreat grateful for how the Lord used an event like this to call me to himself when I was younger. No one would have guessed it at the time by looking at me. But he did.

High School students can be hard to read sometimes. I honestly don’t know what the students took away from my talks this winter. Ten years from now, I doubt many will be able to tell you much about what I had to say. But that’s okay. I’m convinced God was doing immeasurably more than I know or can imagine. This is how he works in me still, and I’m sure this is how he is working in them.

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